Bettina Judd | Author of Patient

Bettina Judd

Art. Feminism. Femme Fire.

the break

Statement: I feel the need to give some context for this piece because we are in difficult times. It is hard to know who to trust. This poem is about grief. Grief is our inheritance. It is not the only thing that we have inherited. Feel what you must feel about today. Anger, grief, angst, fear, all of these are valid and appropriate responses to the election of Donald Trump and the affirmation of hatred that his being elected signals.

There is no "but" after that. You will know what to do. The grief will tell you.  

the break

Beloved,
there have been days worse than this

something which may be of
is no comfort to you now
but is still
very true

Dearest,
there have been days
that could not have possibly had an end
and yet the sun
set just the same

there were nights with no moon
& someone held
the promise
of you close

even if they did not know it

what I mean is
and it has been said before:

you are the prize of the Ones that did not die
you are the ready student
the conditioned body
you are possibility’s possibility
and no ancestor before you
would have been more ready

what I mean is
this will be hard

a fact
unjust
but fair

I’d like for you to remember
that today’s terror tastes
smells
feels like
That of yesterday’s 

it has only now
called ahead
before visiting your door

know
that
there will be days
worse than this

which is an awful thing for me to say
when I want so much to encourage
when I need it myself

but it is
possible

so many things are possible.

Yes. 
So many
things are possible.

 

Mary Spears’ Death Reminds us that the World Isn’t Safe for Women

“Leaving my house is a political act.” 

 — Gwendolyn Brooks

Mary Spears was murdered this past weekend during homegoing celebrations for a family relative in Detroit. According to witnesses, her killer asked for her name and number, which Mary Spears refused to give. 

Spears’ death is the nightmare of so many women who find themselves approached by men in public. After news broke of her murder, my timelines were full of women proclaiming, “This is why I will never date again,” or “I’m never leaving the house.” It is an unsafe world out there for us, and Spears’ death reminds us of that. 

That a simple “No,” won’t be enough (because so often our words have not been enough) is something most women have already known, and in response, we have created and shared tools that got us out of a situation more than a few times. 

I went to a college for women, and the topic of student safety, particularly as it relates to street harassment and sexual assault, was a part of orientation. It included a little talk by the head of student safety (campus police for many institutions) who gave us the number of the security office on campus. It was suggested that we use it as our own when asked for our number on our jaunts about town. We were also given a whistle that could fit on our key chains. I was sure that it wasn’t needed, and was directly proven wrong on my first trip out. This was the first of many lessons. It was in my late teens that I took up the habit of adopting a name other than my own when pressed for it, that I learned to smile sweetly and walk swiftly. (I was always “late to work.”) It was at school that I learned the hard way that responding, “I’m not into men,” was heard as an invite rather than a rejection. This was a particularly rude awakening when Sakia Gunn was murdered in 2003 for stating just that in response to a man’s advances.

This is the thing: Never dating men again won’t save you. That presumes that queer women, and gender non-conforming folks are not subject to harassment, or the added threat of corrective rape. Saying that you have a man won’t save you. Being in the company of friends and family won’t save you. Mary Spears said and did and said all of the things that many of us know to say and practice as routine safety measures. But street harassment, and its hype boy, hegemonic masculinity have already written the rules for engaging with women. Within those rules, women are property and if HM is feeling gully enough, it doesn’t even matter that you belong to another man (as per the rules of hegemonic masculinity to respect another man’s “property”). At that point, you are collateral damage in a potentially deadly dick fight that your harasser is having with himself. 

Sometimes, the tactics for self preservation work. Sometimes they do and interactions with brothers on the street feel like slight annoyances. Sometimes they take a toll on my spirit and wreck my day. I end up replaying all of the ways that I could have not been grabbed, groped or berated for rejecting a man I just met. Sometimes it creeps on the inside and I start to contemplate my value — sometimes. 

As for these orientations, for the talks with girl children — they are bogus. They are bogus insofar as they are asking us to play at a game we’ve already lost by even having received the so-called catcall. I know that I am echoing what many advocates against street harassment have said, but if recent public discussions on this are any indication of having been understood, I suppose another iteration won’t hurt:

Take the burden of “keeping safe” off of women. We aren’t safe. That’s done. We were unsafe before we left the house. Sometimes we are unsafe in our homes. Shrugging of street harassment as “men just being men,” and characterizing it as flattery only reinforces the rule of HM that women must be, at all times, at the mercy of the men around them. This is an opportunity for men and masculine of center folks to check yourselves, your friends, your brothers, and your family members on how you and they interact with women. 

Hegemonic masculinity doesn’t relegate itself to men interacting with women. It also operates when men interact with men. It is the little voice that says, “I ain’t no punk.” (Peep the homophobic slur.) Hegemonic masculinity mandates patriarchal order and by definition, patriarchy demands that men and masculinity rule. HM must rule the bodies of women, and the bodies of men perceived as weaker. The very idea that a woman’s attention should be towards a man who hollers at her off of the street on the sole basis that he hollered is an example of how this rule operates: You better come when I call you.

The assumption that one has the authority to control the movement of bodies is the work of hegemonic masculinity. It is the same assumption these police officers had when they busted the car window and tased a passenger in front of small children after being stopped for a seatbelt violation. Hegemonic masculinity works on all of these levels and controls and affects all of our lives. You better come when I call you.

Okay, so you wouldn’t do such a thing. You wouldn’t kill a woman for rejecting your advances. You, dear police officer, wouldn’t tase an unarmed man. That ain’t the point. We don’t know that. And why should we? We don’t know that you won’t resort to violence in order to salve your ego. Just as I am sure that Mary didn’t know when she did all of the right things not to get killed that day.

Mary’s family is in need of donations for her funeral costs. At the time of writing this, they have almost met their goal. You can donate here: http://www.gofundme.com/fhjfgg

 

Resources for the weary (but not by any means exhaustive):

Find out more on stopping violence against women of color at http://www.incite-national.org/

For updates and testimonies, follow the hashtag #YouOKSis on Twitter. 

www.stopstreetharassment.org has a great list of international and US resources here: http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/resources/online/

Want to learn more about hegemonic masculinity? See Byron Hurt’s Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes and Jackson Katz’s documentary Tough Guise.

 

 

 

Blogroll

So this was a serious kick in the rear to be more attentive to this blog. Artist, writer and visionary Natasha Marin invited me on this blog roll. (See her blog here.) Natasha's recent ebook MILK is an insightful interactive lyric on breastfeeding. She has traveled the world and brought many artists along with her through her traveling performance art happening Miko Kuro's Midnight Tea. She is also the creator of the Red Lineage Project

The questions:

1) What am I working on? 

In May I released an eChapbook titled BINDING while presenting on erotic, gender, and the blues in lesbian gender performance at the DC Queer Studies Symposium. Now, I'm making preparations for my full length book of poems, Patient. which will be published by Black Lawrence Press in the fall. More about it here

 

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

My writing is mostly about research and my research is reflexive about the process of research and writing. My writing is meant to be a bit out of place, both academic when confessional, melodic when cacophonous. 

3) Why do I write what I do?

I wrote Patient. to make sense of my own experience with a teaching hospital in Baltimore. To make sense of how my experience as a Black queer woman was shaped by the history of medical institutions, medical practices, enslavement and Jim Crow. I grew up with this work as a writer and a researcher. BINDING is also a coming into my own kind of moment. I write to connect all of the ways that mind, body, and spirit affect my life. 

4) How does my writing process work?

Writing for me is a byproduct of creative tendencies in other media in which I like to work. Music and visual art are media that are deeply personal to me and writing is the most efficient way in which I've channeled that creative energy. In all other respects it is about hunkering down and calling it work. Most other times, I need to be fully human, adventurous, and most of all sensuous in other areas of my life in order to feel productive as an artist.

 

That's it. So... pushing forward I want to bring into the fold three amazing writers. Kima Jones, Moya Bailey and Jessica M. Johnson.

Kima Jones (thenotoriouskima.com) is a writer of fierce and unrelenting poetry and fiction. She has been invited to an exhaustingly long list of residencies, fellowships and awards (including most recently a residency at the Milay Colony) and for good reason. I mean, for real... look what she did with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Moya Bailey (moyabailey.com) you know her. THAT Moya Bailey. Feminist writer, blogger, (I once saw web alchemist?). Co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective who always brings that fire Black feminist critique

Jessica M. Johnson (africandiasporaphd.com and diasporahypertext.com) is a historian who uses the internet to highlight "scholarship and scholars in the field of African diaspora history." Check her out. 

On BINDING

What is more intimate than a secret?

DC Queer Studies Symposium

April 25, 2014

:: My body is visible. Confident. High femme. ::

What if gender had the blues? By this I mean, what if gender was affected the social life that we know is responsible for the development of the blues as an art form? As much as we bring attention to the conditions of Black folks on the basis of race in the blues, (we talk about a blues people having blues bodies) what of the conditions of being gendered Black folk? 

I am being a bit facetious here. Of course gender was affected. Of course gender was affected. There are songs about love—songs that tell us something about the differently gendered conditions of the lives of Black men and women. There are even blues that tell us something about the conditions of romantic love between women and women, men and men. Some blues even hint at other genders.

Here, I take up the blues as an aesthetic practice and gender itself as something that has the blues. I do so by focusing on the erotic in the blues aesthetic.

In the blues, worrying the line means to highlight a phrase by changing its pitch, breaking it up—maybe even hollering through it. To worry the line is to operate within a frame of fixed structures: notes, phrases, and rhythms to take up a universe of meanings. These meanings circle around the structure. The song continues. Meaning is amplified.

BINDING is a metaphor for an aesthetic practice of loving. It takes up the core concept of Audre Lorde’s erotic and love as a navigating force in this practice of the erotic. Love, as in Irigaray’s formation of “I love to you,” or Sandoval’s, “subjectivity [that] can become freed from ideology as it binds and ties reality,” also operates as a politic of self-shaping and self-definition in the context of lesbian gender. A politic that is altogether erotic, altogether aesthetic in its circling round and round the body of the lover. The act itself is a process of shaping bodies into something closer to truth. At each turn, both are changed. These changes are gendered. The change is yet another kind of intimacy. 

I begin the book with a excerpt of a lecture I have been developing on Queer Femininity in the Blues Aesthetic:

So now, it is about time that I present my thoughts on exactly what this gender thing is, why WOAmn is so important to thinking through gender and how I am doing it here. WOAmn is a signpost of the function of the sexual, the erotic in our lives. WOAmn is an archetype, a practice, a goal (not particularly inevitable, not always attained but certainly learned). WOAmn is a manifestation of the erotic as an aesthetic practice. An aesthetic practice that has to, like the blues, do a lot of work, as she too is rooted in her own survival. Survival of her body, harmony of her mind, and keeping of her spirit.

 

 

 

Oh dear.

 

What I want to say now, I cannot say in this way without it turning into nothing. So from here on, let everything be just between us.

Okay?

:: play videos with intermittent text ::

 

[

 

When I say that I love you, I mean that I am caught in the rapture of our dance, that I adore who I am with you. The way that I feel myself touching you. How you allow me to make me with you and our adoration of this making. At every turn of this dance, I am succumbing to centrifuge and there is a core at which we may meet. My twirling—the way I pull my fingers through the length of my locs, the careful touch of my own skin in the morning (whether you are watching or not) how my thumb nestles in the tuck of my waist is a note in the song I sing of desire. You may hear it.

 

]


(Cixous, Davis, Lorde)

 

:: Read from the final poem, Gravity. ::

"The thing that split apart the marble/ which blew up the stars, drew them close to each other, dancing in violent heat..."

Purchase a copy of the entire eChapbook below.

BINDING
3.75

A multimedia eChapbook. 

BINDING considers how love shapes gender, how gender shapes love. Debuted at the 2014 DC Queer Studies Symposium (Queer Intimacies).

 

 

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