We Have This Crazy Idea That The Work Of Liberation Is Easy Work

When I was traveling to the heartland of America, in 1996, in a small town’s newspaper editorial office I shuffled the Newsweek because the cover story was about bisexuals. The cover photo showed a handsome African-American man who was suckling his baby through a strange device attached to his chest. I read it breath taken, but careful that the journalists around the office shouldn’t see what I was reading, like I used to do in high school when I’d read furtively novels during the Material Resistance class we were forced to take to make sure we’d be useful citizens of our beloved communist society. I have a welder qualification certificate under my belt.
I wanted badly to meet this person. And I did. Three weeks later on a Wednesday at 5 p.m. I was waiting for Elias Farajaje Jones on a fence in front of Howard University Library in Washington D.C..
A horrible day. I haven’t eaten anything all day, my braid from the dress I loved was torn, and my period came unexpectedly. The man I interviewed before was on a weight diet, and didn’t get the money he need in his mail, so his voice was feeble and didn’t like to have my tape recorder tucked under his nose, so I feared it didn’t record a thing. The situation was shitty. I was afraid I’d make a bad impression on Dr. Elias Farajaje Jones, that I’d blow it and that nothing good would come out of our meeting.
But I was wrong. My interviewee picked me up on time, and it seemed that he was excited to meet me too. I told him I wanted so much to meet him and that I was grateful, again, to God that He arranged all the coincidences for me. He also said it was really strange that we managed to meet, had I called 5 minutes later than I did, he wouldn’t have return my call only next day, when I would have been traveling back to Europe.
At that time I was collecting narratives and interviews for a book,
‘Am I Too White To Be a Gypsy?’ because I had recently discovered that one of my ancestors had been a Gypsy, and I wanted to deal with this news in a public way, since then, in 1996, it was a stigma to be a Gypsy in Eastern Europe. So I went around asking people about how they dealt with their hyphenated identities. And this is what Elias Farajaje Jones said:
“I always tell my students who never heard about Gypsies, that they are the blacks of Europe.
“I’m also Native-American, Cherokee. I think that there’s also close parallel between Gypsy identity and Native American identity. In terms of how people have viewed Native-Americans in this country and how just like someone would say ‘Oh, you’re dirty like a Gypsy,’ or say ‘You’re dirty like an Indian! Stop acting like wild Indians!’”
“You don’t look like an Indian.”
“Well, we shouldn’t assume things on the basis of appearance because it is much more complex. Because for example if I would introduce you to my friends here, because I consider Gypsies to be people of color, I would say that you are a person of color. People would say ‘But she looks white!’ I’ll say, ‘Yea, but look at my aunt or my cousin who also might look white.’”
While he was driving me to the Union Station, where we decided to have our talk while waiting for my train back to Baltimore, we saw something which made me tell him that when I was with my friends at a gay club in Budapest, the comic number in their striptease show was a Gypsy transvestite couple, as if gay marginalized people need to further marginalize others within their ranks.
Elias talked to me kindly and patiently, wanting to make himself understood. Maybe he knew the effort it took me to acknowledge my Gypsy ancestry. Maybe he saw how tensed I was not to lose any of the “message” God “delivered” to me thru his words.
God might look like Elias. He had long dreadlocks, radiant face, serene smile and a thundering laughter. He was tall and powerful looking, like Rubezahl, the German wizard of my childhood fairy tales, who was so strong that could carry a whole forest on his back. He spoke passionately and was amused by my adventures in America.
And thus he spoke to me:
“We were coming to Union Station, and we saw what I would call a transgendered person, because I don’t know if it’s a person who is taking hormones, or has an operation or is going to have an operation to go from ‘male’ to ‘female’ gender identity. This was an African-American person and these were African-American kids. The reaction was one of laughing and the young boys started to chase, or pretend that they wanted to chase, because I think this person could just knock them all like that with one hand. But to me it’s like the thing you said about the gay club in Budapest, that here is a person who is not only African-American but a transgender person, so that means that’s a person who is part of an oppressed group within the broader gay community, within the black community as well.
“Transgender people have been in our community as long as we’ve been here, but it’s something seen very negatively, as part of the whole homophobia. People make jokes about this all the time, and has a lot to do with very rigid gender role definitions, that, ‘A real man wouldn’t wear a dress on the street.’ But if a woman wears pans no one thinks that a woman is cross-dressing as a man, you know. I think that our community is - I only speak from my experience - extremely uncomfortable with talking about sexuality.”
“In general?”
“Yeah, in general. To talk about it as such. Now, if you listen to popular music, if you see popular films, they deal with sexuality, but to actually talk openly about one’s sexuality, about the dynamics of sexuality within our community, that is a big taboo. That’s why there’s a lot of strange reaction to the work that I do. My theory is that the dominating culture is fueled by this fear of the power of the erotic, and it has identified the erotic with all of those groups that it seeks to oppress: people of color are supposed to have uncontrolled sexuality, women have uncontrolled libido. You talk about how women have to be controlled, women don’t have autonomy to control their own bodies, the legislation makes laws about reproductive rights.
“In particular in the African-American community, because it had been stigmatized so much, people just don’t talk about it! Because if we talked about it then, some of us would think, ‘Oh, that will just confirm what white people think about us already!’ Instead of subverting that whole thing! That paradigm is not a correct paradigm, so we don’t need to try to fit into it. Maybe we need to find some way of creating another discourse about sexuality. Does that make sense?
“I talk a lot about sexuality in terms of relation between sexuality and spirituality, and the heavy influence of the black church in the black community and the very stringent homophobia, the sexism, so on and so forth. For example me, to say that, ‘I’m bisexual,’ and to say it openly in the national magazine made a big scandal. A lot of people said, ‘But there’s no need to say that. Why do you need to say that? You don’t need to talk about these things in public. Everybody knows that everybody does this, that, and the other.’
“But because we don’t talk about it, what just happened on the street can happen. We don’t recognize and affirm that there’s diversity of sexual identities within our community, that sexuality is not something rigid, that sexuality is something like spirals. It’s very fluid, it moves, it changes. People do different things with different people, some at different stages in their lives, others continually.
“One of the reasons that I do the work that I do is because of HIV and AIDS in our community. Our community has been being affected by it because of the silence that surrounds talking about sexuality. So you can have a situation like... Well, let’s say for example: a man who was in jail. While he was in jail has sex with other men, who maybe was having sex with men before he went to jail, then he comes from jail and is in relationship with a woman, and won’t use the condom for having sex because the use of condom would imply - in his mind - for the woman that he had been having sex with men, or whatever. This fear of talking about that then puts people at risk. You see? It kills people! Silence really does equal death. It kills people.
“And as long as the silence is kept, then people can continue to think that things function. ‘This group is here, this group is there, everybody is neatly divided and separated,’ when in fact that’s not the truth, either in sexual practice or identity, or in ethnic identity.
“All kinds of identities: racial, gender, sexual identities are very fluid, and the systems of oppression that exist in the world have been able to get where they are by making us think the world is divided into these very strict categories.
“When we rob people who have diverse identities from expressing the diversity of their identities, we continue to solidify this kind of binary way of looking at the world, everything is ‘either - or’, and not ‘both’ and ‘and’ and ‘and’ and ‘and’ and ‘and.’ We might be many things, and we need to celebrate that. For me the gender identity, sexual identity, racial identity are all very close in the way in which they function. That just as people think I’m white, or I’m black, or I’m this or that, or people say I’m gay or I’m straight...
“What is straight actually? You see, one never interrogates what does being heterosexual mean. One says what does being gay mean, what does being bi-sexual mean, what’s being lesbian mean, what does being transgendered mean?! No one ever ask what does being straight mean! It doesn’t have to define itself, just like being white. So of course when you actually ask the question, it’s sort of a definition by negation of the other things. ‘Well, I’m not this, I’m not that.’
“In this country, if you look at the people that are ‘white’ there are a lot of people that aren’t actually, because they’re made up of other things that aren’t white at all! But the dominant culture needs to take as many people in its number as possible. There are white people walking around that think that they are white, who are actually of mixed heritage.
“And that’s not really talked about a lot. If someone in your position… People go generations in their family without knowing that there’s Gypsy ancestry. What that does is: number one it allows you to reduce what the impact and the importance of Gypsy culture is, by restricting it to, ‘Oh, that’s that group of people over there that are identified by certain characteristics.’ Instead of saying there is a whole segment of a population that is actually of mixed, whatever, and Gypsy heritage. And when you look at Gypsy culture all over the world, and all the places where it is and all the mixing that has gone on, it’s not an isolated phenomena and it’s not some little tiny group of people there.
“But then that makes the people in the dominating groups question what is their identity?! And if their identity is not nailed to the privilege of power that they have as being part of the dominating culture, because they are actually part of something else as well, then the whole thing would start to fall apart. That’s why it’s so much in maintaining these rigid separations, you know?
“It’s the same thing with sexual identities. If you say that, ‘Okay, the gay people are over there and the straight people are over here,’ and not deal with the fact that they are... What does it mean when a gay man has sex with a woman? What does it mean when a lesbian has sex with a gay man, with a straight man, or with a bisexual man? Or straight people, who maintain straight identity and the privilege of that but who have sex with people in their gender group, what does that mean then? What does it mean if someone says, ‘I’m a straight woman, but sometimes I sleep with women. But I’m straight!’ Well, that means that straight is not really what one assumes it means, but it never has to define itself. Do you see what I’m saying? Does it make any sense? You can tell me if it doesn’t make any sense and I’ll start all over again, no problem!”
“No, but I got stuck at... I was waiting to hear how damaging it is for myself not to acknowledge that I’m partly Gypsy... I... I’m ashamed of it. I was. Have you been ashamed of what you are?”
“Anybody who belongs to the group that’s not the dominating group, depending on what kind of education you get in your early exposure in your family, in school, so on and so forth... I think I was fortunate because I was given at home a strong sense of my diverse identity - in terms of my ethnic identities - that I didn’t have to be ashamed of being an African-American, and I didn’t have to be ashamed of being a Native-American, I didn’t have to be ashamed to be of Spanish and Irish descent. There was nothing to be ashamed of in that, and that if that was a problem it was with people’s perception, it wasn’t with me.
“But I think that was exceptional. A lot of people didn’t have that. They heard all these negative things about their heritage, like for example here people of Jewish ancestry. And the power of trying to assimilate kills in the individual the possibility to understand what all of our pieces are, you know? A lot of negative messages about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered. Even questioning what your sexuality is, it’s perceived as something negative by a lot of people.
“I think I, like probably everybody who grew in this culture, had moments when I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t want anybody to know, I won’t say it,’ or dara-rara-ra. It takes a toll, psychologically and spiritually, the amount of energy that you spend trying to be somebody other than who you are. Like the energy that it took you to spend to find out actually that you are a Gypsy, and what that meant and how it was that you had raised a child for three years without him knowing who he was. I think it’s very damaging on a very profound level.
“If in your upbringing, if Gypsy culture had been discussed, if you knew you were of a Gypsy descent and it was discussed as something positive, when someone would have made some Gypsy joke or something, you could have said from a place of strength, ‘You don’t talk like that in front of me, I don’t appreciate that, I’m Gypsy.’
“The silencing of the various pieces allows oppression to continue... Your life is your work, you know? and what you are writing about here, is really is about you, you know? and as you write it, it helps you to become more fully you, is that clear? Okay! Question?”
“Well, my boyfriend is bisexual, but he won’t acknowledge it. He’s old school. Just when he’s drunk he says what’s the difference, men, women, just the same!”
“To me the sad thing is that the act of speaking, of transforming your silence into action, is something that has a lot of risk involved in it! But do you live your life without taking risks? In the Hebrew Bible there’s a story of Queen Ester. She was living in the Persian Empire and she was married to the emperor, but he didn’t know that she was Jewish because her uncle had told her, ‘Don’t tell, don’t say you’re Jewish because if you say you’re Jewish you’ll never become the queen!’ So after she became the queen there was a plot to exterminate all the Jews in the empire, so her uncle said to her, ‘Please go to your husband and tell him he can’t kill the Jews.’ And she said, “I can’t do that, because if I do that, he’s gonna ask why do you care about these people?’ and then I have to say, ‘I’m a Jew,’ and if I say I’m a Jew, then, then he’s gonna... he’s gonna kill me! I won’t be the queen anymore,’ so on and so forth. And the uncle says to her, ‘Don’t think that because you’re married to the emperor, if something happens to the Jews, that you won’t be... your silence is not gonna protect you.’ So she said, ‘Well, but it’s against the law to go, you can only go at certain times before the king, and I’ve already gone, I can’t go again...’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe the reason that you became a queen was because this was going to happen and you could save the life of your people.’ And so she said, ‘Alright, let me think.’ And she said she’s gonna fast with her women and, ‘at the end of the fast I’ll go to the king, and if I die, I die.’ And what happened was because she went the massacre was stopped and didn’t take place. She was able to save not only her life, but the life of the Jewish people as well.
“To me that’s a very powerful story about what it happens when we let ourselves be silenced. Because you can’t really live when you are always worrying about when it shows up! ‘Oh, somebody’s gonna find out that I’m really a Gypsy, that I’m not really Hungarian or Romanian!’ or ‘They’ll find out that I’m really bisexual!’ or ‘They’ll find out that I’m lesbian!’ And you have to change everything all the time when you talk about people and that kills you! Little by little. The risk involved in living that kind of hidden life is that you don’t avail yourself of what community there is available for you. There is a gay community, there is a Gypsy community, there is a Jewish community.
“Sometimes the power of the hatred is so strong in silencing us that we think oh! all these horrible things are gonna happen to us, but we don’t think about the positive things that happen as a result of that. You don’t think of people saying, ‘This helps me to live my life better, this helps me to understand who I am.’ It’s really hard for people who live in isolated communities too. If I would live in a small town, everybody would know all of my business probably... And with that visibility comes vulnerability! But at the same time there comes a freedom and also a chance to help other people.
“We have this crazy idea that the work of liberation is easy work. They will say, ‘Oh, those people can do it! Let, let Ella, she can do it! She can talk about being part Gypsy. But no! I don’t need to, as long as she’s doing that, I don’t have to do it. And she’s at the university, and she’s this and she’s that, and she’s more capable of doing it that I could ever be to do it!’ And that takes away from us the possibility to take that risk as well. When people tell me, ‘Oh, no! You’re so visible and you’re vocal and you let everybody in the world know that you’re queer! We’re right behind you!’ I say, ‘No, the only reason I do it is to open the doors so that you can speak as well!’
“It’s like... and I keep jumping back to the ethnic thing, or to the gender thing because I see them being inextricably connected, in the way we view them... You cannot continue to have oppressive policies towards the Gypsy population, when you acknowledge that a large part of the so called non-Gypsy population is actually part Gypsy. It challenges then the way you look at Gypsy culture. You have to acknowledge that it’s not just some little tiny thing.
“Bisexuality does that same thing too, you can’t just say like... ‘Well, they’re that little group over there, that’s a certain percentage of the population.’ When you acknowledge that there’s people throughout the population who have experiences with people of their gender grouping, you can’t continue to say, ‘Well, we are the majority and they are the minority,’ because it’s not really true!
“That’s why I don’t like personally using the term ‘minority’. Because it’s based on this concept that there actually is a majority! But when you look at it the majority is not really the majority! And that’s what frightens people. But that can only become clear as people speak their stories. Back to your friend for him to speak his story, to help other people speak their story as well and help him also find a community so he doesn’t have to live in isolation, or... ‘Okay, don’t tell anybody,’ or ‘Don’t call me at work!’ All these things are just! Ha!
“I don’t know how people do it, I just don’t know how people do it anymore! There’s a funny thing here: people would say, for example, if I’m talking to somebody who’s in the closet, I’m talking to him at work. And when I’m talking about their boyfriend they’ll go, ‘And then they called me,’ and I’m like, ’They?!’ I’m like, ‘How many people?!’ And then I’ll go, ‘Oh, you’re at work, right?’ Because I don’t know where they’re calling from, and then I realize, oh, he’s at work and he can’t say ‘he called me.’ But to say, ‘He called me, and he came to my house,’ doesn’t mean anything! A man can call another man and come to a man’s house without them sleeping together, but when you are in this fear! You think immediately, ‘Oh, everybody’s gonna think that that means that this is my boyfriend or my lover.’ You know what I’m saying? So we give so much of our own power to this fear and I just think it’s a waste of life.
“I do a lot of work in the AIDS community and I’ve seen people who have spent most of their lives not saying who they are. And they’re forced to say it finally towards the end of their lives. How many have said to me when they’re dying, ‘I wish I had lived my life the way I wanted to live my life, and it’s too late now,’ You can imagine living like 30 years, 40 years pretending constantly that you’re somebody else to have people appreciate you? And what does it mean for people to appreciate you, when they’re not really appreciating you, because you’re not letting them know who you really are, and maybe you give them a chance to expand their horizons... That’s what I think... Is that of any help?”
“Yes... Would it be interesting for you to talk about the pressure the African-American community puts on gay people or bisexual people? In the Gypsy community, they don’t even talk gladly to them!”
“In the Gypsy community they don’t talk to gay people?”
“Yes. They don’t want to work with them, even with white gay people. Male Gypsies don’t want to hear of this. One said that the community would make them problems.”
“I think it’s a combination of things. When you are in a group that’s being perceived as being ‘minority’, ‘We already have enough problems with Gypsies, people don’t take us seriously already, we’re not going to work in alliance or coalition or solidarity with those white gay people, because then white people in power will go like, “Oh, see!...Look who… look the people they’re with! They’re nobody.”’ If you were a gay Gypsy, or a bisexual Gypsy, a lesbian Gypsy, transgender Gypsy is like being a black gay person, lesbian, dara-rara-ra. Our cultural group wants to say, ‘That doesn’t exist, you can’t be really black and be gay. If you are black and gay, that’s because you’re influenced by white people.’ That’s a lot of what’s said in our community.”
“One of the things that I like to do, is to say, ‘Well, you and I interpret the Bible literally on that, okay... What do you think about the fact that white people during slavery used the Bible to justify slavery? That they could open the Bible and say, ‘Here, this says “Slaves be obedient to your masters!” They could use the Bible, they could open it in Genesis and go to the story of Noah and his sons and find a story of Canaan and say, “Oh, that means black people are supposed to be slaves.” You don’t agree with that, do you?‘ ‘No! We don’t agree with that!’ ‘Okay. You don’t agree with that. Well, then why do you say that you can use the Bible against gay people?’ Which it makes people very uncomfortable because, when someone shows you something faulty in your logic and you know that it’s faulty, what do you do? Usually you get more strong in your position, in reaction to that.
“If the black church in United States - which has certainly been an important social agency, in terms of change, of organizing the community - had early on said, ‘It’s our responsibility to struggle on the side of those people who are perceived as being oppressed by the main culture. That your oppression as a woman, as a Gypsy, is my oppression. That as long as you can’t be totally who you are, I’m not totally free...’ if we had done that, then I think maybe our community would not have been as devastated as it is by AIDS. But it was like, ’Well, those men having sex with men, that’s a sin, the Bible says it, and this is God’s punishment!’
“And on top of that then - because of those attitudes - people don’t talk! They won’t talk about their sexuality! They’ll go to church, every Sunday. For example D.C. is a very church-going city, a lot of churches are full on Sundays. And in a lot of churches there is a lot of homophobic preaching. And lesbian people, gay people, bisexual people, transgender people would go and they won’t say anything. They just suffer in silence when the priest, their pastor or preacher, begins this, ‘This is wrong and that is wrong’ and dara-rara-ra, and no one would challenge it. So again that silence allows it to continue, to perpetuate itself, and a lot of people are very miserable because of that.
“At the same time HIV statistics and many other things indicate that there’s a lot more fluid sexual activity going on in our community than people want to acknowledge, because they think to acknowledge that is to confirm the white dominating culture’s attitudes about sexuality amongst black people. And instead of saying, ‘We don’t care what your attitudes are, we need to be honest so that we can save the lives of our people!’ we buy into the silence. Not into the silence, but into these negative messages that are being constantly sent out to people.
“So that even in 1995 the number of people within the black community who are actually visible and vocal and out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or people who question their sexuality, is very small, but there’s a whole lot more underneath that... It’s very dangerous for our community. The silence is very dangerous and it’s religiously fueled. On one hand you have the black church saying it’s wrong, and then you have the black nationalist movement, Afro-centric rigidly defined, saying that, ‘That’s a white thing, black people don’t do that, if you do that kind of stuff, it’s because you’ve been too influenced by white people, you studied in Europe, or you studied here or you did that,’ so on and so forth, and that silences people. That makes people afraid to say, ‘No, that’s not true, this is who I am.’ And it’s a bad situation, it’s really bad. But it’s made even worse by this fear of the reaction of the white dominating culture. If that weren’t there, we would be very different in our expression. But the fear of that, which has formed for centuries the way people think... It’s like it’s an embarrassment to our community, when somebody says, ’Well, I’m a lesbian,’ dara-rara-ra.
“There are a lot of people in the black community, in the nation, who are in very visible positions that a lot of us know that they’re lesbian or gay or bisexual, transgendered but they’ll never say it publicly, because they don’t want to ruin their reputation. But then, on the other hand, you have these people saying, ‘Well, you know, real black people aren’t lesbians, a real black woman is not a lesbian.’ When you actually have these people who are like icons in the black culture, who are, but who won’t say it so that they can maintain their credibility in the broader community. I think that’s very dangerous. And it’s sad, it makes me really sad, it really does, because it kills people, you know... it kills people.
“We talk about the Holocaust, and we talk about this and that. Dominating cultures really have this idea that if you don’t belong to their group, they can kill you! ‘You’re Gypsy, you’re nothing, we get rid of you! We can beat you up! If you’re a gay person, you’re not a real person, therefore we can just kick your ass on the street, or kill you or do whatever!’ And always have people like, ‘Wow, he killed these Gypsies because he was defending Hungarian honor, Romanian honor, he killed those gay people because he’s a real man!’ I think it’s really frightening.
“We’re at a point now where there’s a lot of tension around that, because one of the things affecting the black community is the rise of the radical right in the United States that is very religiously fueled. These are usually white conservative Protestants. They have discovered now - because a lot of black religious communities are very conservative religiously, literalist in the way they read the Bible - that they can make alliance with them, and through them, begin to attack the other communities and that’s...
“The right is rising in this country. It’s coming out of closet. It’s like, ‘Okay we’re here, we have money, we have power. We wanna stop this, we wanna stop that, we wanna stop!’ And they begin to take things progressively from community after community after community. They go after women’s reproductive rights, they go after gay rights, they go after affirmative action, they go after immigrants coming into United States, and...
“But the problem is that all these diverse other groups instead of saying that, ‘We need to be together,’ they’re like, ‘Well, we don’t want to have anything to do with that! That’s, that’s women’s issue! We don’t want to have anything to do with that, that’s a gay issue!’ When the principles beneath them all are the same and if we were together, if we were united, then we could resist, but everyone is like, ‘This is my oppression. My oppression is worse than yours! Your oppression can be... You can never understand my oppression!’ ‘Oh, you can never understand my oppression!’”
“Can we switch to talking about your teaching?”
“You’re in charge, whatever you want we can do. And I probably, in about 20 minutes, I need to go. I got my doctorate in Switzerland on deconstruction of black identity around the various concepts of Africa.
“In 1986 I was offered a job at Howard, right after I finished, so I came here, and I did my first work around African centered identity - looking at Africa as a positive value - regain people to look at Africa as something important, because that was not a lot of people’s attitude. Then I felt that it was important to deal with diversities in our community and I was very concerned about HIV and AIDS in our community, and so I began to teach a course of Sociology of Religion - I have the Chair of Sociology of Religion and the History of Religion. In Sociology of Religion, first I was using the European theorists, and I thought, ‘Well, it would be more exciting if we would develop our own sociology of religion of our experiences, of our diverse religious experiences,’ and I said, ‘Let’s do that.’ So we looked at Palestine, we looked at Central America, we looked at South Africa.
And then I said, ‘We really need to look at HIV, how does religion function as a source of liberation, versus of oppression, in our community when it comes to this issue.’ This was a very controversial course, but a lot of people were taking it. As a result of that we had a lot of discussions around the Bible, how do you interpret it, and then my work began to really deal with heterosexism, sexism, classism, ageism. How does religion support these various forms of oppression, or what are the ways in which religion challenges that in our communities.”
“What was controversial in your Bible course, if you remember?”
“Oh, I remember, ha! Well, a lot of people said...”
“What were you saying?”
“What was I saying? I was saying that HIV is not a shameful disease. We need to deal with it, we need to respond, that we have to take our own destiny into our own hands, if we don’t do this, we’re gonna be annihilated and if we sit around have these discussions about, ‘Well, I can’t deal with that because those are people who use drugs, I can deal with that because these are the gay people,’ by the time we’ll get through we’ll look around and there won’t be anybody left in our community.’
“What had happened also was that it was a black group in congress that meets every year at this big thing, and we had asked them to put HIV on the agenda and they said, ‘It’s not that big an issue, we have too many issues in our community.’ So what I did was to show how every issue in our community - whether it’s the prison, homelessness, lack of health care, education, drugs - they are all linked to HIV. Or violence! ‘Cause when we talk about violence, we don’t talk about hate crimes against gay people, that is part of violence, and that is, in violence, a health issue...
“A lot of people said, ‘This is not theology, this is no... This is not anything! I didn’t come here to listen to this stuff! You’re not going to make me believe, that I have to accept gay people. My God does not want me to accept gay people!’ People were saying this in class! And that’s why it became very, very controversial, because it made us start to talk about sexuality. People would go to the Dean and say, ‘I don’t want to be in this class anymore, this man is a heretic, and he just says these horrible things, I don’t have to listen,’ so on and so forth and...”
“And the Dean?”
“The Dean? I don’t know what he said ‘cause he’d tell me one thing and then tell them something else, but I think there was this feeling of not to upset me because I was just so vocal. ‘Oh, you don’t like what I’m doing? I’ll go to the press about it!’ I think that’s what they probably thought in their mind. although I wouldn’t do that because I was very concerned always to protect the school from any kind of negative image that is being the conservative school that it really is! But on the other hand, because I said, ‘We’re talking about this here, there are students in the school that have HIV!’ it was like ’Not our school! Not our school!’ ‘We have students with HIV! I know because they came to me and told me!’ ‘Oh, no, never here, never here! We never had anybody with HIV here! That could not possibly happen here!’ and that kind of denial, was just... I just put it in people’s face, ’We have to deal with this!’ It was very, very difficult.
“Can you talk about your baby?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m in love, I love my baby!”
“How comes that you have a baby?”
“How do I have a baby? How did you have a baby?!” [Laughs]
“Because you are bisexual!”
“Yeah. I have a woman partner, and we’ve been together for many years. We have tried for a long time to have a child and it didn’t work, it wasn’t successful, and then about a year ago, it happened.”
“How was it when you found out?”
“Oh, I was scared, because I couldn’t... I was so used to it not working that I was like, ‘Oh, we’ll never have a child!’ and when I found out I was like, ‘Oh, no! This isn’t when I planned it to happen! This wasn’t supposed to happen now! It was supposed to happen... Well, it should have, maybe if it happen later one, then I could...’ dara-rara-ra. I went through all of this stuff. Fortunately I have a lot of bisexual male friends who have children, so I talk to them. Men came and we had ‘discussion rituals.’ Probably after two weeks I started to be like, ‘I’m gonna have a baby?!’ I started to be very excited, very happy about it. I was happy at first but I was scared, just like, ‘What am I gonna do now? This will change my whole life!’ dara-rara-ra. You know the things that people tell you all the time!
“I find that it hasn’t changed, turned my life around. Probably because I had very close friends who had AIDS and I’ve been their caretaker. My partner had AIDS, he died in 1992 and for the last two years of his life he was the focus of my attention. You know, taking care of him and everything, so...
“I thought, ‘This is straight people who are used to getting married and have their little life. It’s just the two of them, and then always they have a baby and everything is changed.’ I realized that that was not my life before, and so that my reaction having a child wasn’t to be the same as their reaction was.
“I just take him, put him in his thing and go wherever with him, you know. We just came back home when you called today, in fact. And he’s a beautiful spiritual being, he really is so... I really enjoy being with him as a person, you know... I talk to him just like I’m talking with you, but I speak French and Spanish to him.
“When I’m feeding him and he looks at me, he’s smiling... I think what’s he gonna look like when he is a teenager, you know... He’s very... Everybody says, ‘Oh, this is such a beautiful baby,’ you know. Who would ever say that a baby is ugly? You don’t say to somebody ‘You have an ugly baby!’ But... he’s just... When you come back you have to see him the next time. I just feel that this is the best thing that I could have done in my life, it’s just the best thing... I just... I just go and sit. You asked me what my favorite thing was. I just go and sit, stand by when he’s asleep, I just stand, look at him... This is like a meditation, I could just look at him forever. Finally I have to go somewhere, ‘Okay, I have to go to bed, I have to go to bed...’ I just stand... I love him.”


Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being one of them, I’d be grateful.

New York,
August 5th, 2013 

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