I first heard traces of his Into Nebula EP that day, during my studio visit, as I like to put it, and I knew then, with certainty, that it would touch people in a special way. Into Nebula's got a soul to it that is very Black, how it moves between house, hip-hop, R&B and the blues, sampling Donnie Hathaway, Will Downing, and Kerri Chandler. It's notable to mention that the tape was made while Blu was completing school. He is quite the exemplary student in the halls of academia and to the rigor of art making. The tape is thus a living thesis as it world-builds and leads us towards a future space, talking through topics of race, gender, socioeconomic status and sexuality. The artist has surrendered to the air, and the possibility of spaces unknown, and he's surely riding it, as depicted in the album cover art. What a pleasure to witness him fly and this work two years later.
We bring it all full circle, chatting on the phone how we do about life, excavation and what's ahead. A star is surely born.
Read more here!
Danez Smith doesn't mince words. As a 2017 finalist for the National Book Award for his second book, Don't Call Us Dead, Smith has chosen to paint literary pictures of life as a black, queer, HIV-positive person living in the world. Smith spoke to me about his work, and the following excerpt of that interview is being published on TheBody to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Read more here!
"Now I suck him down to sleep/ I pray to hoes his soul I keep/ If he should nut before I’m done/ I pray to hoes, there’s another one" opines Chae Buttuh in "Hoeism," the lead track from her debut project with FUTUREHOOD, HoFi: A Collection of Glam Trap & Hoe Hymns.
The Greensboro, North Carolina native is bringing sexy back to hip-hop and in doing so bringing the realest parts of herself to light. The subversive nature of her work is powerful in how she empowers femme identity and sexuality, distancing it from the shame reinforced by society. "Hoeism is Feminism is Futurism," Buttah says. "HoFi is for femmes who have no problem using their sexuality to survive and achieve goals."
Read more of my interview with Chae Buttuh here!
I am a black trans femme, happy to be alive and grateful that a man’s desire for my body has not led to violence, which is all too common for trans women and gender-nonconforming people of color.
And to complicate this even further: Black, fat and gender-deviant are the targets I wear on my back as I move throughout the world. People feel a sense of entitlement toward my body — whether they are random men on the street, goofy teenagers in Brooklyn, police officers, women and children on the subway, or people on the internet.
I often wonder, when is my body my own?
People are often ashamed that trans and gender-nonconforming bodies produce pleasure for them, and they’re also fearful that others might find out. This is similar to something the poet Claudia Rankine wrote about police violence: “Because white men can’t police their imagination, black people are dying.” Similarly, trans women and gender-nonconforming people of color are dying because people, especially cisgender men and women, cannot police their imaginations.
Read more here!
Two weeks ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the 32nd Annual Kopkind Retreat and Seminars in Guildford, Vermont, hosted by the Center for Independent Documentary and Kopkind Colony. I, along with 8 other filmmakers, spent an entire week in the middle-of-nowhere Vermont to depart from my/our usual day-to-day business and busyness to: 1. screen works-in-progress; 2. discuss and workshop them in seminars; and, most importantly, 3. to radically relax, unplug, and commune with the life renewing nature surrounding us. It also gave us an opportunity to depart the all-to-common isolation artists, writers, thinkers, and filmmakers encounter. Isolation, often dark, is important to the process of creating, but light and exposure are necessary, too, to the final picture. My experience there was exactly that — a journey into the light — and I’ll never forget it; it’s embedded in my memory in a series of photos. And the relaxation allowed me space to ruminate on the nature of stillness, sustainability, healing, wellness, and my burgeoning career in film.
Before traveling there, my body had processed tragedy, trauma, and exhaustion over and over again — whether as result of occupying this body, in public space (a.k.a street harassment); ongoing police brutality; feeling the weight of the commodification of black death, black pain, and black suffering via news and social media; witnessing the genocide of black trans women at the hands of gender based violence; and struggling with housing and job instability. The culmination of these things, in addition to creative blocks, overwhelmed me. My body was tense. My mind racing with many thoughts (as per usual). And noise, though occasionally helpful to the process of my being, surrounded me in both physical space and social media. I needed — desperately — a return to myself. I needed to see myself in a different environment. I needed to tune out the noise to hear myself more clearly. So, I happily packed my bag and journeyed towards Vermont. The train ride from Penn Station, NY to Brattleboro, VT was the first of many journeys to occur for me that week.
When I arrived to Tree Frog Farm, the location of the retreat, I was immediately blown away by the deep green landscape and rich imagery consisting of an assortment of flowers, cozy cabins, and a beautiful, eccentric queer home. Although there was no phone service on the farm, it didn't keep me from documenting my excitement with my cell phone, after taking it all in. Because I’m deeply fulfilled by hybrid experiences, and i’m a millennial through and through, the first picture I remember taking was of the sun setting atop the fertile meadow behind the home. Can you imagine that? Like, It really captured the beauty of stillness, of peacefulness, and grounded me, providing a brief escape from tall buildings, crowded trains, and the trashy streets of New York City. It reminded me of my retreat experience as a Boy Scout at the Bert Adams Scout Reservation, in 5th grade, when I attended Peterson Elementary School; the last time I ever remember being outside of a city setting for a long period of time. It was necessary. And I felt a strong invitation back into self — a return. The sight of the ambient horizon sweetly welcomed me.
The first night kicked off with great conversation and delicious food, as would be a reoccurring theme for the duration of the week. Both fed and filled me physically, intellectually, and artistically. I came there empty and with very few expectations other than to plan next steps for No Fats, No Femmes and to get away from New York. I didn't know what would happen. Who I'd meet. But I was hopeful. I had only glanced, briefly, over the bios of folks attending before coming. I didn't remember much, but it was a fun exercise spending the majority of the first night committing names and faces to memory. The rest of the week would go on to be incredibly transformative and moving through a series of film slams, politically charged and emotionally stirring seminars, and once in a lifetime, relaxing fun moments in Vermont -- whether swimming in ponds or streaming rivers, many a nights in the hot tub, under the stars, or showering outside, in the nude, as RuPaul's "Supermodel" and Gloria Gaynor's "I Am What I Am" plays on the sound system. Also, to hear the birds chirping and feel the misty morning dew against my bare feet walking across the grass; and to not be street harassed or encounter any police whatsoever. My body deserved this.
I screened my works-in-progress for No Fats, No Femmes on the second night, and it was the first of many favorite experiences I have committed to memory. I screened my intro and two excerpts from: 1. No Fats, No Femmes: Politics of Desirability Beyond The Bedroom (a cyber panel I organized for the film’s crowdfunding campaign); and 2. Tongues Untied. Screening my work in conversation with Marlon Riggs, on what was unofficially Black LGBT night with Debra Wilson’s Butch Mystique (which I now own, courtesy of Debra), was so important to me. It was magical. I felt him and so many others in the room with me. I often jokingly consider myself a ‘Marlon Riggs’ film scholar because his work has tremendously impacted my own; but, it’s the truth: I don't think my work in film would exist or be possible without him. I consider No Fats, No Femmes the child of Tongues Untied, picking up where Marlon — my brother, my ancestor, my guide — left off. The weapons of choice here: my pen, camera, and an undying desire to challenge and shape public discourse were among the things I picked up. This is evident. And the feedback I received in the seminar reminded me to keep going and get out of my head and my own way. It was especially reassuring to hear that from seasoned documentary filmmakers, writers, and artists.
The retreat ended with a dazzling disco party, a screening of The Peacemaker, James Demo’s latest documentary, and a tasty brunch and bittersweet send-off. The disco party reminded me how great it feels to be in the body. I feel extremely powerful when i am in my body and feeling cunty. Oh how marvelous that is, channeling every bit of Sylvester, Marsha P. Johnson, and Assotto Saint. They were all with me as I twirled and pranced throughout the night, in a barn, where the DJ played exciting tunes and gave an extraordinary light show.
This would come, of course, after watching the documentary. The Peacemaker follows Padraig O’Malley, an international peacemaker, over the course of 5 years as he helps make peace for others but struggles to find it for himself. The film was jarring and pushed me to reckon with how society and social justice conditions us to become obsessed with conflict — that everything around us reminds us of problems in the world, and how much we desire to fix them. It placed so many things into perspective for me and I recognized similar threads in my own life. And I don't want my truth to be that I'm exceptionally gifted at thinking, dreaming and working towards ways to solve problems and conflict in the world without being able to solve those in my own life -- with myself, my family, my friends or those whom I love and care for deeply. It made me question how I am taking care of myself as a young person committed to black liberation and black queer and trans cultural production. I left it wanting peace for my life. I left it thinking about survival. Like, practical ways to keep me alive to do more self work, which I hope will inspire communities of people and/or community building work. I love community building, and will always find it important, but I’ve desired more recently to have my wellness and my family apart of the liberation I fight for, dream of, and think critically through. I’d feel like an imposter otherwise. Over the past seven years, I have lived life and worked away from them, and while I appreciate how distance contributed to my wellness and safety, in hindsight, I’ll never feel good enough doing so much great work that impacts people all across the world away from them. I know it has reached them, in some shape form or fashion, but I want them more apart of this journey.
Relaxation reminded me that life is a journey, not a destination. And I wholeheartedly believe that because so much has changed within and around me. I completed graduate school and am growing into my practice and career as an artist, writer, and thinker (which feels weird); I’m still [re-]considering eating meat; I’ve started walking balls; I now enjoy the taste of Coronas; I no longer enjoy party scenes; Friendships have shifted; My family -- both biological and chosen -- is expanding; I still don't love New York, though I appreciate what it offers my life; I’m feeling a strong affinity towards teaching and Philadelphia; And my desire for life, as I'm growing older, is to simply live a life that pleasures me and not the world -- an authentic, honest life rich with kindness and integrity. I’m only 25 (I know), but with so much death occurring around me, every breath and every birthday feel precious. Every breath and every birthday is important to me. The truth is: my best work will be the work that I do to keep me alive and honest. And that work must start with a more relaxed, less reactive me. That work must include my family, and those immediately surrounding me. That work must include a path towards peace.
In the course of the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the term, “throw shade.” The expression — as poignantly documented in Jennie Livingston’s seminal 1990 classic, Paris Is Burning — was popularized in 2009 on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and was later buoyed on shows like The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Braxton Family Values, Married to Medicine, and Love and Hip Hop, among others. Shade, as defined in the film by Dorian Corey, is a more developed form of reading — the curve to the pitch. “To read is to insult imaginatively, in opposition to the blunt gay-bashing taunts of the straight world,” Corey said. “Reading is gay-to-gay sparring.” What’s received less attention, however, is the current and historical context from which this term was made possible. As a result, the term is often overused, misused, and normalized in ways that are disturbing and inaccurate.
Read more here!
you did not fail me,
single black mother.
i did not fail you,
single black mother.
we failed expectations
of what a single black mother
raising a queer child should be
when there exist no model.
we failed normal
notions of family,
we haved learned a new language
of love, grace, and understanding.
we haved radically mothered
we will heal.
Freedom is not yet here. It is imperative that we always remember this. Black futures depend upon it. Black futures demand that we’re not content with loving our black lives without question; that we always question and consider who is left behind. We don’t have the luxury of parsing out race, from class, gender, size, dis/ability, and sexuality. It is critically imperative that we approach movement work through an intentional — perhaps, proactive — intersectional lens because it is vital that we expand and shape a movement that is all-body loving and all-gender honoring. And this is not to tokenize or exceptionalize people in spaces but to push us to be as abundant as the water — to soft river and vogue our way to freedom, following in the Black radical footsteps of Harriet, leaving no one behind.
Read more here!
not another black life
not another hashtag
not another think-piece
not another protest
not another march
i am fucking tired
we are tired
to not be tired
to be okay
to process trauma
to process 400 years and counting
of systematic/sanctioned/structured violence
enacted upon black bodies
still trying to try
to be okay
still trying to try
to imagine an otherwise life and world
still trying to try
to be okay
and black joy
still trying to try
to be okay
a thought/work-in-progress by jamal lewis
i come to you broken
with no desire to be fixed
do you know how that feel?
to be confident yet insecure
strong yet weak
brilliant yet doubtful
loved yet lonely
unafraid yet fearful
seen yet invisible
broken yet whole
whole because i am broken
invisible because i am seen
fearful because i am unafraid
lonely because i am loved
doubtful because i am brilliant
weak because i am strong
insecure because i am confident
do you know how that feel?
imagine with me:
tears fall slowly from my face
drop after drop after drop
forming a body of water as vast as the ocean.
so, i swim, stroke after stroke
deeply immersed in a body outside my own
because swimming is a phenomena of joy
much like (re)birth,
much like wading in the water, children
searching for answers
searching for truth
searching for healing
do you know how that feel?
somewhere between green and violent
a tide draws nearer
bodies moving in concert
like the earth and the moon
a gravational pull -- beautiful and misunderstood
a rhapsody in blue: colorful and formless
like a nuanced melody in bflat
both sentimental and vapid, much like my life
all of the things and none
broken with no desire to be fixed
do you know how that feel?
original poem by jamal lewis
Note: This is a short story -- an artifice or reflection of sorts -- of a series of events that happened during the months of November and December. I recorded each mini essay as notes in my phone and connected them later.
It is Friday night and folks are gathered in an apartment in Brooklyn to celebrate life and the birthday of a fearless, passionate revolutionary. Drinks are superfluously flowing. Loud is in the air. Conversation happening here and there. Party goers rolling in, one by one, two by two, and some in larger crews. In one part of the apartment, folks are dancing: two steps, jersey “wu tang,” soca, “nae nae,” and girls voguing. Shawam! In another, folks are engaged in intense, intellectual, emotional dialogue about transformative justice and healing. In the last part, folks are discussing occupation. I walk in, quietly observe, nod, and smirk at folks. A few seconds later, I’m immediately asked, “So, what do you do?”
I’ve always struggled with this kind of questioning as someone who does many things -- a jack of all trades, but master of none. So, I respond, “I’m passionate about such and such…” Faces turn in the room. More questions are asked and some frowns even, but one glaring smile from the birthday queen made things better. She fiercely responds, “I know there isn’t anyone asking about occupation at my party. Nope, not at this party!” We all giggled and the party and children carried on. I politely ease my way out to return to dancing because I felt uneasy about what happened. I danced and danced until my body tired and later crouched in a corner to regroup. Thoughts about earlier conversations began to cloud my mind, especially the moment about occupations. It was disturbingly frightening and telling of many things, specifically folks inability to connect with one another in substantive ways and only on the basis of who they are and what they do. For me, it made me anxious about my life and all the things that I did not like about its current state. I stopped, took a deep breath, heavily sighed, and continued to self reflect. I realized later that I could have easily answered the question asked of me but the older I get the more I find myself less interested in teenage fantasies of achievement and success – a type corroborated by images produced by mainstream media. However, in contrast, I believe, and want for myself, to reimagine my purpose beyond those things, and connect with people for who I am not because of who I am and what I am able to produce.
It is now Saturday morning and I wake up feeling and looking like the party, dressed in the same clothes. What an experience! Celebrating life in this way is such a beautiful sight and it feels so damn good. It felt like a magical high, like carefree summer afternoons on the beach, and a feeling of joy that I did not want to escape. I roll over and the birthday girl is in the bed next to me. She smiles a satisfactory smile that gleefully filled the room. I smile back, and after stretching, wiping the crust out of the crevice of my eye, I took a stroll through the apartment to see who else was there. I would find maybe one or two folks and we laughed, recollecting all of the wonderful memories made the night before. Every laugh and every moment embodied the radiance and beauty of the sunlight, peering through the clouds, shining on our faces, through the window, reflecting the goodness of the human soul. Though the weather was gloomy out, the sun still found a way to shine, in spite of, much like my life. Saturday evening rolls around and I'm finally home, in solitude. Reading, surfing the net, lying in bed, feeling at peace; I've realized that I'm happiest when my body is immobile, in a lazy state of being, not feeling pressured to produce. I like to think of this laziness as an act of self-preservation because it is a radical response to imperialist white supremacist heteropatriarchy capitalism, and its expectations of my black, fat, femme body. So, I chose rest and self-care. Erykah Badu's Baduizm is playing in the background and I'm scrolling through Facebook -- as I would through TV channels -- in search of something to read. Moments later I found and began reading “The Two Michael Sams”: a moving piece, written by Joel Anderson, on BuzzFeed, about Michael Sam, his father, and the disappointment they’re both experiencing in their lives. It placed so many things into perspective for me and I began to feel guilty about the distance I’ve created between my family and myself for my own survival. I left home at the age of 18 with 2 bags of clothes, a few dollars, big dreams for my life, and a self-determined, independent attitude that would have me navigating adulthood and homelessness with no map or model. Bruised, hurt yet resilient. I taught myself how to survive with nothing but hopes of achieving something. And at 24 years of age I’ve still found ways to blame myself – somewhat feeling like an imposter or sell-out -- because I abandoned, and even sacrificed, one way of living for another, my biological family to find chosen family, and hell in comfort (life at home) to find a heaven of sorts in uncomfortability and uncertainty (life in the streets, houseless). How does one even begin to heal from trauma(s) of their past and move forward, heal, leap into newness without feeling guilty about it?
Weeks later I would encounter a depression as dark as the night fall that terribly haunted and consumed my life like a black hole devoid of sunlight. I felt like I was drowning so deep in water, with waves constantly crashing against me that I couldn't climb out. I felt trapped and the Ferguson verdict, announced a few days after the start of this depression, shook me even more—pushing my body back under water. I protested, screamed, cried and even raged on a few folks in real life and on the web. Doing so allowed me the opportunity to insert my body into a concerted effort of madness in public space. It was needed. It was healing; but, it was also frustrating, taxing on the body, and extremely ableist at times making clear to me my place in movement making: artist, thinker, creative, healer, and nurturer. These thoughts came to me after much introspection, and I realized that I thrive best in hybrid spaces that look and feel like many things and not one that prioritizes one thing over the next.
A week later, I'm on a bus headed home to Atlanta. The bus is jerking, shaking and moving very fast, much like my life, again. I’m anxious and worried. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and opened my offline reading list on my phone in search of something to read. I found and begin re-reading Ashon Crawley's “Otherwise, Ferguson” and his words and writing deeply resonated with my current thoughts and gently held me in warmth. He writes:
“To begin with the otherwise as word, as concept, is to presume that whatever we have is not all that is possible. Otherwise. It is a concept of internal difference, internal multiplicity. The otherwise is the disbelief in what is current and a movement towards, and an affirmation of, imagining other modes of social organization, other ways for us to be with each other. Otherwise as plentitude. Otherwise is the enunciation and concept of irreducible possibility, irreducible capacity, to create change, to be something else, to explore, to imagine, to live fully, freely, vibrantly. Otherwise Ferguson. Otherwise Gaza. Otherwise Detroit. Otherwise Worlds. Otherwise expresses an unrest and discontent, a seeking to conceive dreams that allow us to wake laughing, tears of joy in our eyes, dreams that have us saying, I hope this comes true.”
I’m in my seat, at this point, and I am having church all by myself – snapping my fingers, stomping my feet, and crying. As tears fell from my face, I was reassured and reminded of my own strength, the obstacles I've overcome in my lifetime, and the life ahead of me. Imagining an otherwise world and possibility for living has saved my life and helped me to reimagine my purpose, which has transformed my life in overwhelming ways and helped me to heal. It has relieved the guilt I felt (and, feel) for abandoning my family to pursue my own dreams and selfish wants for my life. It is what saved (and, saves) me from myself. It is a light, in dark times, at the end of the tunnel. It is what I think about when I’m asked, “what I do.” The party, guilt, and depression are all separate things but they’re not isolated. Who I am and what I do is a result of so many things, people, places, and much struggle; and it is also connected to the guilt I often feel, the depression, and my desire to celebrate living, in party spaces and elsewhere, during a time where black lives are constantly taken. All of these things sit at the front of my consciousness, day to day, as I perform self, and go out into the world. So, imagining otherwise worlds and possibilites, for myself, demand that I ask the following: Who am I performing for and what will I gain from it? What will I lose?