In The Letting Go

For the sister I didn’t know I needed—Jahaira Balenciaga (DeAlto).

It took me a week to write this. It took that long to write this because I am still processing all of it. I am actively, equally outraged, heartbroken and in rolling disbelief. The woman I had watched on YouTube for the better part of a decade, who I connected with through the gift of social media–for the better part of a decade–was murdered in her house because she was helping a woman leave her husband.

I am devastated. And here is why.

I was introduced to Jahaira through the YouTube channel MuchLove From KY (Ms. Nina!) who I love like an Aunt also. I liked Jahaira because she was funny, smart, and she changed her hair like I did! I didn’t even know Jahaira was trans until disclosed that. Now, was I raised to be homophobic or transphobic? Not at all. So, Jahaira being trans, was a small part of who she was. What endeared Jahaira to me was her authenticity, her love for the people around her, and her steady committment to make the world a better place.

I followed her YouTube channel (JahairasMission) for years! I celebrated when she got her associates degree. I rejoice when she enrolled in Simmons University to finish her bachelors degree. I was so happy we won her award! She was doing so much good in the world and to have her life snuffed out like this? It is so unfair.

I am reminded of the statistic that she gave when excepting her MOVA award about 3 years ago now. She said that the average age that trans women get to especially transwomen of color get to, is only 35. At the time of her passing, Jahaira was 42,43 years old.

Foolishly, I thought that she was passed that danger point! I thought that she had made it over so to speak. And that all the good in the world that she was aiming to do, the children that she helped raise, the love and legacy that she left—she was going to be able to be one of those trans women they got to see old age and seen the reward of all her hard work. I wanted that for her…

It is being reported out of Dorchester, that The person that murdered her was actually staying with her! He’s now in custody, and I am enraged!

I have been watching her videos on YouTube for a week because my mind cannot wrap itself around the fact that this woman that I knew, who had gone through so much, who was destined to do so many good things is GONE!

It is being reported out of Dorchester, that she was murdered by the estranged husband of the woman she was trying to help to leave him. He wound up killing Jahaira and his estranged wife!

This ain’t right. This isn’t fair. And I don’t know how I’m coping. I can only imagine how her mother feels! Jahaira DeAlto is the 21st trans woman to be murdered this year. Yeah, even in all of my grief and anger, I’m choosing to do the very thing Jahaira reminded us all as her sub tastics told us do: LIVE.

And with that four letter word, let that be her legacy. She encouraged us all to live and live unapologetically. Owning every last piece of our truth, embracing every flaw that we have, and celebrating every victory!

See you one of the other side, Jah.

For The ‘POSE’!

I am already crying.

I NEED ALL THE THINGS TO HAPPEN ON THIS SHOW THIS SEASON!

I stopped my entire life to watch the Season 3 premiere of POSE on FX! I made sure my kids were in bed, that I had snacks, because I was prepared to have my emotions snatched from me.

It was then that I remembered that this was the last season. Then I remembered that there are transwomen being my murdered left and right—including my dear YouTube sister, Jahaira Balenciaga just this month!

I am looking forward to what Ryan Murphy and company do this season, because so far (we have now jumped from 1991 to 1995):

Blanca got a bae

Papi and Angel are still together

Ricky and Pray together still

Cubby died (Whew, Jesus!)

Pray back to drinking

Lulu got Angel back on that sh#t!

Blanca going to nursing school!

Electra is still shady as hell!

Whew! And that is just the first two episodes! What being a fan is this show has broadened my scope as it relates to empathy. To love and even what it means to be and ally, accomplice or an advocate. You cannot love POSE and not support Black transwomen.

I said what I said.

I know this is about to be so good, I know I am going to cry so hard, and I know I’ll be cussing at the television in two languages again—BUT! That is the power of great writing. That is the power of great story telling. That is the power of representation.

Let’s hope the Emmys get it RIGHT this time. Indiya Moore and Mj Rodriguez deserve EVERYTHING!

A Year Ago This Month: Reflections From A Pandemic

This picture is one of the few taken before the onset of the pandemic in the US in early 2020 (this was taken in October 2019). What an odd moratorium–but here we are.

One year ago this week, I was married. I was a mom. I was a healthcare worker in-between jobs, and I was a recent college graduate! I had planned on leaving healthcare and transitioning into education. I planned on pursuing my Masters in English (a possible MFA), and was even recommended by one of my mentors, Dr. Kimberly Welch, to pursue the Doctoral program.

I mean, Dr. Jennifer Harris, sounds formidable, doesn’t it?

And then COVID-19 abducted that future. The fight that would end my marriage completely was brewing, I felt it. There was no where to go, I hated being home, and ‘sheltering in place’ with someone that you have no desire to be with is a different type of Hell. While sheltering in place, I had to confirm my plan to leave the husband who claimed to love me, but had hurt me so badly that I would have rather slept outside than in his bed! I learned just what activities he was up to! All while trying to keep peace for the sake of my children.

What kicked it off? Me doing exactly what I’m doing right now: writing. I was at my computer, and he asked me why I wasn’t talking to him. I told him I wasn’t bothering him, and I was minding my business. Why did I say that? And off it went. We argued. We screamed. And he asked me if I even wanted to be his wife anymore.

I, leaning against the wall, completely bereft said, “No.”

And the month of April was an exercise patience, being stealth, and having to do what you have to do with the world burning around you! I found a new job. I started a new job, full-time, with benefits. I found an apartment, looked at it and my mother got my deposit for it. I lied to the man that is now my ex constantly so he would leave me alone.

I still cooked. I still was gracious! I washed clothes and mopped floors. I still was a mom. I answered questions of children, I muddled my way through the beginnings of this quagmire of virtual learning. I mean, I even remember making Easter dinner last year, and all his favorites. Kill ’em with kindness, right? WWJD, right?

And Saturday, April 25, 2020? He packed his things, and the last thing he asked me, “Can I have my keys?” And I haven’t seen him since. And I am relieved! Relieved! I was able to breathe for the first time in two years! In that relief, I had to mourn what was.

There would be no more 2-parent household. There would be no more grad school, no TA-ing for my mentor. My plans for my MFA were permanently on hold. I couldn’t leave healthcare–I needed the money to sustain myself and kids! I was back to being a single parent, after almost 7 years. I was no longer going to be a married woman. I had to do the dirty work of putting my life back together…while falling apart. Whatever ancestral faith imparted to me, and I forged, I tapped into. I tapped into. The days immediately following his leaving, I barely remember! I had a house to pack. I had to get to work! I had to get back from work!

After being employed for a month, I even remember the day–May 15, 2020–I called off work. A huge issue in health care anyway! I literally felt my body and mind say, “I cannot go on. I cannot do anymore! Whatever you are demanding me to do, I cannot do!” I called my best friend, Tawanna, and told her what happened. She told me to take care of myself–and I did. I remember calling the Nursing Office, and robotically telling them–with proper 2-hour notice!–that I could not make it in. “I have an emergency with my children.” That was all I could muster. I thanked the woman that answered the phone, and I resumed laying down in the dark room with half of my possessions packed up in various rooms. I remember I laid in bed, tears breaking free from the prison of my own strength. I cried. Not loud, but I cried. I have been tired. I have even been exhausted! I have never been the level of tired where my entire being rebelled and shut down.

My children were with my mother and sister, so I could get back and forth to work (this was a lot of ride-sharing, and paying people gas money). A lot of groceries being delivered, and dealing with coming home to my lights being off (because he turned them off! They were in his name!), and him telling the landlord that we (myself and children) were gone! Imagine their surprise when I appeared out of the house after hearing noise in the backyard!

I had to pack a house, raise kids, and move my entire life to get back to where I had to get to. I decided that me was more important than the we! I had to mourn what was dead, and even what I helped to kill! With all that swirled around me, I didn’t die. I didn’t succumb! I didn’t quit! God truly kept me–He truly did!

From those early days of confusion, trying to get masks, and washing clothes every time I went outside–to being an a 2-bedroom apartment that catches the morning and evening light, where I see trees every morning. A pandemic didn’t kill me. A bad relationship couldn’t stop me. An abusive ex couldn’t, didn’t silence me. What this pandemic has taught me is I am stronger that what I thought, and had to become more resourceful that I ever thought.

Now, in this new ‘normal’, I pay my own rent. I am still employed, being an great mom–who keeps masks in her car. I am 2 months away from 40, and looking to buy a house. Is this a happily ever after? No. This is the next chapter being written. For that, I am grateful.

When The Love Poet Doesn’t Believe In Love Anymore

What happens when the love poet

Doesn’t believe in love anymore?

When there is no more honey

To mine from the mind of our honeycombs

To remind the world that all

It needs is love.

Love.

This lie fed to us

Inside of a four-letter word,

That is supposed to right

All that is upside-down

Or buried on the inside of

You.

What happens with

Love not present in

The pens, absent from

The pages, and is not

Sought after in the

Life of the poet?

What happens to the poet who stops looking for love?

And when they believe that love no longer looks for them?

The poet writes what

They know,

And even what they don’t.

With the hope that

Both will return.

-©JBHarris, 2.28.2021

Week 4: “Is Love A Myth?”

Is love a myth? No.

In the space that I am in now, I know two things.

First, Sex is not medicine.

Second, I value intimacy over sex.

Love like I want, and like I have read about, it is something that is special. It is rare. So incredibly rare. I realize that I am precious and valuable, and have no need to reveal that specialness to anyone else. Not right now, anyway. Love is not a myth, it is a power source. You an build with it, take it with you, and it is deep enough to last longer than social media. That is what I want, and what I am looking for. I am looking for something that I am aware that few people will find, or know how to hang on to.

Love is often said, and not shown enough. At this point in my life, I understand that what loving someone means, versus being in love with someone means. If I tell you “I love you” that means that I support you, care for you, and want the best for you whether it benefits me or not. From those three components, I am promising that I will do all in my power to care for you, and being your soft place in the world. Love is a door, window and a mirror. Never a wall. Love, real love, will always make windows and walls–that is it’s nature!

Love is not a myth. It is always waiting. And right now, I’m waiting on it. For the first time, I’m waiting on it to find me–rather than running after it.

Good thing come to those who wait, right? I’m about to find out. What do I have to lose? I refuse to lose myself again.

Week 3: Loving Me First

Thank you to Karen Banks and Tiffany Blue that help me to unpack both broken heart and tired mind.

What I am learning now, at this portion of my life is that peace is invaluable. Peace is what it is needed beyond anything else. For the first time in a decade, I belong to myself for the first time. Complete. Whole. Knowing. My mother told me a while ago that I would ‘settle into myself’ when I was 25. I didn’t really know what that meant, and didn’t have sense enough to understand. This is why the old folk say, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

Single. Unmarried. Seeking no prospects. Settling into myself.

What I have learned is that to be myself, the woman that I want to become, I have to be able to fight for her. That means, I have to do the hard work of healing up. Let me assure you, dear reader, that it is work. Confronting what it is I want, want to do, and how painful it might be able to do both. I am seeing a therapist to help me unpack my head, rescuing me from the thoughts of feeling less than regal which always threaten when you are engaged in the tender work of healing. Oh, and it is work!

I am learning to define myself outside of being someone’s wife, girlfriend, or even someone’s mother! The scary thing? I’m not scared to be alone anymore, when I thought I was before. I no longer have the draw and ache that allowed me to stay in place which were torturous or empty. I enjoy the word, “No.” I enjoy how it tastes, the sound of my own voice or silence. I enjoy saying what I need and while walking away from what I do not want.

I do not want my time wasted.

I refuse to dim my light and take off my crown for people that no the value of either.

I am not simply DTF.

I am not going to settle for what I deserve.

I am okay with my Saturdays being quiet, with a good book or a nap–or binging YOU on Netflix.

I am in love with my own features again, not needing that confirmation of another’s gaze. I wear makeup because I always have, but now, it feels like adornment rather than war paint. But, somedays it is both! The red lipstick looks good on a Black girl that knows what color is and what it means to wear it. I am learning to be happy.

But, I am also okay with being sad.

I realize that my pain is real, tangible and should be acknowledged. I realize to just bulldoze past my pain is almost worst than ignoring it. My tears are a release valve, not a weight. I have given myself the gift few are afforded–myself. Love is not just the passion for another, but for yourself. I have given me back to me. I am learning now, at 39, that I am a whole treasure–meal and snack. I am more than what has happened to me, and I have the right to hold on to all of myself. I have the right to make myself all over again, and for myself. How fitting? The writer, at the source of her own plot, gets to re-work it….as she sees fit.

The Lord truly works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

In The Wake Of The Dating Apps

I found out that Facebook has a DATING section. Oh, the things you miss while trying to heal up! When some of my co-workers found out I was single again, I cannot tell you many people told me to try Bumble, OkCupid or Tinder! The thought of being visible again, and men looking at me, freaked me out. And if I’m honest? I had a moment when I thought, “What if my ex-husband sees this?” I mean, I really don’t want any part of my life exposed to any part of him ever again. I’m not sure if that makes me wise, bitter or paranoid.

I understand that I am supposed to have a life after him, and that is fine. The thing is, or the dark irony is, I haven’t posted any thing about my relationship in almost a year, and no one either noticed or cared to notice. My social media has been wiped clean of his presence, and no one noticed! It feels as if there was a silent bet that someone won, and they are gracious enough not to collect in front of me. But, this is what happens when your relationship is failing like cheap glass in a hurricane. Everyone can see it, they just hope the storm passes without killing everyone in the process. The end of this feels like a hugger-mugger funeral: quick, clean, quiet. Perhaps that is the best way.

Wounds heal better when everything is done cleanly, cleaned out, and you have time to recoup. Time is always the factor. Right now, I’m giving myself time. Then, I can be pretty, primped and perfect for someone to swipe left or right on me.

Remembering ‘BLACK PANTHER’

Image result for black panther

It was three years ago this week that I saw Black Panther on Opening Night. I saw it with my second husband, and sat in the push AMC seat with him and was transported to Wakanda for the very first time. There was magic seeing Chadwick Boseman on screen as T’Challa–I had never seen a Black superhero on screen before! I had seen Blade of course, and Wesley Snipes owned all pieces of that role! But this, this was different. It had an ancestral feel, and during the middle of the movie, I almost cried. At the end of the movie after hearing young Black men discussing fan Marvel Comics fan theory? I threw my arms around them! It was glorious. Simply glorious.

One of the last things we did as a family was take my daughters to see this movie. The complete delight on their faces as they watched, I cannot quite describe. It indeed was a cultural moment worthy of all hype and celebration!

Then, Chadwick Boseman died.

Image result for black panther
Long live the [our] King.

This is after telling my daughter after she was so distraught after watching The Avengers: Infinity War, “No one dies in the Marvel Universe.” I told her that to dry her tears, only to have her collapse in my bed almost three years later, knowing that the actor who brought him to life is dead. How do you reconcile that?

As a mother, I need what to say to make her okay. As an artist, I am still grieving. When this reminder came through my memories, I was taken back to Opening Night. I remember getting ready to music, thinking about my outfit, and even what earrings to wear. I wanted to be pretty and pretty effing hot. What strikes me now are the hidden conversations: recasting, the sequels, plans going forward. In the comics, Princess Shuri takes the mantle of Black Panther. There was even talk of Black Panther (T’Challa) should not be recast. And I won’t lie to you, I was on that same bandwagon! I wanted the role to stay sacrosanct! Don’t cast anyone else as T’Challa! Then, I ventured into one of my Blerd groups. Those hidden converasations ceased to be whispers, and I realized how silly (and selfish) I was being:

“But, there have been how many actors who have been Batman? Superman? How many have been Spider-Man?”

The Extraordinary Journey of a Black Nerd Group

When I sat and thought about it, and thought about it as a writer? The creator of that post and those commenting on it were right. The best way we honor Chadwick is to make sure the character doesn’t die with him. Chadwick is immortal and integral to the MCU, and with still so much left to do–but he left us so much.

The little girl in me is grieving, but the writer in me is elated. I want to see what more can come from these characters! I want to see what Ryan Coogler or even Nia DaCosta come up with as possible directors for these new movies! I want to see what the writers, storyboard artists, CGI teams come up with. I want to see what happens next. As the old hymn goes, “I feel like going on.” I want to see what happens next–I must see what happens next. My hope is the staff and all teams involved will honor the source material, current standards and push past all doubt and give us he sequel we all need! I for one, cannot wait.

[image from imdb.com and mediavillage.com]

Week 2: “Do I Even Want To Date?”

I have been separated (soon to be divorced!) for 10 months. In that time, I have not been pressed about seeing people! Frankly, I don’t want to be seen and not really concerned about people trying to see me. There is a fear in me that doesn’t want to date. I mean, I really don’t want to! There is no reason to! I am loving my own company, loving being able to command my own time and space. I don’t have to be anywhere, being anything to anyone when I get there, and I have no desire to put myself anywhere.

There are girlfriends of mine who tell me that it’s time that I start dating. There is no rush. There can be rush. Why? I just don’t want to. I’m not sure if that makes me mean, wary, or just a bitch. I’m still trying to figure all that out. But, the thing that I find striking about all this healing I’m doing is that I am becoming honest with myself. I am learning that the most pure form of love I could have for myself is to not lie to myself again.

I have lived almost 4 decades, man! In that time, you would think that I would have learned and applied something. What I have noticed is it is easier to be involved with someone else rather than work on myself. And right now, I want to work on me. I don’t want to be bothered with someone else. I don’t want to be concerned with the whims and moods of someone else! I am selfish right now. I am not apologizing for that. All I want is all of me. I don’t want to, I don’t have to and I have no desire to. Right now, my time intimate selves are both commodities–rare and exquisite. Until I am ready to share both, I’m cool right here–healing and not worried about someone thinking of swiping left or right on me. I chose me, no one else matters.

‘Malcolm & Marie’-Part 2: Woman Thoughts

Reminder: These are my thoughts and my take on the movie.

There is a sweetness to this movie that makes me sick.

I have been in a relationship where I have tried to be a support to a man that seemed to think my presence was only an extension of himself or not needed for the gains he wished to make. I have been Marie. More than once.

When I saw her hit that cold butter with the Chef’s knife to make him macaroni and cheese–that he asked her for? I knew what it was. And I almost started crying. I have been a Marie.

Is this a ‘struggle love’ movie? No, I don’t think that it is. It is a movie that is long overdue to be told from the honest pen of Black writers. The movie displays exactly what it looks like to try to be with someone who may not know what that means; conversely what it means to try to stay with someone that doesn’t think you will ever leave.

The dialogue is honest, the emotions are raw, and several times I wanted to slap fire from Malcolm! There were several times I wanted to snatch Marie and tell her to shut up! There were times in the movie where I thought they both went too far–where I thought for the ‘good’ of the relationship Marie should hush! Yet, in examining that—isn’t that the same feeling that makes struggle love possible? This idea that one has to be lesser than the other for the sake of peace.

She doesn’t let Malcolm get away with talking to her in a way that makes her shrink.

Image result for malcolm and marie
After the bathtub scene, the two are outside, smoking. Marie plays the song GET RID OF HIM by Dionne Warwick on her iPhone. She so badly wants Malcolm to look beyond what he feels–and see her.

He doesn’t allow Marie to talk to him any kind of way either, but he believes he knows her well enough to talk to her like he does. It is this knowingness that Marie calls narcissism. I’m not sure if it is, but it definitely arrogance.

They go at each other, and circle the idea of reconciling but then they remember why each of them is mad, and that someone that they love hurt them that badly, and they come out swinging at each other again.

And what is the beginning of this argument about: Malcolm didn’t thank her. He sees that as an excited oversight, but Marie sees it as one on top of another set or slings and arrows! But in an attempt to remind Marie that she is loved, he brings up what he did. Even supporting her through addiction and suicide attempts. The bathtub scene was hardest to watch because you could tell Malcolm’s intent was to truly ‘snap her like a twig.’ He belittles her, humiliates her, and Marie forces herself not to cry. And later in the movie Malcolm tells her how in love with he is, and even tells her this as the movie opens. The one thing I will continuously give Malcolm credit for was being in-tune enough with her know she was not alright.

He tells her how talented she is, but also calls her on her inability to do something else–like go back to acting. In calling her on her own insecurities, he exposes her to what she hadn’t done–and he won’t let her weasel out of that. Which causes Marie to be upset moreso! She wants him to see her, and see all of her. I mean, they even fight about how she didn’t/wasn’t cast in his movie IMANI. Malcolm tells her that he wasn’t going to beg her to audition–even though he said with the right part she would be outstanding!

Marie also won’t give into having sex with him–she doesn’t want to give him the comfort of her body. She wants him to hear her, rather than feel her. Which I thought was pivotal–that goes into the power dynamic of a relationship! Sex is often transactional, and used to diffuse certain situations. It doesn’t really solve them. Is it manipulative? No. If I’m mad, then why should I give you the comfort of my body!

They are truly a mess. But they love each other. Yet, its not struggle love. Marie doesn’t shrink, she refuses to be steamrolled or bullied. Marie tells Malcolm that he steamrolls over everyone because he cannot conceive that someone else is more interesting than him. She tells him as the movie ends:

“Your lack of curiosity is an extension of your narcissism. You never stop to ask, ‘How can I be a better partner?’ ” Marie then says, “I am the last one standing, who is not scared to tell you to ‘up your fucking game’.

As complex and layered as this story is, I am still stewing on it. Even as the movie ends, there is no clear cut happy ending. We don’t know if Malcolm really sees her. We don’t know if Marie has enough in her to forgive him to do better. We are given the scene of them outside, from the vantage point of the bedroom window, and see them together. We are given the illusion of hope. Nothing else.

And that is what all relationships have behind doors, isn’t it? Hope. We hope that we can pull it together. We hope our partners can do better. We hope they see us, and we don’t want Marie’s words to haunt us:

“I feel like once you know someone is there for you, and once you know they love you, you never really think of them again. It’s not until you’re about to lose someone that you finally pay attention.”

After Marie tells him why thanking her was imperative, Malcolm seems to understand! It’s not an oversight–it was him ignoring her for his own gain and ends. Even if he did it on accident. Marie desires to be seen and heard, and demands the man who loves her to do both! Malcolm is a good guy, but he has to understand that relationships are effort. Marie has to understand that you cannot put your life inside of a man–you need to be brave enough to exist without him, or his approval.

Malcolm & Marie will make you think. It’ll make you cry. It’ll make you laugh and remind you that love is a choice. Staying together is a choice. And leaving is also a choice. They stayed together to try again. Isn’t that what love does–give hope? And the hope to be seen? I believe so, even in a place with all windows.