I’m a writer. Writers write. Writers fill white pages with words and sometimes when writers are afraid of the page, they write in their heads and let internalized gremlins erase those words and convince them that no one would have wanted to read them anyway. So in an effort to destabilize those gremlins, I have accepted the 52 Essays in 2017 challenge from Vanessa Martir, a dope ass writer who relentlessly blessed us with her talent in 2016 by writing an essay a week.
So the following is my first of 52.
- When I read what Kim Burrell said about my death in 2017, my impulse was to read her. I’m passive aggressive, so I never would have addressed her directly. I probably would have just wished things for her out loud. I wanted to wish her deliverance from the heterosexual preoccupations I know all too well– the disbelief that someone could actually enjoy the sex acts that fundamentalist Christian women are obsessed with because we are dating men who think we are dirty and we are afraid that doing dirty things to them will make us less marriable and therefore we place taboos on putting dicks in our mouths and develop a God-ordained gag reflex that we hope makes us look holy and then we become so obsessed with dicks in mouths that we begin to resent those who suck dick better than us– namely hoes and men– and so we build whole ass ministries around saving both their souls though they really need to be saved from little more than our preoccupation with their dicksucking ways. Meanwhile, we are married to or trying to marry men who only take “you got to lick it before you stick it” halfway seriously and therefore give us meager moments of clumsy tongue poking before trying to enter us like knife against sandpaper and we call this holy. The God-ordained nakedness of two people who desire heaven more than each other and do not realize they could make heaven right here in these hard, wet moments if they weren’t so preoccupied with hell. Was that a read?
2. I learned to read when I was in Kindergarten. The word “orange” was my nemesis. I felt dumb when I saw this word, the same organization of signs, and failed to recognize it. What is wrong with my brain and why does it fail to see what others so easily see?
3. My friend Silas said he could see I was gay from a mile away. I still don’t know what he saw.
4. My queerness is orange to me. In the beginning, my relief at learning the sign for myself was overshadowed by that internalized asshole who always accompanies every new knowledge with accusations of slowness and dim wit. Together we have constructed a list of signs I wouldn’t have missed if I had been smarter.
5. That time a man asked me to spend the night and I showed up in Garfield pajamas believing he was inviting me to a slumber party then asked him to sleep on the floor after the movie is on the list.
6. I’ve been read by a gay man twice. Both times, I asked for it. Not in the Kim Burrell, reading-is-such-sweet-karma kind of way, but like I literally asked. The first time, I walked into a rehearsal for a show my friends were putting on and the room was buzzing with murmurs about the read I’d just missed. I was a senior in college. I’d never seen Paris is Burning. I thought my friends were talking about a psychic reading so I asked the librarian to read me. “Do me!” I practically begged because the rest of my life was just around the corner and I had no idea who I was becoming. I wanted to be told so that I could go back to reading my novels and living in my daydreams, secure in his predictions about life after graduation. “Are you sure you want this?” he asked, like the prophets in my youth choir back home. I nodded, prepared for the gravity of a word from God.
My brain is too kind to store every line of that read, but I remember that each sentence was knife entering flesh or magician’s hand warping my inner mirror. The one line I halfway remember: “Ain’t had dick since God knows when and wouldn’t even know where to find it.” I thought he was the cruelest psychic I’d ever met.
7. Here’s a chicken and egg conundrum that I might research one day: What construction came first? The read or the nondenominational, “word of faith” sermon? In nondenominational churches, speakers are not beholden to the types of exegesis I learned as a Baptist-raised, churchgoing girl. The word these ministers share has been hand-delivered by Gawd himself and ministers could give a fuck about the Hebrew or Greek meaning of the English words they leap from. They could give less than two fucks about consistency or explanation or studying the text against other interpretations. Their sermons are of the collective spirit, which means they are more shaped by call and response than literary analysis. Kim was reading reactions as she was speaking, anticipating the thing that would make the Amen’s crescendo. In much the same way, librarians go all the way in when they sense some sign of reaction from the target. A slight furrow of the brow. A bitten bottom lip. An eye rolled too long. It seems that the preacher and the librarian are two sides of the same coin. I’ve spent a whole day watching Kim Burrell reads on YouTube and the similarities between her sermon and the responding reads are fascinating. I wonder if T.D. Jakes, Juanita Bynum, and the other word of faith ministers know they are “queening out” on the devil and his demons, reading them for filth in a relentless assault of stream-of-consciousness insults. The line between “You can’t take my joy devil” and “Bitch, you got me fucked up” is so thin that the two speakers seem like one and the same. Only the lexicon is different.
8. “Mr. ‘I am Delivurt’ filled with all these different spirits got all the way to Jimmy Kimmel. You see what the enemy is looking for?” Thus sayeth Kim Burrell.
9. “I know bitches’ Grannies who go to the motherfuckin church just to motherfuckin stunt on they Star Wars 2.0 muthafuckin hats so that Girdy can be Ooh’in and Aah’in and giving her motherfuckin side eye.” Thus sayeth Malibu Dollface.
10. What hurt most about my first read was that I had no idea how to get dick and I was embarrassed by it. When I heard rumors about my friends casually fucking each other, my main question was “how?” How did they move from conversation to nakedness? What were the steps and how had I missed all of them in those high school years when my friends were fucking and I was holding on to my virginity like that girl on Titanic who just let Leonardo DiCaprio die like she couldn’t scoot just a little to the left? I was a senior in college and the bit of dick I’d had I hadn’t really wanted. He’d pretended that blue balls were life threatening and he didn’t love me enough to die gracefully like Leonardo. He took my log without asking me and I drowned and drown again every time I am triggered, every time someone pretends my “no” is just another obstacle to overcome.
11. The second time I was read by a gay man was a gift. It was the first time I’d laughed in the few days since the girl I’d read as safe had said, “You know you want this…” and set me back fourteen years to that night during my freshman year in a dorm room far away from home. But I wasn’t a freshman anymore and I was stronger and I wanted to believe I could make this the last time anybody had me fucked up if I made a few changes to the way I dressed. Studs, I reasoned wrongly, didn’t get raped. I went to the Gap outlet and shopped in the boring colors of the men’s section. I wanted to look like my ex girlfriend, beautiful but un-fuck-wit-able with super swag and fitted clothes. I didn’t get any of those things right. I sent a picture of myself leaning against the wall in stud fashion from the dressing room to my best friend and he texted back, “Call me immediately so I can read you.” I called. The few lines I remember: “Are you in Gap or Goodwill?” and “Don’t you ever let a bitch make your pretty ass dress like that again! You hear me? If you buy those ill-fitting, busted-ass jeans today that bitch has won. You have been through too much to let her win today.”
12. I put the jeans back.
13. I actually bought the jeans, but she still didn’t win because I only wore them once and felt like I was in bad drag so I dropped them off at Goodwill and the irony wasn’t lost on me.
14. Kim Burrell got dragged on the internets and I couldn’t enjoy it because I have taught myself not to indulge in fat-shaming even when “fat” is the nearest weapon, the extension cord that is closer than the belt.
15. Most of the queens who read Kim agree that she’s the kind of woman who can’t get dick, who wouldn’t know where to find it. This read makes me feel a strange empathy for the woman whose beliefs and mean spirit I find disgusting and infuriating. I wonder if all reads are perverted kernels of empathy– felt, held at a distance, then turned into stones.
16. One thing that big women and gay men may have in common is fatigue over statements of the obvious shaped into insults. Many of the gay men who read Kim and called her all manner of Michelin Men, manatees, and hog maw enthusiasts also said they were tired of people calling them out for things they couldn’t control. I could sip tea right here, but I won’t because I’m not white and therefore, I am allergic to arguments about reverse bigotry of any sort. It’s not fair to hold the oppressed accountable for low blows to the oppressor when they have to defend themselves daily from insult, physical harm, and the prayers of the so-called righteous. Maybe they know that being “wide-backed” and “ill-built like a muthafucka” are not innately terrible. Maybe they have gotten into the habit of hoarding observations for those just-in-case moments when a loved one spews some hateful shit and they have to let a bitch know that she has the wrong one.
17. One day, I will research the reads of Eddie Long and Donnie McClurkin to see if they are equally vicious. I want to know if some of the vitriol aimed at Kim specifically and black heterosexual women generally is a continuation of this intracommunal animosity between black men and women that both terrifies and fascinates me. You know how if you bite your tongue hard enough to draw blood, you will inevitably bite it again before the day is over? It is because a swollen tongue disrupts your body’s memorized agenda. You forget to take care until you bite it again, re-traumatizing tender flesh and starting the cycle of forgetting and triggering that is the routine of the traumatized.
18. “You got people walking the earth that’s filled with God’s holiness, that’s wearing white, and … they don’t want nothing. They just want to please God.They’ll never get the fame. They’ll never get the light.” Thus sayeth Kim Burrell.
19. It may be too much to ask Kim Burrell to forget her swollen tongue. To forget that mainstream fame and “the light” were withheld from her because her body was not the same as her dear friend Whitney’s. Beyonce’s respect may be more irritant than compliment. To have an undeniable gift and judge Sunday’s Best while Jennifer Lopez judges American Idol might irritate the person who has centered “the enemy” in her self-appraisal and called it anything other than white supremacy. The gatekeeping she is projecting is not her creation. It is her noose, the thing that will not let her breathe. I wish she’d make the rope her enemy rather than reveling in her ability to name others too perverted to receive the light.
20. I wonder if Kim, like me, will one day realize that the very thing she can’t seem to get is the thing she doesn’t really desire. I wonder if warmth and worth will then flood her body like sunlight. Like orange.