i am

My photo
harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Falling In Love on Brokeback Mountain: And, They're Not Queer

A couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of viewing the film "Brokeback Mountain." I was accompanied by an SGL male friend - an ADODI brother - who was as eager to see the film as I was. In fact, we had plans to see the film last week, but our conflicting schedules would not allow it. My friend & I committed to not seeing the film until we watched it together: I was deeply moved.

My initial reaction, upon learning of the homosexual relationship between two white cowboys, was to dismiss the film as another so-called gay Hollywood romance w/ no particular resonance to me as an SGL man of African descent. Earlier that afternoon, I spoke w/ a couple of SGL brothers who praised the film & insisted I'd experience something different from what I expected or imagined. They were right.

Set in 1963, amidst the backdrop of snow-capped mountains in Wyoming, I was immediately captivated by the beautiful cinematography. From the opening scene, it was clear the environment would play a major role in narrating the story, written & directed by independent filmmaker Ang Lee. The film's two protagonists, sensitively portrayed by Heath Ledger & Jake Gyllenhall, are 'roadies' whose strong work ethic bonds them on a practical level: they need each other to survive.

These two men are connected by rituals requiring them to cook, handle sheep, secure shelter & weather the brutal winter conditions. Alone. Isolated. They have a job to do & nothing else matters. As such, I was fascinated by the simple use of dialogue between these two men, along w/ the empty spaces filled w/ a breathtaking musical score.

I also appreciated their struggle to relate to each other, as men, as human beings, as workers, which evolved slowly as the film progressed. Traditionally, men in this setting are socialized to mask emotions others may perceive as feminine, soft, or weak. Men are not supposed to acknowledge pain, vulnerability, or terror. Yet, on "Brokeback Mountain," they discovered a longing unfamiliar to them. These two men were attracted to each other & they had an awkward time expressing this unexpected energy.

The morning after the men arise from a noticeably physical encounter of anal intercourse, absolute silence descends upon them. While cooking the, now, familiar can of beans, one of the men says to the guy he fucked, "I'm not queer." Without missing a beat, the other guy deadpans, "neither am I." This was the only time a sexual identity was discussed between the two. Up until around 1968, homosexuality was diagnosed as a mental illness in America, so I understood why the men were not, as many men are almost 40 years later, fighting for gay rights.

Contrary to mainstream media outlets, "Brokeback Mountain," is not a gay film. This film chronicles the lives of two men struggling to find meaning in the way they feel for each other. They argue, fight, hug, kiss, laugh & scream at each other over a period of time. As Chris Rock said in one of his HBO specials, "relationships are easy to get into, difficult to maintain." I doubt if the bright, young comedian had this type of relationship in mind, because our society is obsessed w/ gay identity politics.

Because they needed to work, both men had to sacrifice their feelings for each other for months. They made a commitment to stay connected, not sure of where this union would lead, considering the time frame & their need to establish manhood as it was already defined. One of the men married a woman w/ low self-esteen & had two kids in a trailer home. The other married a successful business women & had one kid, though communication problems between the two were apparent from the outset.

Each year the men would plan a 'fishing trip' in order to secretly see each other. I loved witnessing the excitement evident in their body language as they recieved each other's postcards, anticipating another few days, or week, to spend time together - in sin. There was a poignant scene early in the film in which the men engage each other arounf their religous beliefs. Small talk about Methodist & Protestant ethics ensued, which provided a backdrop for their infidelity.

The film took a tragic ending which I won't divulge here. Suffice it to say, the chemistry between these two men transcended class, gender, identity, orientation & skin privilege. The unsung manner in which they related to their families, wives & children demonstrated the complexities inherent in navigating unfamiliar sexual & social terrain. I'd highly recommend this film to my progressive friends & open-mnded family members. I intend to watch it again.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

NYC Transit Strike: Illegal or Just?

The recent transit strike by disgruntled transit workers created havoc w/ NYC's seven million riders this past week. Folks complained about everything from the the holiday season to the inconvenience to the weather. Its hard trying to please a fickle audience - ask any Knick fan. Still, I'm grateful after two & half days of absence, the buses & subways are back in operation as contract negotiations between the MTA & TWU 100, led by President Roger Toussaint, move forward toward resolution.

Initially, the MTA offered transit workers a paltry six percent raise over a three year period. Yet, less than one mayoral election ago, the MTA publicly announced they'd 'discovered' a billion dollar surplus: show me the money! Additionally, it was reported the MTA - whose board members are mostly appointed by Governor Pataki - keeps two separate accounting books. Why? In the words of power-driven Gordon Gekko of 'Wall Street' fame, a role which garnered actor Michael Douglas an Oscar, "greed is good." Or, as controversial boxing promoter Don King once poignantly remarked, "only in America."

TWU 100 summarily rejected the MTA's offer, which was later amended to a nine percent raise over a three year period. NYC transit workers gross roughly $55,000 yearly, which, on the surface, is a welcome salary by most standards. However, considering the rising cost of living in NYC, the lack of adequate health care, as well as the higher wages of Long Island Rail Road (L.I.R.R.) & Metro North workers, it was clear the MTA was in for a dog fight.

As the principled Toussaint made clear from his brilliant leadership, the strike was more than a quarrel over money. What did Aretha ask for? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. In addition to the ongoing threat of job security due to more technology & less people in the last decade, transit workers are subjected to deplorable working conditions each day: asbestos, inadequate bathroom facilities, poor audio equipment, rats, substance users, etc. Also, the emotional & physical stress of working long hours in a tiny booth is more than enough to make a sane person go crazy.

When the MTA made their final contract offer - a 10.5 percent raise over three years - the TWU 100 overwhelmingly decided enough was enough. The union sought a 24 percent raise over three years, as well as changes in disciplinary action, improved benefits & pension plan revision, all to no avail. The first to strike were bus drivers in Queens as of 12:01 a.m., Sunday, December 18, followed by bus & subway workers from the metropolitan area as of 12:01 a.m., Tuesday, December 20. Yeah, it was on.

Upon viewing the media coverage of the contract negotiations, I noticed a certain tone ascribed to TWU 100 President Roger Toussaint, a proud native of Trinidad & Tobago. His integrity was attacked by local journalists, newspaper columnists & Mayor Bloomberg, who referred to him as "thuggish." Before his recent election, Bloomberg embraced resolution amongst unions involving firemen, policemen, sanitation workers & teachers. Never, in his term as Mayor, has he referred to a union president as a "thug."

Move over 50 Cent, there's a new sheriff in town...

The Mayor's racist remarks drew the ire of many Black male leaders, most notably Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron. Barron, a regular guest on Gary Byrd's 'GBE' weekly early morning radio program (WLIB/1190 AM), told Byrd he basically called Toussaint a nigger. Bloomberg, as well as Pataki, shaped the media's coverage of the strike by calling transit workers "selfish & shameful" for breaking the "Taylor Law," a tool used to justify denying the bargaining leverage of a prospective union.

Toussaint, evoking the spirit of Haitian President Toussaint L'Overture, astutely noted the Civil Rights Movement was fueled by illegal activity: the laws of this country were built on the oppression of African people centuries ago. When the late Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man in the Jim Crow south, she successfully spearheaded a 381 day boycott of the Montgomery Bus Company. The TWU 100 leader also remarked Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., who won a Nobel Peace Prize award for his humanitarian efforts, was "begrudgingly" given a national holiday on his earth day - January 15.

Even Stevie Wonder can see how Black men are not valued in this society. The blatant level of disrespect accorded Toussaint is consistent w/ the mistreatment of Black men who hold powerful positions in today's society. Unlike other union leaders who value expediency over empowerment, Toussaint remained true to the will of his constituency, 70 percent of whom rely on public transportation. Furthermore, Toussaint disclosed contingency plans which baffled media & political pundits alike. He made me proud.

On the first day of the strike, a Black male Supreme Court Judge - handpicked to handle this case - levied the TWU 100 w/ a million dollar a day fine for breaking the Taylor Law, thereby giving new meaning to 'Black on Black crime.' Additionally, transit workers were fined $25,000 a day for their actions. Later, as negotiations stalled, it was discovered, before the strike was called, the MTA sought to punish transit workers by deducting six percent of their annual salary towards their pension benefits.

As of this writing, transit workers are back to work. For a couple of days, though, I noticed an eerie quiet in the village of Harlem, where I tend to do a lot of walking through anyway. I appreciated the tranquility & wondered how folks were coping. I called a few friends & learned the majority of them empathized w/ the transit workers. They expressed rage towards the supremacist remarks of Bloomberg & Pataki, who didn't intervene at the bargaining table, but instead, viciously attacked the character of Toussaint, a man trying to do his job to the best of his ability, just like the rest of us in this cold ass city.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Save Tookie's Life: Kill The Death Penalty

On December 13, 2005, Stan "Tookie" Williams is due to be executed in California. Though he maintains his innocence, Williams was convicted in 1981 of the 1979 murders of four people (one black, three Asian) during two separate robberies. Amidst a backdrop of anti-gang hysteria, during the questionable trial - any trial of a Black man in America is questionable - the prosecutor referred to him as "a Bengal tiger," as well as his South Central home as a "jungle."

Williams was found guilty by a 'jury of his peers': a lily-white jury. Despite his right to due process, all prospective Black jurors were removed from the selection pool. Historically, Blacks are wary of serving on death penalty cases. Later, in the sentencing phase of his trial, Williams appeared before the court in shackles - evoking the enslavement of our ancestors - a practice the U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled unconstitutional. Who says racism is dead?

In 1971, Williams co-founded the notorious street gang the Crips. The Crips, along w/ their rival gang, the Bloods, ruled South Central street life for decades. Ironically, the fate of this brother lies in the hands of an actor turned Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a European immigrant who made millions of dollars in films celebrating violence as a male rites of passage. America, then, is a nation obsessed w/ violence: the hate that hate produced.

Despite his ordeal, or, perhaps, in his response to it, Williams has spent the last 20 years intervening in gang disputes. Along w/ author Barbara Becnel, he's co-written a children's book series, "Tookie Speaks Out Against Gang Violence." One of his books won national honors. Last year he helped broker peace agreements between Bloods & Crips in California & New Jersey. More than 70,000 people have sent e-mails to www.SaveTookie.org. Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx sensitively portrayed Williams in the cable TV film, "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story."

His supporters, among them Jim Brown, Snoop Dogg, Danny Glover & Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have nominated Williams for the Nobel Peace Prize. Recently, Governor Schwarzenegger told reporters he is "dreading" the decision to end or extend the life of the atoned brother, who currently survives in a six by ten foot cell. The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial calling on the Governor to grant him clemency. Todd Chretien of the 'Campaign to End the Death Penalty,' says, "there is no reason on earth to kill him & every reason to keep him alive."

I've never believed in the death penalty. As the descendant of enslaved Africans, the emotional & psychological residue of post traumatic slave syndrome haunts my wounded psyche. As a Black man in America, I suffer the oppression of white supremacy daily. As a same gender-loving brother, I've been rejected by community, family, religion & society. As a recovering drug addict living w/ AIDS, I know isolation on an intimate level: we are imprisoned by our own minds & condemned by our own guilt.

Life has a way of somehow getting your undivided attention, whether you like it or not. My 97-year old great grandmother used to tell me when I was little, "nobody gets through this world unscathed." My mother once told me, "God don't make mistakes." In one of his books, Williams poignantly writes, "don't join a gang. You won't find what you're looking for. All you will find is trouble, pain & sadness. I know. I did." In my 45 years or so on the planet, I've learned, as has Williams, to heal: healing is the natural tendency to restore balance when it is lost. Am I my brother's keeper? Yes. Let Tookie live.