Image from Harvard Business Review, “Making Your Workplace Safe for Grief
Editor’s Note: I found out I lost a close friend of mine yesterday. Her name was Brittany. She was gregarious homeless floater, an African American trans woman who, over the years I’ve seen smile, hug, love and survive through horrible experiences. There was a time some men broke her leg because she was a “faggot.” I would give her money when I could, I always told her she was beautiful and she me. She was beautiful. Not just on the outside, but what really drew us all to her was her heart.
I could not attend her vigil for my own personal reasons, but I am grieving her. And because I couldn’t be there, the least I can do is dedicate this essay to her.
A few months ago, we released a reading list entitled, P / P Reading List: 10 Books To Help Those Who Are Healing Through Grief, but yesterday, I was faced with another more intimate look at death and loss. I honestly, don’t remember what made me put together the reading list. I believe I have the ability to feel what others feel, grieve when others grieve, become affected when people are close…or even far away. If I can be deeply honest – I’ve never written this publicly, but there are times when I feel so much empathy and love in my heart, I am overwhelmed.
Through study and writing I’ve learned about experiences of people all over the world: people who don’t have clean water, experience FGM, girls who are married off at 11 years old and people who have lost a parent or close friend.
I had to learn to be cautious about complaining about the plights of being an African American woman. It is not that I don’t experience systemic problems that derive from the roots of slavery and racism in this country – by the way, Paula Giddings’ When and Where I Enter is a book that opens one’s eyes to Black women’s history from the moment African women stepped onto American soil to the 1980s. It teaches about the prolific Black women who helped make our culture what it is today:
It wasn’t only after reading that book and writing for Ms. Magazine that taught me about the different ways women navigate life around the world, but it simply helped me learn how blessed all of us are in America. Black women can get an education, we can speak what’s on our minds, we can share our stories, we can get published, drive cars and have access to massive amenities that most the people around the world could not fathom receiving. So, there is a blessing in grief when it comes to where I stand in life – but none of us, not one human being is able to escape death and loss.
There are a few things I needed to take time to understand and assess within myself – there is a very good chance I cannot ever have a child, which is a grief that is slow moving. Also, my friend, Brittany passed away recently, which was abrupt and happened too quickly for me to truly have time process. There are several losses I have experienced in a short amount of time – which have had tremendous consequences on my life.
Public / Private Consequences of Loss
While making sure it is important be cautious about complaining about the wonderful privileges, blessings and opportunities this country affords me, this entire globe has rules, sets of limits, social realities and boundaries of diplomacy that I, while steeped in my grief, have inadvertently crossed.
It’s been a scary, painful and an enlightening experience. I’ve been invited to lecture about topics that are very serious in regards to women and human rights, and I will not express whether mind have or have not been violated, but I have lost a certain currency because of grief. It took me a long time to realize this, maybe too long. I continued to keep my head in books and words, thinking I could be very vulnerable, not understanding the world was watching.
I can’t call myself naive or aloof, but I had been invited to lecture, sing and get on a stage for being myself for so long, no one ever taught me the rules and the seriousness of my presence. No one ever told me how things could change for me. I know there are many who are angry at me for writing openly and being myself, but it’s been hard for me because I always felt accepted for being just who I am and I guess there are realms outside of my cultural, historical and entertainment work that saw me as something of a bad thing.
It is painful – I was unaware.
Also, I was very serious about staying grounded and accessible because I have worked with celebrities for so long, I did my best to keep my own life as private as possible. I also tried to balance things by teaching free and inexpensive classes so anyone could come talk to me about anything they wanted. I could give advice to those who needed it and give a hug to those who were hurting.
As I wrote in my last piece, I will never forget where I come from.
Publik / Private exists and is free and available for everyone because I wanted to share the blessings I have been given.
I moved to my hometown because I wanted to walk down the street and get that beautiful Baltimore smile that is usually followed with a “Hello,” “How you doin’ miss?” “You have a pretty smile!” by people of all creeds, colors and genders.
More importantly, my biggest fear was to lose my freedoms and have my family become affected negatively by harsh criticisms my work. My number one biggest fear is having my family having go through the agony of seeing their daughter in pain in public…or living privately in public as some may perceive.
Returning to my point, grief makes us behave in ways that we just have to walk through.
And working in the public since I was 17, I’ve had to walk through the hardest times of my life in front of others. I had to become a woman in public. It was very awkward. But at this point, at my age, with a few health problems, bills and family responsibilities, it’s different.
When things hit you later in life, you can’t just pick up and go. I can’t just run to the beach (which I have done), drop everything and abandon your responsibilities no matter how ugly you look, how messy, how misunderstood, how lost, how stupid others tell you you are.
At a certain age, you’ve got walk through grief, there is no escaping it. People depend on me. Do I wish I was 22 again? No. Is this a new phase of my life where I have realized I cannot do the things I was able to do with privacy and anonymity? Yes. And it is ok. I accept it. But it took me a while to understand that things will never be the same and grief is of no consequence when you are accessible to people who can’t sit down and speak to you and get to know you.
The way my body smells, which I love. The way I interact, the way I live, it’s all there for people to interpret.
I have to let go accept it.
Surrender to it.
Because I can’t control anyone but myself
Just like our reading list, we are here for you all, no matter who you are. I am here to write and talk about the things people can’t easily express. This blog is not a testimony, this blog is not a tactic, this is a place for people to go, to read, to connect and to be let known that they are not alone.
I will end this essay here. But experiencing loss and mostly likely facing more (I pray I don’t), I will continue my thoughts during another time. This is part 1.