Saturday, August 2, 2014

And When it's All (almost) Said and (almost) Done

I handed in my dissertation on Thursday, July, 31st--I feel accomplished, but more than that I feel grateful. I am grateful to the people and places that held me during this time. There are so many people to thank and I want you all to know how special you are to me. I am copying the acknowledgements to my dissertation below (please note that I was not able to name every name, but YOU are appreciated and loved). 

So what's next?

August 15th, 10am @ USC KAP 445 (4th floor), please join me for my dissertation defense. It was a community project, so please show up and ask me the hard questions (and/or just give me a hug;-) I'll be having a celebration right after the defense, so please join.

I have my one-way ticket booked for Chicago (I'm headed to Northwestern for a two-year Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Sexuality Studies and African American Studies!) September 1st, 2014 (If you're in LA and want to link before I go, please hit me up).

What I need? (Real Talk) 

If you are able to donate anything ($1--$1 Million Dollars;-) to my graduation/moving fund it would be more than appreciated. Some of you know what it's like to be in that uncomfortable space between graduate student and professor (the moment when your funding sources are done and don't start up again until the end of September, but you still gotta make it through August and the first part of September). If you can help me out, really I'd appreciate it. Just click the link here to donate:  

I thank you all so much for your continued support. <3<3<3 Kai


Until I was 14 years old my mantra was, “There will always be those who are against me, but I still have to keep going despite those haters.” I met a person who encouraged me to consider too, “There will always be people standing with you, by your side, rooting for you, pushing you to be your best.” My worldview changed in that moment and I can say that my team, a team of family, friends, and colleagues, all over the world, has blessed me abundantly. This manuscript is indeed a testament to the love I have received (and hopefully the love that I have shared too). I am grateful for all of those who have helped me, pushed me, challenged me, offered me food, time, gossip sessions, jam sessions, hugs, hikes, and so much more (it is difficult to recount a complete list of the things big and small that helped me survive these graduate school years—it’s a long list that could be its own book). To everyone and everything that held me during these last seven years, I thank you. If you are reading this, I thank you. 
I am forever obliged to all of the Black queer, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, heterosexual, transgender, same-gender-loving and Quare Angelenos who shared your stories with me. You opened your hearts to me and I am humbly honored. I know that this manuscript, as long as it is, does not do justice to your unique stories and the lives that you live. I only hope that you see a glimmer of some of the love that you offered me, tucked away in these pages. I thank you for opening your homes and your hearts to me and my camera. This dissertation is (y)ours, though I take responsibility for any of its deficiencies. I could not have completed this project alone. I did not do this project alone. I thank every person that took the time to sit with me and answer my questions about the life. Every magazine, every letter, funeral program, every story that you shared—I thank you: Donald Norman, Claudia Spears, Vallerie D. Wagner, Terry de Grace Morris, Steven G. Fullwood, Curt D. Thomas,  E. Jaye Johnson, Alfreda Lanoix, Claudette Colbert, Sandra Tignor, Mark Haile, Joseph Hawkins,  Dale Guy Madison, Laura Luna, Jessica Pace, Alan Bell, Mignon Moore, Latrice Dixon/ Iyatunde Folayan, Valerie Spencer, Eko Canillas, O’Shea Myles, Andre J. Mollette, Milton Davis, Imani Tolliver,  Rodney K. Nickens Jr., Li Arnee, Daisy Lewis, Paul Scott, James Hightower,  and Cleo Manago. Thank you for trusting me with your knowledge—it is valuable and so necessary.
C. Jerome Woods, this dissertation, if nothing else is my love letter to you. You inspire me. You challenge me. You are an incredible teacher, friend, and scholar. I could not have done any of this with your friendship and mentorship. Thank you for teaching me how to listen. Jewel Thais-Williams, I thank you for all that you do. I thank you for being a visionary. You have helped to build and sustain a community that was never meant to survive. You provide medicine for everyone, but especially Black LGBT Angelenos and it is incredible to be a witness to your fierceness. Thank you for being an example of non-stop bad-ass-ness. Jeffrey King, thank you for always pushing me to be better. Thank you for challenging me and giving me the opporitunity to be a part of Black LGBT Los Angeles. Your love of Black life and Black people inspires me.   
I would not have been able to complete this manuscript without the assistance of these Los Angeles organizations: The Here to Stay Coalition, The Jordan Rustin Coalition, In the Meantime Men’s Group, The Village Health Foundation, The Black AIDS Institute, The ONE Institute, Mayme Clayton Library, William Grant Still Arts Center, Unity Fellowship Church, The Minority Aids Project, BLU (Black Lesbians United), Alpha Omega Nu, and BLK Enterprises, The Southern California Library. I thank you.
I thank those who assisted me with interview transcriptions: Skylar Myers, Irina Contreras, Erica Vasquez, and Anna Martine Whitehead.
I must also thank Cole B. Cole and The Brown Boi Project for always being there, providing me with a listening ear, a writing coach, a life coach and so much more. I am grateful for your enduring support.
I am thankful to have been supported by multiple fellowships throughout my graduate career: Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowship Dissertation Award, Davis-Putter Scholarship: Funding Students Working for Social Change, King-Bredmond Scholarship, American Studies & Ethnicity Travel Grant (USC), Ford Foundation Diversity Fellowship Pre-Doctoral Award, EDGE FIRST Summer Institute Fellowship (National Science Foundation), and Mellon Mays SSRC Fellowship. I thank these organizations for believing in me and supporting my research.
Of course this manuscript owes itself in part to the amazing mentorship that I have received both inside and outside of my home department, American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. I begin by thanking my committee, Kara Keeling, Robin D.G. Kelley, Lanita Jacobs, Laura Pulido, and Vicki Callahan—you have all been supportive and I appreciate you sharing your brilliance with me. I’d especially like to thank Ruthie Gilmore and Robin D.G. Kelley for rescuing me from the English department. Shana Redmond, I thank you for your enduring friendship and mentorship. John Carlos Rowe, your support from day one, has been invaluable. Jack Halberstam and Macarena Gomez-Barris, I appreciate you for your assistance with early iterations of this manuscript. And though I have not known you for very long, Nayan Shah, your support as department chair has been helpful—thank you. Jujuana Preston, Kitty Lai, and Sonia Rodriguez, I thank you for keeping our program up and running.
I have been blessed enough to encounter some of my most influential teachers outside of my department. For reading, editing, and encouraging me to keep going I thank mentors, friends and now colleagues: Fred Moten, E. Patrick Johnson, Rinaldo Walcott, Marlon Bailey, Maylei Blackwell, Roderick Ferguson, Cathy Cohen, Cheryl Hicks, Christina Sharpe, Heath Fogg-Davis, Sharon Holland, Deb Vargas, Molly Magavern, Matt Richardson, Gaye Johnson, Susan Stryker, LaMonda Horton Stallings, Jeffrey McCune, Juana Maria Rodriguez, and Mireille Miller Young. Erica Edwards, I am forever grateful for you. You have helped me to grow as a writer, scholar, overall human being—Thank you. You, with your insight, are the person who first suggested ethnography to me as a method. I thank you for your critical eye and loving heart. I want to especially express my gratitude for Clyde Woods who walked me through the whole graduate application process, read and re-read my application essays, and let me stay at his house when I could no longer take LA. Clyde was a mentor and a friend and I know that he is with me today, asking the hard questions.
There is a special group of scholars, organizers, and artists that I must thank. These people are brilliant. They are my dear friends and they provided me with some of the most support. These are my friends who understand the graduate school grind (or just love me through it), we have Skype check-ins, read each other’s work, call each other to yell, remind ourselves that we are not alone, have brunch, go to the beach, and...  Look out for these superstars: C. Riley Snorton, Juli Grigsby, David Green, Jordan Camp, Anthony Rodriguez, Patricia Torres, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Christina Heatherton, Tasneem Siddiqui, Deb Al Najjar, Jolie Chea, David Stein,  Emily Hobson, Darnell Moore, Patrisse Cullors, Mark Anthony  Johnson, Kwame Holmes, Micha Cardenas, Zakiyyah Jackson, Uri McMillan, Ren-Yo Hwang,  Freda Fair, Amber Brooks, Anisha Warner, Eric Stanley, Haven Perez, Jasmine Riley, Julia "Quicy" Bates, Jennifer Tran, Jonathan Gomez, Kavita Kulkarni, Tabitha Chester, Charlene Carruthers, Alyah Baker, Sammy Lyon, Megan Benton, Lex Kennedy, Aisha McDaniel,  Krys Freeman, Kingston Joseph, Jay-Marie Hill, Chaney Turner, Micah Hobbs, Felisha Thomas, Sarah Haley, Mari Morales-Williams, Carrie Kholi (My copy editor-you are the best!), Julia R. Wallace (we tranifest <3), and Alexis Pauline Gumbs (My PhDoula—thank you for helping me get through this in a healthy way. You are a blessing).
To Analena Hope and Treva Ellison, my dream team come true, y’all are my aces. I thank you for listening to me talk and talk and talk and then challenging me to write. You both help me to imagine new worlds, new possibilities, and I love you both dearly. I can’t wait to see you both climb that mountain—you got this! We got this!
Anna Martine Whitehead, for your thoughtfulness, for your energy, and for your non-stop go, I thank you. Thank you for joining me in the darkness. I thank you for long nights of conversation and the time you took to read through so many run-on sentences. You constantly, reminded me to eat, exercise, and take care of myself. And when I didn’t do such a great job, you were there. I could not have done this without you pushing me and loving me. I love you.
Finally I want to thank Oakland, the place I call home—the place I love and will never stop wanting to return to. To my family—my mother, Fern D. Green and my father, Darrell Lee Green, my aunt, Gwen Babaoye, my brothers, Dion Preston and Bobby Preston, my nephew, Jeremie Preston and to all my cousins, aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews and all y’all—I thank you for giving me life over and over again. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

We Must Write Our Land

It’s 2013! I celebrate this new year and I am excited about all the wonderful work we (all my peoples) will do to make 2013 a year of transformation and a year where our dreams and visions held close to the heart will be made manifest. And so it is.
I have been away for a little over two months now and it was a difficult two months. With growth comes pain, change, loss, and for me an awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses.
Clarity, if there were a word to describe the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013 that word would be clarity.
How can one write a dissertation without clarity? A clear vision? Purposefulness?
A lot of times we as scholars, queer scholars of color especially, down play our own visions and our own ideas. We say things like “I have no clue as to what I’m doing!” Sometimes we refuse to believe in our own brilliance. If you have an idea about how to make this world a better place, please share it because we still have not reached that Promised Land yet. Your voice, your ideas, your poetry, your art, and your music matters.  
I have spent a lot of time over these past couple of months countering the abusive relationship I have built with myself as a writer, scholar, artist, cultural producer, and public intellectual Facebooking blogger. I have spent a lot of time beating up on myself. I have not been kind or generous. I have been one of my harshest critics and I have come to realize how unproductive that really is. If a million people tell you that you’re brilliant but you can’t tell it to yourself in the mirror when you’re alone, then you have some work to do. (I’m doing this kind of healing work now.)
I talk a lot about giving love and I give love to others easily. I am a lover of love, but when it came to my-self-love, I found that I was withholding. I was unable to give myself credit for the work that I have done and continue to do. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the work we do because it may not look like work to others, but it is. Take the time to remind yourself of what you do. Keep a list and update it. Perhaps it’s your CV but maybe it’s something else, a space where you can put things that maybe aren’t appropriate for a CV, but work nonetheless. You know all the work in between—How many interviews did you do this month? How many poems did you write? How many walks did you take? That paragraph you wrote—give yourself props. We need to value the work that we do even if it is not valued by our institutions. We are inherently valuable; let’s thank the Combahee River Collective for that priceless piece of information. Part of the work we do here is epistemological—It is to say that what we know is not all there is and in fact here’s the p(r)oof!-->Black Queer Magic;)

I had a conversation with a colleague the other day and they were encouraging me to write. It’s time to write, it’s time to get out of the field and write. But how do you know when you’re done? How much research is enough? How many interviews? How many hours of footage? How many trips to the archive? How many stories? The truth is we can never tell it all, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tell it. My desire to tell it all has at times paralyzed me because I feel a deep sense of guilt when I can’t tell every little detail. What stories are the most important for this dissertation? Black Queer Histories may be my life’s work, but I can’t do it all in this dissertation. Boundaries, ever heard of them? (I’m working that too!)
I love stories. I love to talk. I love people and this is what makes me a really good ethnographer. I can talk to all kinds of people and I can learn from all kinds of people. Ethnography, in order to do it well, you must do it with love, love for the people and reverence for their lives, stories and spaces that they allow you to be a part of. When someone lets you in, honor it. A good ethnographer knows humility. A good ethnographer knows how to listen for what’s being said and what sometimes cannot be said, only felt.
I’ve spent the last couple of months going hard in the paint! I have been collecting interviews like crazy and I still have some important ones to do when I get back to LA. But at some point I need to stop and I’ve decided that for me the end of fieldwork will be FEB. 2013. By that point I will have collected over 30 individual interviews, and 3 years worth of footage documenting Black LGBT social, cultural and political events (I don’t know yet how that translates in to hours). I’ve done a lot of work! Now it’s time to really go through all of it and organize it, create a cohesive record of what I have done and write!
I’ve been reading a lot about Black Geographies as I try to further develop my understanding of a Black Queer geography and all that that might open us up to. I turn to Katherine McKittrick’s, Demonic Grounds: Black Women and Cartographies of Struggle where she documents the ways in which Black women have struggled to create their own routes towards freedom, their own pathways towards knowledge and life. These new pathways were and still are devalued by the structures that uphold dominant Western ideals and ideologies. McKittrick opens the book by discussing Dionne Brand and the ways in which “she writes the land.”[1]  In my work, I document the ways in which Black LGBT folk in Los Angeles have had to and continue to write their land. We must write the land because it is our own record of existence, possibility, freedom, and life.

I’m excited to be back in community with this blog and I looking forward to sharing more of my journey through darkness with you. Thanks for reading, loving, and supporting. Please be good to yourself because I/We need you!

Good Morning, 2013!

[1] Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Grounds: Black Women And the Cartographies of Struggle (U of Minnesota Press, 2006), ix.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Just a plain old update

This week has been crazy--the traveling month of October is almost coming to an end and I am thankful for that. Though the traveling has taken me away from writing a little, the spaces I have been able to share my new work have been very affirming. As I share more, my new ideas and work, I feel much more confidant and secure about the project. 

I will be focusing on dissertation fellowship applications this week. I had some major breakthroughs last week in terms of writing and writing my way towards clarity. I'm definitely beginning to develop a relationship to writing that is less about the outcome and more about the journey---something that I feel is necessary for getting the dissertation done. I have a lot of fear about writing the wrong thing and sometimes that fear keeps me from writing, but the practice of writing everyday gives me the space to relinquish fear and instead be present. Sometimes you have to relinquish control and let the story take shape organically--what is the archive trying to tell you? What does the archive want/need you to share?

Writing is about articulation, but it is also about listening. 

Do you take the time to listen during this writing journey or is it all about what you have to say?

Just a question.

I wish you all a great week of writing!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Keep Writing

The Traveling has begun.
My writing feels sporadic because it is.
I have a hard time writing when I don't have a stable sense of place, but I still try to.

Keep Writing. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Archive--Poetry in the Finding

I have been spending a lot of time in the archive recently. I enjoy it. I really enjoy the quiet calm convening with ancestors, with moments, movements past/passed. I found a Black Lesbian and Gay Newsletter from Jan. 1985 and I thought, wow--that's the month and year that I was born. Did those folks know they were calling me in to existence as they were also calling upon themselves and each other?


Poetry in the Finding--Our Black Queer Herstories
I find you in folders and boxes stored away
Were you waiting for me?
Because I have been dreaming of you and your stories
Were you dreaming about me and my friends?
Were you thinking of us when asked for Black and Gay?
Were you thinking of yourselves and just how badd you were/are?

From The National Coalition of Black Gays Bylaws, Nov. 1980

They told me you didn’t exist like this
But I have seen you now
I come to you with questions

How did we get here?
I know I can’t go back, but perhaps you can give me some ideas as to how to move forward
I come to you humbly and with gratitude
Thank you for the doing and the writing

1982 NY.

Thank you for documenting your lives as you lived and loved so fiercely
And I know the record is incomplete
I know there are things I will never truly come to understand
But please teach me what I need to know now
For this moment for these people

1979 Third World Lesbian and Gay Conference
2011 Here to Stay Coalition




Thursday, September 27, 2012

Remember, this is about Freedom.

I know it's a little late in the week for updates, but I made a promise and I'm holding myself accountable (weekly updates). So I'm on a plane to Madison, Wisconsin for a Print Cultures Conference. As I mentioned last week, I may have been a bit over zealous with the scheduling, but I will do my best to be extra attentive to my body now because I have a tendency to live in my head its easy for me to forget self care. I've been known to forget basic things like eating and drinking water. I can go a whole day on a cup of coffee and I only realize I haven't eaten because I begin to feel light headed or headachy. We must take care of our bodies. We must take care of our hearts. We must take care of each other.

If you are feeling overly anxious, depressed, or anything that indicates something is wrong--take a moment to check in with self. Why are you so worried? What are you afraid of? And for a second go there. If the worst thing did occur how would you respond? I'm a big fan of alternative plan making just so that I remember that no matter what there's always a way, even if it wasn't the original plan I mapped out for myself.

And what does this have to do with writing? Everything. Writing is my job, but writing is also my spiritual practice, the first craft I ever fell in love with and I must honor that. Writing in the Academy under pressure can make you forget your love of words and communication. We must keep in mind that at the end of the day many of us will write amazing dissertations and finally walk across stages with our much deserved Harry Potter uniforms; yet, we may not get jobs. So what will you do when all is said and done and you're an unemployed doctor who just spent the last 5-10years working towards  this goal? How will you remain committed to and affirmed in your own brilliance even if you never receive any institutional recognition? Will you be okay? I want you to be okay.

I remind myself that I'm a writer. I'm a writer right now. I was a writer when I was 5. I will continue to be a writer after I get my PhD. Sometimes we have to be reminded of the reasons why we do the things we do because it can get confusing. Am I writing this to impress my committee? Am I writing this because I feel passionate about it? If someone told you your work was unimportant, would you have a breakdown or would you continue to write? There will be haters. Sometimes you might not say the perfect word or write the perfect sentence, but keep writing because it really isn't about the final destination(this might change), it's about the journey. Each time you write you get better. 

For me, sharing my work at conferences or with new friends is when I find myself most present to my pleasure in this work. It's about connection, building and creating together. In the academy we are taught to get it done. No matter the cost. No matter how insane you might feel, get it done! And usually you are alone in some dark place trying to write your way to freedom. Alone.  We are taught to strive to create new fashionable language that displaces the old, but I'm still stuck on freedom. I believe we need new language to "tranifest" our new world, but know it's not the new word, rather it's how the new word enables new possibilities for living in this world (not just our institutions) with joy. If we take just two steps outside our academic silos we will see our names don't mean much-and our new fancy words haven't quite hit the streets yet;) And this is not to say that changing academic discourse within the academy isn't important because it is, but we need to be aware of the bigger project of liberation. 

We must recognize our privilege as scholars (in training). Our work is thinking, dreaming, visioning story-telling, teaching, learning, questioning...Yes, it is a challenge, but we are privileged and we must honor that and keep our minds set on changing the world. That is what we want (and if you don't know what I'm talking about read this again at a later date;) The kind of world that I want to live in will not sustain our ego trippin' or the reproduction of trauma (passed down from one scarred professor, to grad student(future professor), to student). A shift in the structures of power doesn't simply effect cis gender white men--we all have to change and become anew. 

On that note...I'll end this update by saying that writing is going slowly but going. I'm experiencing a lot of interruptions with publication deadlines, conferences, and fellowship applications, but I know that it is all going to come together. I have a community that supports and challenges me. We have the power to make it happen and we have a responsibility to change the conditions so that our future scholars know that this work is not about one great wo/man's genius--it's about collectively building  a new university where race, gender, class, and sexuality aren't simply the courses you take to fulfill your diversity requirement. I envison a new university accessible to all, a univesity that won't require indebted souls (student loan debt) in exchange for the right to produce knowledge (that don't even sound right...wait, it's not;). 

Let's go people! Get your write on!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Doing too much?

So writing has been okay, just okay. I am trying to manage writing while also still collecting interviews and archival research and sometimes it seems like I'm being pulled in too many directions. Or perhaps I'm not sure of the direction yet and with every new story I uncover, my major story changes a little. How do you manage research and writing? Do you set aside time for both everyday? 

Another issue that I have been struggling with is that I have committed to too many conferences. Events that when I signed up for them, I thought great this will give me a hard deadline to have something ready. This can be a good way to motivate oneself, but only in moderation. I'm getting ready for October and every weekend I am presenting somewhere (mostly places that require a lot of travel). When October is done I will have to spend a good amount of time completing dissertation fellowship applications. What I am learning is that sometimes I sign up for too many things (boundaries, important skill to have). I believe they will all be beneficial in someway of course, but this does take away from concentrated writing time.

Strategies I learned this week: No Facebook until I have completed a good portion of work.

On a scale of 1-10 I'd give myself a satisfactory this week. I definitely need to spend more time writing, but I also have to reconcile the need to do more research. I had a really great interview this week and I'm looking forward to spending the next couple of days in the archive.

It takes time to figure it all out. Be patient with yourself, but do not coddle. Push yourself, but do not hound. Find balance and find it again. 

Wishing everyone a great writing week!