My Love Letter to Cis Gender Movement Men
I was never afforded the luxury of living life as a bystander. I believe, at birth, or perhaps before birth, I was granted the responsibility to search for and tell the truth, the pretty truth, the ugly truth, the honest and lifesaving truth and sometimes the brutal and lethal truth. All of them. Ask me and I will tell you. Don’t ask me, and I still might tell you. Stand too close and my truth can find its way into you. I am full of truths that my tongue has spewed, my eyes have rolled, my fists have pounded and my whole body, shouldered. It is the longevity of this one truth that has led me here, on this V-Day.
It is one that I have wrestled with in my own home, with my parents, my brothers by birth, my partners, and mis hermanos en la lucha. In my almost five decades of life, all of which, lived and operated in social justice circles, I have seen harm done to oh so many women and queer folks all in the name of the movement or of progressive dogma. Here’s the truth: this dissonance is not new. Movement spaces are a breeding ground for this toxic misalignment of spoken values versus actions. This is due in part to movement spaces being sites of building and trusting in the humanity of all folks, and partly due to the lack of seriousness in the responses from you, cis gendered males in leadership roles.
When women bring their grievances to the forefront, there is a general glossing over that happens because, “there is just no time to deal with that while we are working on X or fighting Y.” If we continue to speak our truths, we are pegged as “difficult” or worse “a hindrance to the movement.” Truth be told, there is no movement without us, our mothers, sisters or daughters. I owe it to the women who laid my path and to my three brilliant, kind and fierce daughters to release this now.
My Love Letter to You, My cis Movement Brothers (all of you),
Today, I write this love letter, to you, the cis gender men of the movement. Today, I feel safe in sharing this truth with you. Today, I trust that you love me or at least, revere me enough to read this through and to reflect with your homies. Today, I am telling you that of all the truths that make me me, this one has resided deep in my gut for longer than my body should’ve been impregnated with it. My almost half-century body and alma need you to take it from me. So, here you go:
My body is most visible. Let’s be real. I have seen you look, felt your scan. My ideas, labor, value and place often unseen, underappreciated and sometimes my due credit even handed to another. To this, though, you turn a blind eye. In this way, I am invisible. I stand behind you, feeding you your next line, holding down what we committed to doing together at home. Sometimes while in your shadow, I imagine my fruits, my contributions, my labor being in the spotlight, at the center, recognized, foregrounded maybe even celebrated. Then in an instant, guilt, for being so cocky or self-serving, pushes me back into your shadow.
I often marvel at your confidence, your level of comfort in being adorned with the flowers of applause, and smart words, and wonder if that same guilt visits you while you wield your power in these spaces that glorify your presence, your commitment to fighting the enemy. All the while, you do not acknowledge the enemy that set up shop between us: patriarchy, male chauvinism, the Achilles Heel of the movement… the invisibilization of women of color and the effortless erasure of our contributions to holding the motherfucker down. This is our real enemy.
Because you love me, and I don’t doubt that you do, I imagine you are asking yourself, “What can I do to make this right?” It is not enough for you to say, “I give women bodied people space, but they don’t take it. What can I do?” I’ll tell you this once, because I believe you’ll only need me to tell you once. You must intentionally and genuinely engage in the creation of spaces of inquiry, open spaces for women to take leadership roles or whatever roles they deem important to propelling the movement forward and honor, celebrate, emphasize the importance of those roles.
You must center the voices and experiences of mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, trans women in all of your spaces. You must believe women and check your homies when they are being called out, or even better, call them out yourselves. Does this mean that you aren’t the leader and in the spotlight all the time? Abso-fucking-lutely. And, you know what? You shouldn’t be. Ask yourself questions about identity, relegated roles, and ask yourself why? Ask until this introspection and layered questioning becomes who you are. You will find your answers when you listen deeply, lovingly, intuitively, without the need to respond, but with the desire to move forward, and out of the way.
Move out the way now. I love you. I need you, but not always in the ways, times and spaces that you think I do. Not in the ways that contribute to shutting me down, to opaque(ing) my glow or casting a shadow that obscures my brilliance. Let this love letter serve as me politely, lovingly, and kindly asking you to move, to take part in lifting my voice, to standing not only beside me, but behind me too. Move, or be moved.
Xochi Flores-Castro, a mother, artist, musician and social justice activist/organizer raised on L.A.'s Greater East Side, has been closely affiliated with the East Side Café in El Sereno since its founding. She was and remains integral to the development and popularization of son jarocho music in Los Angeles. This essay first appeared in MEDIUM, and is re-posted here courtesy of the creative commons agreement and permission of the author.