Making Space for Faith in Feminism

michael-headshot A reflection by Michael Jalloh-Jamboria, Women’s Center student staff member

Saturday, February 12th was the 59th Grammy awards show. The show featured many musical performances and winners, most notably,Beyoncé. At the time of her performance, not only was she pregnant, but she delivered a kickass performance, defied gravity, all the while channeling some major West African, Latin American, and Christian spiritual imagery during her performance. 

In both Santeria and West African spirituality, the Goddess Oshun is the goddess of sweet waters–the embodiment of love, fertility, and sensuality. Her love and guidance were instrumental to the creation of the world, so much so that other Orisha (gods and goddesses) were unable to complete their work on earth without Oshun.  After Beyonce’s amazing performance, Twitter was going wild with the comparisons between Beyoncé and the goddess Oshun.

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Beyoncé’s performance, her golden outfit, the fact that she was very pregnant, and the influx of Twitter comparisons reminded me of an earlier blog post I had written about my journey of religion and its intersections with my identities. Growing up, my parents loved to tell me stories of the Orisha, or gods and goddesses, and how they created the earth. While I was raised Muslim, my parents never separated our West African spirituality from our Muslim religion. Beyoncé’s performance got me thinking about how different my religion is from my spirituality. While it can be a strange balance, both my religion and my spirituality are important aspects of my identity. But I realized, within the social spaces I occupy, I don’t really talk about those parts of my identity. From there, I began to think about whether or not religion has a place in feminism. Continue reading

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Women’s March on Washington: We Marched. What’s Next?

A sampling of “what’s next” from UMBC community members, curated by Jess Myers, Women’s Center Director 

Last week, I shared some of my hopes and desired outcomes from the Women’s March on Washington. While I was looking forward to marching and being in relationship with other women and people at the march, I was (and am) more invested in the what’s next. In my blog, I wrote, “I want the momentum and energy to continue after the march, especially for those who are new to the movement, new to activism, new to seeing things that are unfair and unjust. I want us to stay loud. To stay critical. To stay visible and demand what is right, what is necessary. I want you to volunteer. I want you to keep learning and growing. I want you to find your activism (if you haven’t already) and make a difference. I want all those things for myself as well. 

On Saturday night and Sunday morning, my entire Facebook timeline was filled with amazing photos of the March (and also really important critiques of the march which you should also take some time to read). What was even more exciting than the photos, was the plans people were committing to in their post-march glow. So many people are fired up!

In my last post, I also reflected on the mission of the Women’s Center and our commitment to advocating for and advancing the rights of women and marginalized people. While the Women’s Center is a space and the people who work in it are committed to putting in the work, YOU, our community, are a huge part of that mission. We need you to help us live and be our mission. So with that in mind, I put a call out to some Women’s Center friends and former staff and asked them to share what their post-plans march are so I could share them as inspiration and motivation to our larger community. What I share below isn’t necessarily the full list each person shared with me but I love the breadth of ideas and action items.

So, I’ll go first…

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Continue reading

Women’s March on Washington

Jess MyersA reflection from Jess Myers, Women’s Center director 

Last weekend, I finally decided I would go to the Women’s March on Washington.

I’ve been to marches in the past. I drove 18 hours from Baltimore to Ft. Benning, Georgia in my early 20s for the School of Americas protest with a van load of Mercy nuns and my best friend. Attending college in Washington, D.C. during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars had me popping on the Metro often enough to join an anti-war rally. My favorite Pride parades have been the ones I’ve walked in rather than watched from the sidelines. In Baltimore, I’ve marched for justice, for Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray, for Black Lives.

But, never have I marched for and with women for a platform dedicated to women’s rights.

A few weeks ago, I was in a room with several UMBC faculty members as they recalled their memories of past women’s marches. As they shared their experiences, it was evident that being in a space with thousands of other women advocating for women’s rights was a powerful moment for them. While each of the individuals who shared their stories have committed their lives to activism and feminism, those marches still held a unique and powerful place in their hearts. In fact, what was particularly striking was how they spoke about their experiences in relationship to those who were with them – their mothers, their daughters, their friends.

I want to be in relationship with other women and I’ve decided that going to this Saturday’s march is just one way I can do that. Continue reading

Gay Hair

A post written by Women’s Center Intern, Daniel.

So you’re out at your favorite vegan coffee shop sipping your $6 soy latte while reading City Paper and you peek over the top of it just in time to see a blue-haired cutie send a glance your way and wink as they strut out the door. When you walk into your sociology class on Monday, you scan the room and spot a classmate with pink bangs and an undercut and weave your way through the desks to sit as close to them as possible so that when the professor begins the chapter on sexuality you can roll your eyes and groan with them. Why? Cause that blue-haired cutie and the classmate with the undercut and the kid on the bus with the mohawk crusted in glitter are all totally queer just like you.

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Photo Credit: Audrey Gatewood

I stepped into gay hair territory in the summer of 2012 when I cut off all my hair and never looked back. Last summer I started dying my hair bright colors and I, again, haven’t looked back. I’ve been lavender, blue, pink, purple, and now platinum blonde. My freshman year, I attended my first impromptu hair party. Armed with clippers and bleach, my suitemate, a new friend of mine, and my biggest crush at the time went to town on each other’s hair. In a terrifying turn of events, I got to use clippers for the very first time on the one person whose hair I did NOT want to mess up. I actually did okay and went on to be a part of many, many more hair parties like this one.

A lot of us (and by “us,” I mean young, queer/gay, and trans people) don’t have the time or money to go to a hair salon to get our hair done and, frankly, not a lot of salons are willing to give us the cuts we want. A common experience among queer women (and a lot of other types of queer people) is taking a picture of a “man’s” cut or masculine style to a stylist and ending up with feminized version of it. “Passing” as a man well enough to sit comfortably in a barber’s chair is anxiety-inducing at best, not to mention trying to safely “pass” as a woman in a salon and a world of rampant transmisogyny. Getting your hair cut by a group of friends in someone’s poorly lit bathroom may not result in the most professionally done coiffure, but it beats being misgendered or told that what you want is too masculine or too feminine for whatever gender your stylist has assigned to you.

Getting a gay haircut can be an incredible experience that feels validating and makes you feel more connected with your community, but getting my gay hair gay cut this weekend made me think about what gay hair is and how politics of gender, identity, and queerness come into play with visibility and validation.

So, what is gay hair?

Promscape

“Gay Hair Squad” at Artscape

“Gay hair” is non-normative hair. It’s often brightly colored, always changing, and rarely professionally done. It blurs the lines of gendered cuts (why on earth do hair cuts have genders??) and challenges assumptions about the person wearing it. Some styles are more popular in some subcultures than others. For some, gay hair is an act of rebellion; for others, it’s a away to take control of their bodies or to step outside of them. For me, gay hair is how I make people see my queerness. When I dyed my hair lavender this summer, it was because I was worried that people were reading me as a straight, cisgender dude. I wanted them to look at me and see that I was not those things, even if they didn’t have the words for what I was, because being cisgender and straight are so far removed from my lived experience that being read that way felt like not only a big lie but a step back into the closet.

I love my gay hair and all my gay friends with all their gay hair. But I’ve come to realized that being able to have gay hair is a privilege most of us with gay hair have never thought about. The majority of people with gay hair are white, afab (assigned female at birth), and on the masculine side of the gender presentation spectrum– not because people of color or amab (assigned male at birth) or femme-presenting people don’t wear their hair in expressive and non-normative ways, but because our picture of “queer” looks like a thin, white, masc/androgynous person with colorful hair and cute shoes. Black women (cis and trans alike) don’t get to have cool and funky hair without being labeled “ghetto” and unprofessional. Queer trans women get serious criticism then they want short or masculine cuts like their cisgender counterparts because they aren’t performing femininity in the way that trans women are expected to in order to be validated and accepted.

Speaking of validation and acceptance, why is it that we assume queer people have to look a certain way, or that people who look or sound one way must be queer? Why is femme invisibility such a pervasive problem in queer circles that many queer women feel the need to cut their hair in order to be seen? In creating our own subcultures and modes of rebellion against gender norms and heternormativity, I wonder if we have not only isolated ourselves from the people for whom “gay” is not the primary mode of existence, but also created new barriers for already marginalized groups within our community. People who can’t have or don’t want gay hair should still be able to be recognized and validated in their identities, and we should be supporting our non-white and femme siblings in their pursuit of gay hair. Heck, everyone should try out gay hair. There’s something exciting about “breaking the rules” and toeing the ridiculous but still ever-present line of gender norms.

Besides, who doesn’t like a blue-haired cutie?