Coffee With The Monsters Within: Fear, Shame & Liberatory Vulnerability


Vulnerability. Ugh. The word sends chills down my spine and its implications have a history of causing intellectual paralysis and emotional chaos. I don’t do vulnerability. It’s cute for other people. Just not for me. I’m black. I’m gay. I’m from a working-poor family and just a hair flip from return to the projects. Vulnerability is the enemy. Acknowledging it, thinking about it, thinking through it, is tantamount to the United States negotiating directly “terrorists.” It ain’t happening. Ignorance is bliss, and I like bliss. Bliss to the shamed, fearful mind is like a steaming mocha and a fireplace in frigid, Boston winter. That shit is everything.

“If you wanna go and get high with me, smoke an L in the back of the Benzi…”

On repeat (6x). “Yo Nelly, can we get tickets to the next show? Hell na, you forreal?”

It’s a semblance of home. Nelly. St. Louis. So close to Kansas City. Home. Not a house. A place familiar. Not safe. But somewhere where I had conquered and controlled fear and proximity to violence. Control. The comfort of imagined power.

Anyway, I’m here now, at this coffee shop on U-Street. I’m eating a “Double Chocolate Devil’s Food Cake.” I’ve had a latte. I am consuming a bottomless cup of coffee. I’m reading Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection.” I smile at her truths, I whence too. The cake is good. The icing too sweet. It makes me think of cavities. Ugh, craters forming in my teeth. Thoughts of beauty, body image, that absence of love. The uncertainty of this “dating process.” The fuck am I doing? The fuck am I waiting for?  The fuck do I care? Dear heart: check yourself. Get ya life. This ain’t about you. You are unfit to lead. Unwise. Naive. You go with the flow. The mind. Me. We bend the flow toward certainty. Desire. Safety. Survival.

That’s the dialogue. That’s some shit. It’s cynical. It’s the remnants of childhood trauma. The tattoos of abandonment. The sweet, sweet poison of loves untrue. The memories of beautifully brown, broken-hearted boys that come and go, taking, all that I have..because, as Cicely Tyson noted “that’s what men do. They take, and take, and take.” Ready to light that match, with some flammable hooch. This shit happens. It happens when boys used to being stolen grasp the fruits of their labor. Joy is not allowed in. It tries. It cannot come in. No. Fuck no. This is the era of Joy-Crow. It cannot sit with me. Cannot sit with us. It’s dangerous. Joy has us believing that the future can be happy, continually, with only minor interruptions. That doesn’t happen for black boys. Queer boys. BlaQueerBoys like me. Here I sit, with articles in publication, chapters in review, speeches/plenaries pending at Ivy League conferences, finals stages of law interviews, beautiful men, touching me with their (sometimes curious) love, fans, friends, followers and mentors…feeling like this.

That’s what fear and shame look like. Old friends that come and spill tea, through shade and share stale pain. We never eject old friends. It’s unkind. I’ve learned to welcome them. We converse. We kiki. They know me. They knew me. But i’m grown now. I’ve learned how to say hello and follow-up with goodbye. I know how to eject. I have a clean title.

They had tea. I had coffee. They had crow, I had cake. Their smiles were dark and mischievous. Mine had light, accented by my cute gap. I lived, they gagged. It was cute, the way I spilt that truth. Real cute. They served face. I served the elixir of life. The truth of my power, my liberation, my unbought, unbossed, unbotheredness. I am here.

What I’ve learned is this. You must sit with your pain and trauma. Don’t hide it. Don’t leave it on the front porch, knocking at your door, throwing rocks at your window..lest it creep in without your preparation. Invite it in, with a watchful eye, as an old friend. One that you know. One that once saved you, but no longer has the propensity to love you, despite the love they have for you. Remember where you are. Remember where you’ve come from. Recall that you did that. You survived that. You are thriving. You are living and therefore must be worthy. This is vulnerability. Vulnerability is the simultaneous recognition of all that has come to pass, to scar, to challenge…coupled with the beauty of the present, the tattoos and the victories. Vulnerability is a reminder of the journey that you have taken. Shame is but an illusion, a reminder of one painful moment, masquerading as the continuum of time. Fear is the last valley to self-actualization. It is the inverse of what awaits you, the non-existent possibility of not being enough, the inverse of your perfect imperfection.

Don’t be afraid of the monsters within. They are part of you. They just need to be seated at the proper place.

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