MAY THE UPRISINGS CONTINUE!
While I am born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, I have lived in Reading, PA for the past 16 years and I have become a very proud member of this community...I am most heartened by the talent, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and dedication all of you give to the rising of Reading, PA.
I like people who speak out. It takes courage. For those who know me and for those who will get to know me, I am a person with a long and wide legacy of speaking out. I think there are many similarities of Reading, PA to Brooklyn, NY but I will leave that discussion for another time.
This past weekend I traveled to Brooklyn for a very special event in my life, the 50th anniversary of my 8th grade class who graduated from Our Lady of Angels Catholic grammar school back in 1969.
1969 was a most momentous year: Woodstock, the Moon landing and in baseball the perennial under dog, the NY Mets, unexpectedly won the World Series. It was also the year of the Stonewall Uprising, a six day riot in NY in which LGBT people at the Stonewall Inn held off the police and fought back for the first time against corruption, harassment, arrests and shake downs in which the police, District Attorney’s office, lawyers, judges, media and organized crime were complicit in the oppression and destruction of LGBT people. The Stonewall Uprising is considered by many to be the single most important event leading to the liberation of LGBTQ people that continues to this day. This June, which is Lesbian and Gay Pride Month*, will mark the 50th anniversary of this event.
Brooklyn has many jewels. One of them is the Brooklyn Museum and after my grammar school reunion I proceeded to the Brooklyn museum to catch the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo de Rivera exhibit “Appearances Can Be Deceiving.” While there I stumbled into a very special exhibit, “Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall,” which featured the works of artists all born after Stonewall. (As a local connection, this special Stonewall exhibit was partially funded by the Keith Haring Foundation. Keith Haring was born in Reading Hospital and raised in Kutztown.)
It was at this Stonewall exhibit that I discovered an excerpt of a poem by an artist. This excerpt of the poem was widely circulated after the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, in which 49 people were slaughtered and 53 others were wounded in a gay nightclub.
The poem was pasted to the wall as a repeated image going in many different directions. The poem was based on the beatitudes, which were part of Jesus of Nazareth’s Sermon on the Mount, which was his very first public sermon. You may be familiar with the original source material that begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the merciful.” I note that there are variations throughout the ages on these beatitudes and in other spiritual and religious texts and traditions including Buddhism, the Quran and Hindu/Yogic texts. There are also other contemporary versions of the beatitudes. I would encourage you to look up the tattooed Lutheran Pastor Nadia to hear her compelling version.
Before hearing the excerpt of the poem “Litanies To My Heavenly Brown Body,” it is important to know something about the artist and writer. Mark C. Aguhar was born in Houston, Texas on May 16, 1987 – she was an activist, writer and multimedia fine artist known for her multidisciplinary work about gender, beauty and existing as a racial minority, while being body positive and transgender femme-identified. Aguhar was made famous by her Tumblr blog that questioned mainstream representation of the “glossy glorification of the gay white male body.” In her own words, she tells us,
“My work is about visibility. My work is about the fact that I’m a genderqueer person of color fat femme fag feminist and I don’t really know what to do with that identify in this world. It’s that thing where you grew up learning to hate every aspect of yourself and unlearning all that misery is really hard to do. It’s that thing where you kind of regret everything you’ve ever done because it’s so complicit with white hegemony. It’s that thing where you realize that your own attempts at passive aggressive manipulation and power don’t stand a chance against the structural forms of domination against your body. It’s that thing where the only way to cope with the reality of your situation is to pretend it doesn’t exist; because flippancy is a privilege you don’t own but you’re going to pretend you do anyway.”
According to her Wikipedia page, Aguhar was only a few months away from earning her MFA from University of Illinois at Chicago when she died by suicide in Chicago, Illinois, on March 12, 2012.
With deep respect to each of you and with deep respect to the life legacy and struggles of Mark C. Aguhar, I present to you...an excerpt from her poem:
"LITANIES TO MY HEAVENLY BROWN BODY"
BLESSED ARE THE SISSIES
BLESSED ARE THE BOI DYKES
BLESSED ARE THE PEOPLE OF COLOR MY BELOVED KITH AND KIN
BLESSED ARE THE TRANS
BLESSED ARE THE HIGH FEMMES
BLESSED ARE THE SEX WORKERS
BLESSED ARE THE AUTHENTIC
BLESSED ARE THE DIS-IDENTIFIERS
BLESSED ARE THE GENDER ILLUSIONISTS
BLESSED ARE THE NON-NORMATIVE
BLESSED ARE THE GENDERQUEERS
BLESSED ARE THE KINKSTERS
BLESSED ARE THE DISABLED
BLESSED ARE THE HOT FAT GIRLS
BLESSED ARE THE WEIRDO-QUEERS
BLESSED IS THE SPECTRUM
BLESSED IS CONSENT
BLESSED IS RESPECT
BLESSED ARE THE BELOVED WHO I DIDN’T DESCRIBE, I COULDN’T DESCRIBE, WILL LEARN TO DESCRIBE AND RESPECT AND LOVE
May the Stonewall uprising continue and may the UP rising of Reading, PA continue as well. God bless you all.
Editor's Note: Some people identify with "LGBT" while others prefer "Queer" or other terminology. We respect the author's use here. The official government-recognized month is now called "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month" though, again, community members use varying names and we abide by the author's use.