Thursday, August 20, 2009

Raising Isaiah

Cross posted at Feministe

I think you should simply spare the little mongrel parasite from the burden of her life so that you can more fully experience the pleasure of a lifestyle unfettered by the Christo-fascist “reproduction memes” that are genetically engraved in the our DNA by the authoritarian patriarchy. Think about the lifetime “carbon footprint” of your potential child… can you live with yourself knowing the destruction you’re unleashing on your own home?

One of the most beautiful, and quickly disappearing, forms of writing is letter-writing. I’ve always adored writing letters, little notes, maximizing the potential the back of a receipt, leftover notebook paper, the last unloved post-it note in the pile with the least amount of sticky left.

The shining gem of personal letter writing comes from the built-in audience. You write to or for one reader, but sometimes the revelation can be shared with many. I discovered this from Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a trouble-maker in Durham who once asked me to be a part of a writing collective, to submit a piece of writing about what it meant to be a woman of color, about what it meant to survive. It was entitled, "Without You Who Understand: Letters from Radical Women of Color," and published in issue 5 of make/shift magazine.

It taught me about the power of letters.

Everyone else wrote magnificent essays, essays that came with their own brass bands. My writing doesn’t have a brass band. My writing is more like a solo violinist or pianist. I shared a letter that I had written to a friend one winter evening when I couldn’t sleep.

Letter writing helps me focus on one person and simultaneously, somehow, channel my own deepest longings and contemplatives.

Which is why I chose to respond with a letter to “Margaret Sanger,” who left the above italicized comment for me in my first post at Feministe.

Dear Margaret Sanger,

It is with a complicated heart that I try to answer your questions and respond to your comment. You certainly have a superior grasp of language, I admire, and have little doubt that someone with such a mastery of words makes any mistake in your comment. Each word sounds deliberate. And as a writer who loves linguistics, I studied and thought about your words a long time before I gave my answer.

Your advice to me about ridding myself of the “mongrel” inside me so I can enjoy a better life gave me an opportunity to ask myself, and others, “Why do we decide to have children anyway?”

I’m sure the answered are as varied as there are children, but the most common answers I’ve heard always point to some mysterious Knowing, some sort of underlying and assumed desire that many of us will procreate. Or, that having children is simply “what we do” or should do or end up doing as we age.

Why birth? Why adopt? Why be a surrogate? Why help bring more life amidst so much wrong and untailored mess?

Well, Margaret, I can only answer for myself and I know you’ll be unsatisfied with my reply because it seems that we that you and I probably have very different perceptions of what it means to be alive. Exchanging thoughts about global warming, population and birth control may be a healthy discussion, but that is not the arena in which I understood your question. I heard it on a more personal level asking the age old question, "Why are you having kids when you know how terrible things are?"

What does it mean for me to enjoy “the pleasure of a lifestyle unfettered by the Christo-fascist ‘reproduction memes’ that are genetically engraved in the our DNA by the authoritarian patriarchy?” One, it means that I find my own piece and peace of the world that is, quite clearly, full of kyriarchal domination and destruction. In many ways, my ability to enjoy life is already limited because of this kyriarchy. Is it possible to fully, truly enjoy every part of life knowing so much suffering exists in the world? Is it possible to be drenched in pleasure when the majority of the world is going without, while I, somewhat easily go forth?

It took me many years of maturing to find the balance in being a real, sensing, authentic writer and feminist. I believe it is not our natural state to be overwhelmed by the wrong, which I was for a long time. I grew into a writer that not only wanted to survive but also wanted, as Gloria Anzaldua said, “to record what is happening in my lifetime, to note the progress, to annotate the struggles.”

To survive this endless tidal wave, to be around for the next few decades, to live through this hell we are witnessing, it is imperative, in the most urgent sense, to find ourselves, our naked feminisms that stand counterpoint to the kyriarachy. If the utter victory of kyriarchy is to beat, rape, silence, and make miserable the lives of women, I am surrendering a sacred part of my life if I believe that this world is capable of nothing more than oppression. If I believe that the only contribution of a life brought out of my very womb would be nothing more than a carbon footprint, then, for me, hope is gone and kyriarchy has won.

Raising Isaiah to be a teacher, or a dancer, or a shoemaker, or a poet will depend on what I carry forward, what I harbor in my own vessels. If I believe that he’s a parasite, he’ll be a parasite. If I believe he will unleash destruction on the world, in my home, then he’ll be a destructive force.

But what if my partner and I believe he can bring More to the world? What if, along with his inevitable use of resources and adding one more set of footprints to walk the earth, he grows into a person capable of goodness that you or I cannot even comprehend? What if he brings a seemingly unreachable understanding of life to me, my partner, to others while he lives? What if my partner and I don't believe that ceasing to produce life automatically equates a better living?

With a little bit of courage and whole lot of radical love, this experience is guided by my questions and deathless curiosity of what is possible and believing that my enjoyment of life is not the point of life, at least, not for me. It is with fearful hope, not certainty, that I choose this.

Be well,


  1. What a lovely response.

  2. That's much more eloquence than the letter-writer deserved -- kudos.

    And, congrats on being halfway through and on your beautiful little boy.

  3. Anonymous7:19 AM

    This seems like a fairly obvious troll, I'm a little surprised you took it seriously enough to post a reply once, let alone twice.

  4. When I grow up, I want to be as serene as you. I just posted another comment on the Feministe thread, but I'll be guest-blogging there in a couple of weeks and plan on using that post as a stepping-off point for one of my own.

  5. @ Anonymous,

    Sure it crossed my mind, but have I not the choice to turn a troll's comment into an opportunity to write? I can choose to ignore or I can choose to turn it into something else. I chose the latter. If writing brings me to a deeper place, what difference does it make where the stimulus comes from?

    @ La Lubu
    I'm sure your posts will be fantastic. Can't wait to read.

  6. All I can say is that you are a much nicer person than I am. What a stunning example of a raging kyriarch in full verbal assault mode!

  7. Anonymous12:23 PM

    "kyriarch" isn't word. Neologisms make your entire argument invalid and silly. You might as well stuff "womyn" in there, too.

  8. I can't quite wrap my head around the original comment. The poster seemed very concerned with society as a whole and not at all with being hateful and disrespectful to an individual. Your response was much more thoughtful.


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