Can Sex Work Help Ease The Recession For Men?

Whether OnlyFans or other services, men are finding that digital sex work is just that — work

Photos: Jonathan Knowles/Tara Moore/ALEAIMAGE/Getty Images

Alex (not his real name) would never have considered himself a sex worker. But in early March 2020, around the start of the Covid-19 crisis and after months of prodding from his substantial following on Twitter and Instagram, he set up an OnlyFans account. For $13 a month, those followers could see the dick pics or masturbation clips he’d upload. He did it so informally, you’d think it wasn’t profitable. But it was.

Before OnlyFans’ ascent to meme status, Alex paid little attention to male sex work; like college kids fantasizing about stripping when classes get too hard, he thought of it as a joke, a “what if.” But then came the coronavirus-induced recession — and new concerns about finances. “People always oversexualized me online,” he says, “so it finally hit me that I could make money off of all these people that talk to me like this.”

In his first month, Alex reaped more than $1,000. Posting the content was easy; everything beyond that was not. People complained about the price, about what they were getting for their money. “Dabbling” was what Alex had in mind — and as someone who describes himself as “more reserved in sharing myself and my body with others,” this was turning out to be not dabbling. “The more content I put in, the more selfish people were,” he says. After two months, he left OnlyFans behind.

And as those in so many other professions already know, it’s difficult to monetize a social media following. Despite nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter, zxcrxf still acted in self-proclaimed “desperation” during quarantine in order to attract clients.

Many of my own friends have dabbled in sex work; most were in their early twenties, and nearly all did so out of the belief that if someone is willing to pay you for something you’d do for free, take the money. Someone (often a man) will pay you for dick pics even if your face isn’t in them; someone (often a man) will pay for a picture of feet, or a pitcher of bathwater. Why not go for it?

Yet, this casual sort of one-to-one transaction is more like a spot gig — something that comes your way on social media, a moment’s opportunity for quick cash. What OnlyFans’ emergence has exposed is a truth that many men are now just learning: Sex work is work.


Not many men enter sex work believing that it’s a career path. To them, it’s a lark — not the overwhelming business that professionals on OnlyFans have made it into.

That misconception stems from many reasons. Certainly, heterosexuality has made sex work feel like a woman’s career path, despite the common teenage fantasy of porn stardom. The lunchroom conversations and suggested porn star names (I was Stevie Stix) always broke down once a friend suggested that male porn stars inevitably have to do gay porn. (For the record: they don’t.) It may be because sex work isn’t a field you know you can do until you do commit to experimenting. At first it’s just a little — then, several uploads later, you’re running a one-man marketing team and media distribution center.

For dedicated models on OnlyFans, their other social media accounts tend to become vehicles of customer acquisition: promotional materials, collaborations, endorsements, and fan feedback. Whereas most people see and use Twitter or Instagram as downtime, most people aren’t living under the microscope of a fetishized gaze. If you lose your fan base’s interest, it can be hard or impossible to reclaim that income.

Take OnlyFans model zxcrxf. On his Twitter account — which is now suspended — he goes only by “big z”; his pinned tweet is two simple images of his ass, one in color and another in gray scale. (Another account of his contains enough explicit content that it will surely be suspended as well.) After the pandemic began, he reaped a fair amount of criticism by flouting social distancing and arranging a hookup in order to get content for his OnlyFans account. He defended himself by pointing to the necessity of collaborative promotion: two content creators generating mutual content in order to leverage each other’s substantial audiences and maximize their reach.

It all sounds like business because it is business. Yet, social media marketing requires a deftness and savvy that takes time to learn. Ultimately, zxcrxf apologized, saying that he had “overvalued the importance of my income from OF, and I undervalued the impact of promoting risky behavior on my big twitter account.”

Nico, a 23-year-old model who goes by Nicoaesthetics on most platforms, started in sex work by working as a go-go dancer roughly three years ago. “I actually had to drink a little bit before I got onstage,” he says. “I was still very stiff and uncomfortable, but it was manageable — and people actually preferred that.” When OnlyFans’ popularity surged earlier this year, Nico dismissed it as a fad, even as the traction and fanfare accelerated.

Despite having more than 40,000 followers between Twitter and Instagram, he still hasn’t succumbed to OnlyFans’ siren song. “Either you’re already popular and you transfer into sex work — which would be easy money,” he says, “or you have to grind from the bottom up, which would make things a lot more difficult, and a lot more easy to burnout.” There simply aren’t enough clients to feed a niche, and there’s no insurance you’ll be able to keep them when a new flavor of the month pops up in OnlyFans’ model portfolio. The male gaze isn’t just demanding; it’s fickle, too. That’s a particular of concern for sex workers like models, who are acting independently of the protections, agents, and contracts of conventional adult entertainment.

Granted, digital sex work has its benefits: less immediate health risk, more physical safety. But there are drawbacks, too. “A lot of the money is temporary,” Nico says. “There’s not always a guaranteed source of income, especially if you don’t take off. Sex work still holds a heavy stigma. There can be business world repercussions if things are found out.”

And as those in so many other professions already know, it’s difficult to monetize a social media following. Despite nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter, zxcrxf still acted in self-proclaimed “desperation” during quarantine in order to attract clients. Alex’s short tenure on OnlyFans may have pulled in $1,000, but his paying followers amounted to less than 1.5% of his total audience.

“I think it’s made me more knowledgeable of the act of sex work,” Alex says. “The experience itself hasn’t really affected me negatively or positively, other than financial gain. I see it as a way to get myself out of rough spots financially — but it’s not something I would recommend to everyone, or something I would do on the day-to-day.”

OnlyFans is showing no signs of losing momentum, though — despite a user experience that is often slow, prone to crashes, and offers a viewing experience that I can only describe as optimistic. Sometimes you can watch a full video; other times, you’re better off closing the screen and moving on. The company nonetheless seems thrilled with its precipitous growth: OnlyFans COO Thomas Stokely recently told BuzzFeed that subscriptions were up more than 50% in April alone. And models are unlikely to care, so long as someone has committed to their subscription fee. Whether it’s pocket change, or a come up, there will always be men interested.

Even during a pandemic.

Leave by Night: an Into the Ashe and Fire short

by Steven Underwood

Support the full novel, Into the Ashe and Fire

“Damn these Jungle Witches and the whores that breed them,” the Blue Blood barely broke past the threshold into the café before he started at it. His jacket dripped a train of water across the linoleum floors.

Arrica Tre, the serving witch, flinched at the word as if he’d walked in and slapped her. She waited for someone to correct the man, but only heard the welcome ticking of the clock on the wall. Instead, she spent better time worrying about the cost to magick the water out of the floorbed.

There were dozens of other cafes in Antebellum, but only the Chalice on Heaven’s panel catered to government secretaries. They tipped well, but they were a nuisance, especially during the witching hours — when Adversary crept out of their hiding holes and Marshalls began their rounds.

The Blue Blood gestured for a coffee and claimed a seat at a long oak table occupied by a communal group. Their implements were on the table — racking up a hefty tab.

A cool financemage with a pointed nose and crescent spectacles arched his eyebrows. “That’s very strong language there, sir.”

To Arrica’s repulsion, he winked at her for the second time that night. It was off-putting, but by the Ancestors, he at least kept his hands to himself.

“What happened?”

“Some jungle w — slumrat employed whatever dark unsavory magicks travel their streets teach and almost bewitched my youngest niece into his bed.” The Blue snorted hideously as Arrica assembled her tray, her eyes fading toward the clock. Twelve minutes till shift rotation. Perfect, almost home for the night.

“Certainly, I’ve made sure that bastard won’t be doing it again. My employer has the number to a Marshall — a friendly lad, good breeding with fair prices. Dialed them upright, paid my worth and I haven’t seen the rat since!”

Arrica stifled a snort. As if a Blue Blood needed to be charmed to cross the Wall. She’d been to a lot of functions back home where their precious darlings were willfully engaged in the “dirtiness” of the Browns. Besides, who would waste the Presence or Power on enfeebling some Blue’s baby when there were bills to pay? Mouths to feed?

“Saviors! When was this? Imagine if it was my little girl getting mixed up in dark magick,” a curly-haired mage said. “I heard it causes, you know, Taint.”

The Blue Blood nodded sharply. “I’ve word from several high-ranking healers that there is a correlation. I mean, have you heard? Taint is practically in the air over there. It’s also the one place they practice the low magick.”

“See? That’s why I told my Lyanna that if I ever caught her dabbling over there with one of those, I’d throw her off the side of the Wall myself!”

A scowling sorcerer whom Arrica assumed he worked somewhere in construction, stirred the ice in his wine. “That sounds a little harsh, Vincent. Maybe she went over there looking for her dear dad! She wouldn’t be over there long if she knew to dip her head into a pleasure house.”

They laughed and the scowling warlock knocked over his glass, sending wine spilling across the table. Arrica quickly attended to the mess. It would’ve been faster with magick, but her employers didn’t cover her expenses while working. Any Power she had was gathered to get her home. She could offer her Presence instead, but the penance she had wouldn’t even get her half-way home to the Browns.

That’d all change soon though. Arrica pressed her hand to her belly absently and thought sweetly of the future she worked hard for. She aced the written exam — nearly a higher scorer than the DuBeau boy himself: he always scored high in class. She did perfectly on the personal interviews, and for extra measure, her background check was spotless. They didn’t even detect her pregnancy; and they definitely had no clue she could use the very dark magick they were bashing now: Ancestry.

Even now, they didn’t see the spectral orangutan sitting squat in the middle of the tabletop, weaving a juju of hospitality throughout the room. That was why her coffee was the best — how a neophyte was hired as a serving witch above qualified culinary mages.

It hadn’t been many years since the Fires. These days, people were just as afraid of dark magick and street shamans who worshipped it as they were of the Adversary creeping about the corners, tormenting Blue Bloods and Brownie alike. That was why she’d turn her life away from it all: the Browns, the Ancestry, all of it.

Just as soon as that Letter arrived. Papa could help take care of the baby for a bit. He already was excited to be a grandfather — he never said it out loud, but he always wanted a boy, and Graham says it was one: she saw it in her mind’s third eye, brown skin just like his mama.

Three minutes, Arrica counted. Her eyes upon the clock. She didn’t know if the letter would arrive before she got home. Some people said the faster you got it, the more they liked you. Ancestors, wouldn’t that be something?

The feathery feeling rose in her spirits again. A chill ran up and down her arms and, against Arrica’s pessimism, she shivered with joy.

Quinto used to come to their school and talk about this feeling: the sweet succulent of a dream. “Not a lot of Brownies can afford one,” he’d say, surrounded by his lieutenants and advisors of varying magical pedigree. “But when you find one, hold it close and love it. Love it like your child.”

Arrica came to hers earlier than most — maybe that was why it was so humble. To own a small place where she could cook and serve and smile. It was a delight close to that first time her son, Sango, smiled gummy and wide.

A tall, lithe mage whose dark hand fell down behind his back into a braid had been studying a glowing screen of light as letters danced across its display. He wore his Power, his wealth, better than any cloak. “Not all Brownies are problematic. Hell, most of their dark magick is downright necessary. I once knew a Hispanic to cure my wife’s mother’s sickness: saved me months of expenses. Didn’t even charge me much more than a few poultry charms I had in my pocket for it.”

“And we can’t afford to get rid of a lot of it. Takes less training and therefore costs less to ask a friendly neighborhood Slumborn to uncork their old ways on a worksite than it does to pay a whole accredited mage to do it.”

Arrica nodded in approval. It was a weird mechanic of magick that Ancestry could ensorcell things easier than anything else. Especially in strong families. Particularly, the Tres were known to work great with weather and Arrica’s Papa used to make most of his Power on the side by stirring storms for the Agriculture companies in the Blues.

That was until his employer was caught and flipped on him. He spent three years in the Wall, and when he came back out, Arrica never saw his ashe again.

At the time, she hoped her own Ancestry could compensate for the loss of income. However, Ghanda Aje, the orangutan ashe on the table, could only work mojo of Prosperity. Her Papa called it a peace-time mojo, way different than his own workings. When Papa saw it, he shrugged and said the Ancestors have different roles for every one of their children in the community. Mine was for fortune when his, in its time, sowed destruction.

The wet Blue blood shook his head. “It’s still unfair. How can it be fair that we’re expected by the Senate to give them a fair chance at our world we worked so hard to make safe, civil and peaceful when they are so…unruly!”

“They can’t even secure their own home from crime violence and destruction.”

Another mage held a hand up to the wet Blue Blood. “Now now. It wasn’t the senate who decided this. I’m a deputy secretary, I should know. It’s a clause of the Covenant! Everyone gets a fair shot.”

“But does everyone deserve a shot? How’re we to know if these Brownies walking across our property aren’t what’s attracting Adversary? Making the work of our Coven Marshalls all the more difficult,” the blue blood sniffed loudly. “I have to say. I truthfully think the old Senate had it right a decade ago with the Purification, except they weren’t thinking big enough. Burn the lot of them next time!”

The clock chimed loudly on the wall: three loud gongs back to back.

“Finally,” Arrica grunted, snatching off her apron and tossing it to the table.

The pointed nose mage spotted her and waved her down. “Excuse me, are you going? Because I’d love to close my tab as well — ”

“I’m so sorry sir,” Arrica said, desperately swapping her Brown accent for a Blue appropriate dialect. “I’m off-duty now. My replacement server will be happy to help.”

Confused, he looked about. “But, there’s no one — ”

“She’s running a bit late. Patience is key.” Arrica hurried out of the shop, grabbing her purse as she went. It jangled as she plucked it up from a keyring anointed with several magickal charms of stored spells and a turquoise gemstone that glistened in both the darkness and the light.

Arrica checked the gemstone, her implement, for Power as she darted out of the shop. It wasn’t much — she probably would have to walk a bit, but she could hitch a ride on the Rails. She tried not to think about how she’d get by when the baby was born if she was barely scraping by now.

Maybe I should reach out to his father, Arrica thought. But, then she thought against it. He wouldn’t be great for this. She didn’t want him to be great for this — it never should’ve happened. She knew he was too old for her at the time, and now… Why ruin his circumstances?

The Blues — all eight districts on the other side of the Wall belonging to the Blue Bloods — were beautiful at any time of the day when compared to the Browns, but she preferred it under the cold silver of night.

Lanterns of witchfire shone in the darkness, fending off the perils of the witching hours. In the distance, Arrica could hear six thunderous booms in rapid succession: the Coven Marshalls, likely responding to the sighting of an Adversary or some magickal crisis. On this street, chariots pulled by majestic simulacra of hoofed beasts and mighty jungle cats long-extinct since the Awakening swept the world — and humanity in its infinite power tossed an incomplete world into utter destruction.

Despite the activity of the night, Arrica kept her eyes upon the heavens. Waiting for that moment, even if it wouldn’t come now.

For a moment, she closed her brown eyes and breathed in the sweet smell of cinnamon and honey and imagined herself here. Despite the darkness, she felt a bright flash from behind closed lids.

When she parted them, a small square wafted through the air, falling angelically from the heavens. Arrica gestured at it, intent on waiting for it to fall. When her impatience got the better of her, she whispered a word, sending a jolt through her fingers and the paper zipped into her hand.

She cursed herself for wasting Power she’d need to get home, but caressing her belly, she forgave herself, this time.

Lavender binder wrapped in some kind of enchantment that beckoned her to open it. Her legs felt soft and flimsy beneath her. Like they’d melt if she weren’t too careful — and as an Abstract domain, she’d need to be careful about what she’d think could happen.

Hurriedly, Arrica looked around the area for a place to sit. Somewhere, she recalled coming across a park. The image was so clear in her head where to find it that her legs, by some miracle, dragged her away.

It was an inconvenient distance away, but she made it despite how her feet screamed. It was resting on green grass with a sandbox and a swing set. Arrica took a seat on the swings and pushed herself just a little.

The letter lay on her lap, the wind trickling it a bit, threatening to spirit the Letter away, along with her future.

Now or never, Arrica thought to herself. She grabbed the letter between thumbs and fingers before breaking the seal on the back. Four sheets fell open in front of her in gold, silver, nickel and brown. The topmost sheet of gold glew with burning letters:

Congratulations, Arrica Tre! We welcome you to the fold! The Covenant proudly presents you pledge sponsorship amongst these of the Seven Leagues, 1.) the Orthodoxy of Magic, Academy for the civics, servitude and the vanquisher’s arts and 2) the Coterie, Academy for Grace and Demeanor. Thank you for your diligence to the Savior’s wisdom and the Covenant which binds and unites us deeper than skin and blood.

The Senate 66

Arrica had no interest in being a Coven Marshall. Papa called Brown Bloods who went for such a role worse than traitors. He made it clear if she even so much as brought one home: she didn’t want to imagine the disappointment if she became one. However, thee Coterie? That was different.

Arrica’s smiled spread immediately. Her eyes welled with tears.

There might have been a word for her delight if she could think of finding one. If she could afford to float, she might’ve. If she could muster the might to leap up and dance, she would’ve. All she had the energy for at this moment now, was to get home and tell her Papa.

Krk!

Arrica leaped up off the swing and twirled around. “Hello?”

The air was stale and old around her. Shadows loomed off into the distance. Arrica lifted her hand. “Flicker!”

A bell of light blossomed in her hand, burning out another lump of her Power. Worse, she could feel what she had remaining dwarfing by the moment: light burned out a lot.

“I know I heard you out there,” Arrica shouted out loud. Her left leg began to tremble involuntarily. She listened carefully to a soft song of a thousand crickets, but even that might be a falsehood. Adversary was predators of the magickal and sophisticated: banes of humanity. Of course, they could obscure their being behind hallucination and other weirdness.

Focusing, Arrica reached out with her mind and Awareness. It was likely finally opening her eyes after years of living in shadow. There dozens of scents flowing beneath her eyes; pungencies of spellwork: both inactive and active. She wasn’t too good at this, but she was enough to know there were no Adversary in the area.

She was also talented enough to feel that shadow lurking but ten feet in front of her.

“I-I know you’re there,” Arrica said boldly. “Come out. Now.”

The air rippled for a moment, like a puddle under rainfall. A figure stepped out, tall and confident with a silver badge with a six-pointed star at his hip: a Coven Marshall. His eyes did not watch her, but saw her: like she was a granite wall, an obstacle in his way.

“Are you… Arrica Tre?” he asked, his voice like rusty stone.

She hugged the Letters to her chest and followed the protocol drilled into her since she was three: watching his feet and not his eyes, silencing her magicks until it was little more than a weak pathetic trickle.

“Y-yes? Am I in trouble? I just found this park and I-I didn’t know I couldn’t be here.”

The man shook his head. “No, no. It’s not that, you’re supposed to be here. I wanted you here.”

Arrica frowned. “I…don’t know what you mean by that?”

“A lure. I brought you here,” he said. “Congratulations on your scores. I’m sure you’re proud.”

“I am …I’m sorry, but –”

“Can you use Ancestry, Arrica?” the man asked brazenly.

No, Arrica tried to say, as was expected of her, but her lips did not comply. She tried again, but her lips were locked together, again. The man kept staring at her. No, not at: in.

His piercing black eyes were staying at her belly with a forlorn knowledge.

Arrica gasped audibly. “Y-yes…”

“I see,” the man folded his hands and glanced around the area mathematically. Something about the gesture made Arrica want to vomit, but even that function seemed to be failing. It was like her body was made of stone.

“I hope you’re all watching. I won’t be showing this twice.”

“W-who — ”

The man regarded Arrica with an eye. “Not you. The other students.” As if they were summoned, four figures flickered into view, each with six-pointed badges of varying metals.

“However, in regards to you. I’d like to apologize. Not because you have to go — that was brought unto you by your choice to practice dark magick. Sorry that your unborn beloved will have to suffer the consequences of your choices. For that, I’ll make it quick.”

Arrica’s rage burned inside her. Desperately, she flailed not for her Power, but her Presence and sharpened it to a lethal point set upon the man before her. “True str — ”

Her lips slammed shut against her volition. Wet tears and snot slid down her face. The man regarded her with an eye. Slowly, it dawned on Arrica what was happening.

Empyrean warlock, she thought.

“Correct. I don’t need incantations to harm you when I can just chant them telepathically.” The man tapped the third-eye chakra between his eyes as he spoke and then at the exposed air.

“And no,” he said, sliding his finger down the empty space as it slit open and unfurled like a rose bud. “No one can hear you. No one will help. I bewitched it all ahead of time to maximize stealth and secrecy, and I am quite good at those things. I am a Coven Marshall after all.”

Arrica could do nothing but watch. In the distance, she could hear a cruel laughter. Someone mocking her.

“We do not know if the person we actually want is you. We were just told to watch for someone with a specific set of skills and qualifiers that you happen to fit. We pray to the Saviors’ grace that it is you, but most likely, it isn’t.”

There was a long arm that stretched out of the pocket world. Covered in scars, dripping in darkness and everything about it — the frequency, the stench, the color — said that it was wrong. That it was wrong because it was everything she, and her unborn child, were not. It was an enemy of her humanity, an Adversary.

“More will likely have to die, but that is what you and yours do best: die. I don’t mean to say that to sound unsympathetic. I am, but I do this to keep the peace and to enforce the Covenant, which is nothing without the will of very specific persons. Those persons have decided the answer to your specific crimes will be death, rather than the condemnation of the Wall like the rest of the monsters of the Browns.”

One of the figures sniffed loudly. “Why did we have to waste this much Power to summon this for a Jungle Witch, sir?”

The man folded his hands “Because, my little bird. As bloody as the work we will have to do, we should do well to keep our work bloodless on paper.” the man said. “That’s our prerogative when in service to the Law.”

The arm firmly grasped hold of Arrica. Her body squirmed internally as a thousand electrical pulses demanded she move, scream, fight — all to be quelled by whatever psychic order was established by this man in black. Instead, she feebly prayed to the Ancestors.

But, in the end, this man was right. If they were so powerful, they wouldn’t be Ancestors. Now, would they?

***

Bisexual Fathers Can Undo the Damage We Inherit From Our Dads

Owning your sexuality — and recognizing that fatherhood doesn’t need to be about hardness — presents a necessary alternative

Photo: Maskot/Getty Images

Joseph Guthrie came out as bisexual when he was 32. Acknowledging his sexuality didn’t unravel his sense of himself as a man or as a father. On the contrary: It only seemed to embolden his sense that no single perceived trait could define him. His family, though, felt differently. His queerness, in their eyes, disqualified him as a man — and, thus, as a father. “I haven’t spoken to my father for four years now,” Guthrie says. “When you cut the toxic people out of your life, it makes a massive difference: You’re happier.”

Much of what we consider “toxic masculinity” — bullying, homophobia, aggression toward women — is rooted in patterns typically learned from a father or father figure. However, for many, fatherhood remains the core determinant of masculinity: who can be a father, who should be a father, and what authentic fatherhood looks like. And in many Black families of any nationality, masculinity is such a rigidly defined concept that anything threatening that rigidity must be eradicated. Like Guthrie’s ability to be a father.

There is no real way to understand how common bisexuality is because bisexuality itself is a catchall concept for so many variants of sexual identity. While moonlighting as an adult bookstore clerk in 2018, I found myself talking with a sixtysomething Black grandfather and war veteran who frequented the private club room during our heavier business hours. “No one can know how common your weird is,” he said, “if you strive to keep the weird in the dark.” Five minutes later, the grandfather, filled with his own wisdom, politely offered me $400 for a blowjob. (I politely declined.)

Over the course of the two months I worked at the bookstore, I saw an assortment of fathers walk in and out; he was the most frequent of them, and we talked often. His generation had lent him a conservatism, even with regard to his own sexuality: He didn’t think his interest in both men and women should be a thing spoken of at all, let alone with as much candor as he discussed his work in the church or his military career. To him, everyone in the service was fooling around. He recalled open sex acts in showers and barracks and clear affection between “brothers-in-arms.” Most who survived the service, he said, went on to be fathers.

In the eyes of too many, we simply cannot be like our fathers; our queerness makes it impossible. The thing is, though, we wouldn’t want to be even if given the chance.

“Y’all are just so open with it now,” he once said to me with mild contempt. I couldn’t help wonder how that could be a bad thing: Could a bisexual father’s openness ever be anything less than the healthiest form of masculinity?

For bisexual men — Guthrie, me, and others — masculinity often just feels like another closet, a performance of what you think the world will accept. However, in pursuing happiness in defiance of those constraints, they also give themselves a chance to remake fatherhood into something altogether healthier.


I am not a father. However, I do serve some fatherly roles for a lot of younger boys as a mentor — and, most importantly, I was a son influenced by his father in the wrong ways.

Most of Philadelphia knew him as Bones. For Bones, womanizing was an enterprise no matter where he went. Bones would haunt women until they relinquished everything to him: their bodies, then their money, and eventually their homes. These women would only free themselves from Bones after he ripped their trust out of them — their trust or a child. To Bones, a child was inalienable proof that he meant more to the world than what anyone could take away from him: He was a father. He wasn’t a good father, but he had successfully created a child. And that fact alone earned him respect from other men in his life.

Once Bones forced me onto my mother, there was little concern from him to be involved with me on an individual level. Any facet of his personality that I know, I’ve learned secondhand — he was stubborn, smart, and jovial, and he pursued satisfaction by any means necessary. (These are all traits that I possess, even though men who approach me in my daily life assume they come from my mother in some way.)

Still, on every Father’s Day, Bones received a gift, a phone call, and a proud pat on the back solely on the merit that he fathered a child. My Uncle Silk defended him until his own dying day in 2017 — which happened to be the same day that Bones stole valuables from his home before Silk’s grieving children could return from the hospital.

Bones may have been a parent, but he wasn’t a father. Yet, as a straight man, he claimed those privileges by virtue of little more than ejaculation — and, by extension, claimed authentic manhood as well.


Mike Lowery, like Joseph Guthrie, holds no such emotional distance. He loves his two sons fiercely, cries openly, currently runs a Mixer gaming channel as a streamer, and formerly worked as an amateur adult model who filmed scenes with both men and women. Lowery is fighting a different battle: one against expectations about his masculinity.

Lowery, who came out at 26, currently boasts nearly 25,000 Twitter followers. On the chat platform Discord, where we talk, he runs a community for hundreds of exclusive members — members who also engage in Discord’s many other NSFW subchannels, where on any given day, porn is as popular a topic as gaming tips. Most of them are men who engage other men sexually regardless of their stated orientation, and a good portion of those men are fathers.

Lowery’s time on this forum is limited; by day, he works a conventional marketing job, and at other times, he’s caring for his two young sons, neither of whom knows he is bisexual. (Why would they? The concept of sexuality hasn’t even materialized for them yet.) He is also navigating a romantic life too often burdened by assumptions and misunderstandings based solely on his sexuality. One relationship ended when the idea of Lowery’s openness about his sexuality was misconstrued as a betrayal — no matter how much he tried to explain about how he identified.

However, there is little misunderstanding of who he is as a father. Lowery advocates for crying, compassion, and, most importantly, transparency that didn’t exist for him when he was a child. “It all comes down to teaching a generation to love more and judge less,” he says. “We men, especially Black men, need to show love to our bruthas, no matter who they are.”

Guthrie’s daughter also doesn’t know her father is bisexual, though she’s old enough to understand; she lives in Florida with her mother while Guthrie lives in Delaware. He cannot imagine why her mother hasn’t told her — but that doesn’t mean he wants to tell her himself. “I want her to ask me of her own volition,” he says. Regardless, he hopes one day she does: “If I can be the first person she knows who’s queer, that’s a pretty good launchpad for when she eventually meets other queer folks.”

In online forums and message boards, I routinely see discussions of how fathers have unwittingly (or, more tragically, intentionally) passed their own suffering along to their sons. Isn’t that how the pitfalls we call toxic masculinity came into being — reenacting our fathers’ bad habits because we think we have to be exactly like them?

In the eyes of too many, Lowery and Guthrie and I simply cannot be like our fathers; our queerness makes it impossible. The thing is, though, we wouldn’t want to be even if given the chance. We have broken the generational chain of hypermasculinity that shackles so many men and perpetuates the cycle of pain so needlessly.

I’m convinced that my father, Bones, wasn’t happy with being a father. And even if he was, it was largely because he was taught by his own father to keep a phone call’s distance away from his children. For him, that’s what being a real man was all about. For that gentleman in the adult bookstore, masculinity could accommodate queerness but only in secret. Yet, there’s a third option as well — one that Mike Lowery and Joseph Guthrie are already embracing. If they, like so many others, can step into their own as fathers in a generation that no longer reduces the concept of a “real man” down to a single simple thing, that’s the best outcome we can hope for.

Voodoo, My Kingdom

By Steven Underwood

Mama always told me to stay away from the Voodoo Queens out along Negro Knocks, where the black folk were loud, opinionated and troublesome.

“Them Devil Worshippers crawl across those pavements like ticks to an ass. Don’t come ‘round there lest you want your soul to be low.” And yet, as the church bells sung the work day sleep, my friends lured me out of bed after dinner.

The streets were lit with streetlights and sin. Four women in scant silks danced around us three, giggling and swearing promises of luster. Sarah cowered against my arm. Esther teased back at them like a long-lost sister. The girls approved of Esther’s wicked grin.

“Get on, Esther,” I said. “We ain’t gonna be out here all night. We got another mile to go before the clock chimes again and I ain’t getting caught out here too long. My mama will have both of our hides.”

Esther whipped her head around, her coarse curls tumbled rigidly against the motion, and though she was several shades darker — a distinction my mama always said made me beautiful — and a whole foot smaller, she met my gaze without waver.

“Ya mama wouldn’t touch me with a ten-foot cross, Carver. If no man could fell me, I certainly won’t be felled by some woman pretending to be one.”

Her parents would have Esther as my wife, as the Men-At-Large requested. It’d probably happen. One look at Esther from their dais and they decided they must obstruct the darker shade her litter would certainly have. They took one look at my size: my body built like a cinderblock wall, the grit of my glare, and they would see a future of reliable workers.

The two of us would owe a child by year’s end, or I would be arrested and sent to the Work-Gardens.

Sarah shushed us. “Y’all loud. Esther, keep it down. What if they hear you. Those words will get you lashed, or worse,” she hesitated. “The pyres.”

Esther smiled and looked Sarah up and down, a vicious glint beneath her lashes. “All this talk of what they’ll do to me, but what will they do to you, lilly?”

Sarah sucked her teeth and strutted off, but not too far: the night time was a dangerous world for a girl like her: so many men loved to ruin beautiful things just for the sake of devastating it.

“You shouldn’t be mean to her,” I said finally. It was the right thing to say, after all.

Esther shrugged. “She shouldn’t talk about things she ain’t got any idea of. I don’t know why you brought that white girl.”

Because maybe she can tell me that we are meant to be, rather than you and I…

“Because she got the money if we need it.”

Esther rolled her eyes and continued. I took a moment to re-center myself, to take the emotions and thoughts that Mama would call “Black Clout” and plunged it into a sea of bleached salt water within my heart. I ran up behind the girls a little less human.

The walk was clarifying. It was almost enough to forgive the fact we were all in this mess because of Esther’s rapacious nature. I caught her creeping out of the house while our parents slept side-by-side in their room. Negro traditions for betrothed dictated the bride’s family stay with the groom until the match can be finalized by the Men-At-Large, conserving funds under one roof, but Esther’s father had scruples.

“We ain’t lowdown fornicators in Negro Knocks!” He demanded a new room be built adjourning mine and distanced by a locked door. “Keep ya rooster away, boy, And if any harm befall my Esther: you ain’t gonna worry about the Men creeping for ya, I’ll swing you myself!”

It was no concern for me. Mama always said the new traditions would get people a fun night of sloppy wetness and a horrible dash into hell — along with Esther and the brick-hurling black-power extremists she was pretending to be: along with Negro Knocks.

She slid out the window and turned into me.

“Where do you think you’re going? It’s the dead of night! You finna get caught by one of the creepers out there!”

Esther scoffed. “Ain’t none getting caught by anyone, Carver.”

“You just got caught by me!”

“Because you were being nosey!”

“Because you’re loud!”

Esther rolled her eyes and stormed off. I followed behind her and hefting her into a bear-hug. She kicked and roared, but I was made of a stronger bulk. She went nowhere.

“Fine! I’m gonna go see the show.”

I lifted an eyebrow, a gesture my Mama said would give me nothing but terror and danger. “What show?”

Esther turned her head awkwardly towards me. “Put me down, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

I walked over to a rickety bench and set her down.

“Let me tell you about Mambo Lolita. She a bad woman — and not in the way ya mama calls people with a brain. She a bad woman. A bad woman without a man, a bad woman with every plan in her palms. Some say her kiss is poison, like the belladonna by the bayou. Some say she smells of cinnamon and others say she smell of hellfire. She the Mambo, the Queen of Voodoo. She rides the ocean’s waves. She is the first, and the only and she foresees all. The Voodoo’s Wife. She her own master, who can hold the world on a spider’s thread.”

Esther spoke all of it in a single breath. Her gaze becoming enchanted with glamour and her lips dry with vigor. It took me a moment to realize my own heart sped with all of the beat of the Congo.

“And why’s that matter?”

Esther smiled. “I’ma ask her to read fate.”

I raised my eyebrow again, and I could feel my mother shiver in her crib. “What can she tell you about your future that I don’t already know. You gone have a baby. You gone be married; and you gone die. There, done. And I ain’t even need a fancy title to do it.”

Esther rolled her eyes — something she had been brought before the Men-At-Large over time and time again. “Lincoln Alexander Carver! You really is simple. I ain’t asking about my fate — or not merely. I’ma ask about our fate…and how to avoid it.”

The thought excited me, and while protected only by the June crickets and firebugs searching for love, we ran a few blocks in the opposite direction to get Sarah, despite Esther’s protests which eventually subsided.

Sarah lived in the Convent, a large grey stone tower with glass panel windows of sapphire, indigo and yellow. Large iron bars segregated the two of them from the premises of the convent, obstructing view from the tall effigy of the Great Man of Jerusalem — a narrow nosed man with free-flowing hair and thin lips, staring down at them with a gaze of indignant judgement.

I took the time to look him over, and not for the first time, noticed how artificial he looked under the stern scrutiny of blackness.

Several chalky pebbles laid between the statue’s feet. I scooped them up and jogged around the convent towards the back, chucking each stone towards a greyed window panel. After three throws, the window opened to reveal her, Sarah. I looked down till I saw the cold silver of her rosary’s chain and the red bruise it left against her collar when the chain became caught on her hair and tugged. She smiled, and my world came alight. Sincere Sarah, my firebug.

“What are you doing out here?” She asked. Then, her soft brown eyes fell upon Esther’ venomous glare.

Sarah’s frowned; the world dimmed. “Oh.”

“Hey Stephanie.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. “It’s Sarah.”

“You said Susan?”

“You’re an ungodly witch, Esther. You know that?”

“Aw, you would be too if ya hair could knot.”

Like the Moon war with the Sun, they rivaled and spat as often as they could. One chased the other away and the other kept on fleeing until sensible and safe. One was a nurturing guardian against the wrong, and the other bathed in it.

“Enough! Sarah, come on.”

“Or don’t,” Esther taunted. “Freedom is yours if you so claim it, little girl.”

“For what?”

I smiled at her. “For an adventure. Trust me, it’ll be …it’ll be revolutionary.”

Sarah looked from me to Esther. I held my hand out to her, dramatically initially, but I found my heart carrying the intent and my resolution filled her. She nodded and was out of the house in minutes, and they were off.

Now, but a street away from Negro Knocks, where the trees have since withered their leaves on the stem and the streets smelled of cotton.

“Do you think they’re dangerous?” Sarah asked as we crossed the street, pulling her jacket comfortably across her chest. Despite being rendered small and mute by the obelisk-like buildings surrounding us, she still found it pivotal to shrink her voice and size. “I mean, people are afraid of them for a reason. Shouldn’t we be too?

I shrugged. “My mama says they’re bad, but — ”

“But ya mama thinks showering more than two times a week brings about the devil. I know men of a certain flavor love a god-fearing woman, but I find it hard to believe they enjoy one who’s that terrified.”

I frowned and blustered. “Hey, don’t talk about my Mama.”

“You’re right, why would I need to? Your Mama does so much talking for you that she minds as well speak for me as well!”

Sarah stomped her feet. “Can you two just stop?! Gosh, no wonder you two are arranged: you argue as if you’ve been married for a slave’s span!”

Esther simmered, squeezing her hands into fists, and marched forward. “You shouldn’t throw phrases ya barely understand.”

Sarah looked into my face, her loose curls dancing across her back. “What did I say?”

“That term.”

“What about it?” she asked, innocently enough.

“A slave span isn’t a… nice term to use.”

“Why not?” her eyes were doe-ful, perfect globes of purity.

“Back in the day, a slave span was a measurement of how long a slave lived — ”

“Okay?”

“By the decree of their masters — whether it ended by God’s natural hand, or the masters.”

Sarah slapped her hands over her mouth. “I — I didn’t. It’s just that’s what the Father would always… Gods, Esther must think I’m — Oh my…”

Sarah rushed forward, stealing the sight of her away from me. I frowned and hurried after her.

We both almost ran Esther into the ground. She was frozen in place, her eyes parted in wonder, her jaw hanging.

I looked up, and understood why she was so silent.

Negro Knocks sprawled from left to right in color. The buildings were colored vibrant shades of purple and green, towering over the block on either side, stretching as far back as I could see. Street lights dripped with windchimes and corked glass bottles filled with blue sand or rolls of parchment with numerous scribbles and scripture printed about them. Large cages were stacked at a street corner with the odd greymalkin nestled against the cage door, long milky pythons dipping the tip of their tails into small bins of cold water or a rooster nestled on top of a bed of straw.

The walls were covered in graffiti. Splotched, lengthy bodies and misaligned limbs connected to expressive black bodies. Girls and, shockingly, men danced along the waves before the fire, casting long, proud shades against the wallskin. A melody trickled constantly, beating against wind chimes, murmured by the many and praised by the trees bending outwards to listen in. The world was primal, yet civilized with a black face smiling on its every corner.

We took our first visual swig of the nectar of the savannah’s offspring and realized all our lives I might’ve been dehydrated, like drinking gasoline on winter nights and finally sipping my first tall glass of lemonade in the Summer heat. Yet, none of us dared approach the entry, as approaching might’ve been the difference between a sip and a drowning.

A firm hand rested itself onto my shoulder. “Kinfolk, approach, we don’t bite.”

We screamed, we couldn’t help it.

He wore a suit two-sizes too large for his body with a feathered cap. His skin was an ebony bronze, a texture of milk and honey.

I flinched, stepping back into the shadows shamefully. Esther turned up her lip and huffed her chest, “Who you be?”

He smiled, exactly how my mama described people like him would: with sin, but in person that sinful grin was illuminated with God’s fortune. As if he picked up this chosen son and kissed him seven times on either cheek, just to let the world know he must be loved.

“Apologies, kinfolk! I ain’t presume to insult. My name is Jamie Langston, but friends round this part don’t call me that.”

I turned up my nose. “Why? Do you not believe in ya God given name? Don’t you want God to know you?”

“Nah,” he said with an upturned glee. “Not the God these folk talkin’ to anyway. My friends and kinfolk call me Wicker.”

I rolled my eyes, but Sarah let out a low, involuntary giggle. A sourness stirred in my gut.

“Well, sorry to bother you, Mr. Wicker, but we was just leaving.” I reached out for Sarah’s wrist, but she moved.

“Actually, we were hoping of going in. We…never been to Negro Knocks before. We didn’t think we would be welcomed.”

Wicker laughed. “Now now, ain’t no such thing as an un-welcome kinfolk in Negro Knocks. If ya feel the need to come on in, just make a step.” he smiled, his teeth were sharp like a shark’s edged jawline. “In fact, Wicker know many faces among the Negro Knocks, cause you know us black folk: quick to talk, quick to know, quick to hop from place to place in search of ourselves and identity. Wicker do that better than most: us kinfolk love Wicker, they got inside them, and fire loves a good candle: he be knowing and greeting. He greets and knows most, like the Voodoo Queen.”

Esther gasped. Wicker smiled like a vixen in a caper.

“If you all want to meet her, follow me. I know the way.”

He waltzed, each step a rhythmic dance of fire and slithering ease.

“I don’t like him,” I said once I was sure he was far from my voice and passions. “He slithers like satan’s snake. My mama — ”

“Damn it, Carver, if you so fascinated with ya mama, go marry her instead!” Esther stormed off after Wicker. Sarah glanced at me, before turning to the voyaging duo and shrugged, “You did promise me an adventure. I-it will be fun: meeting Mambo Lolita.”

I frowned, and cursed my temptation. Mama always liked to say, the Blacker the boy, the greater the devil. Then, (should it be the first time in history?) I followed a black woman.

The alley was in uproar. I walked down the path as a collective of beautiful children danced around me, laughing sunshine and amazement, spinning around me with their teeth aglitter. One ran upon Sarah and hugged her around the waist, and she hugged them back, sharing a moment of light. Esther carried two in either arm, resting on her hip. They kissed her on either cheek and she whispered into their ears great joys. They ran off, a cluster of possibilities and my heart broke for the days those possibilities would end up shattered on the ground — like many black children who must become old in defense.

Mambo Lolita’s home was at the end of the alley. It was a large complex with scarlet bricks. A neon sign glew in the midnight, hissing against the night’s air with dozens of bulbs flickering all around it. Wicker knocked on the door, a rhythmic rap.

“Who it be?!” someone shouted from the other side of the door.

“It’s Wicker. I got some clients for ya, Mambo!”

There was a hesitation. “You got my gambo?”

Wicker swore under his breath and hit the door again. “I’ll get ya it tomorrow!”

“You gonna get that tonight, Wicker! I ain’t playing!”

“Fine! Just open the damn door, it’s freezing out here!”

I disagreed. The night was warm and passionate in Negro Knocks, a simmering comfort as if resting in the womb of a goddess. The city surrounding them was a morbid world of frigid nightmare, but here, in the dead heart of the town, was a place that felt motherly.

The door swung open. Her hair was dreaded down her back, soft twists of chocolate braids, accessorized with gold with dangling charms of scorpions and moths. Her face was brown and freckled six times on both cheeks. Around her strong biceps clung a golden armlet shaped like a vipress. She wore a suede dress that came down to her ankles, a shawl of victorian black beauties draped over her back and walked the ground barefoot.

“Y’all some beautiful ones.” she said. The complement seemed otherworldly.

Esther smiled. “You beautiful ya damn self.”

“Esther!” Sarah shouted. “That’s improper!”

Mambo Lolita scoffed. “Ain’t nothing too improper that a Voodoo Queen can’t hear none about it! Come on in out the cold.”

We stepped in altogether. Wicker tried to walk through the door, but Mambo Lolita stopped him at the entrance. “I ain’t trying to see you until you bring me my dish, boy! Get!”

“Fine!” he shouted after trying once more to force himself once again. “I’ll see y’all after.”

His eyes lingered. I stepped in front of Sarah and puffed my chest. He didn’t notice. He walked off.

“Now, now. Quit all that puffin’, boy. We got some work to do.”

They journeyed through the tight apartment: a narrow room of cluttered paperback books and beautiful porcelain pots. They followed her into a back room. It was dark with not a touch of dust to be seen. The floor was covered in chalky white pictographs, swirling and circling into a dizzying design all-around the surface.

“You like graffiti?” Sarah asked, ever the artist

Mambo Lolita smiled. “Nah, I like my faith. This be veves, girl. Invocations.”

Sarah shivered and grasped her rosary. “Satanism.”

Mambo Lolita raised an eyebrow and glanced over the girl. Her eyes had the heat of the jungle cats Mama showed me in the old books, before the church invited us to burn them, and she complied.

“Little girl, don’t you know your history?”

Sarah sputtered. “Y-yes, of course. I know about the buying and selling of the Blacks.”

Mambo Lolita threw her head back and laughed. The rumble from her throat could’ve shattered glass. “Sweet pea, ain’t you know Black folk are more than — than slaves and displaced sycophants?”

She danced past Sarah and took up her place at the center of the veve. She twirled once, sending her braid flowing through the air. The hit her shoulder on the opposite side of her frame. Candles exploded into light, their flames twirling on the wick.

“Okay, Sweet pea, you’re up first.”

Sarah looked around: from me, to Esther.

Esther rolled her eyes. “Little girl, she ain’t talking to me.”

Mambo Lolita waved her over. “Come on now, don’t be shy.”

Sarah took mousy, fragile steps towards the center. “B-but, I don’t have any money.”

Mambo Lolita smiled. “Sugah, Voodoo Queens don’t ask for you to give the money of that world. That world used that money to trade us: to corrupt generations of stories; to interrupt a history. That money don’t warrant anything for us, but to keep them other folks up out of our crowns of curls. What I ask for is a truth.”

Sarah parted her lips, to which Mambo Lolita raised her hand in opposition. “Nah, I don’t wanna hear ya truth right now? This truth you working on ain’t even the full picture. How you gone tell me bout yourself when you don’t even know yourself.”

Sarah frowned. “I get it. I am an orphan. No need to sugar coat it.”

Mambo Lolita smiled. “My, my y’all are truly entertaining me! Nah, I ain’t talking about loss parents. I’m talking cultural — ancestry.”

Mambo Lolita dropped her shawl from around her, revealing her bare back. I peeked down at her bare skin in amazement.

Her flesh was a maze of cryptic abrasions. She pulled Sarah down next to her.

“Watch,” she said as she reached into a pocket of her dress, grasped a pepper, placing it on her tongue.

Mambo Lolita lowered her head down at Sarah and stared through her.

Sarah long since started praying, but stopped when Lolita locked eyes with her. There was a moment that felt like thousands where electricity danced between them, before Sarah nodded in understanding.

“Who am I?” she asked with the reverence my mama would reserve for her secret speech with God himself.

“You think yourself a product of their society of stone castles and flimsy winters, but you’re wrong.” Mambo Lolita opened her mouth and blew. Orange smog streamed from her parted lips, swirling around the room, forming a thick screen of colored mist. Thunder crashed along the groove and arc of the clouds. A low drumming echoed in the distance, building with the moments, until a loud crash echoed and shadow men danced in the distance.

”You’re a daughter of a world unlike anything imaginable. Oh, you flinch. Did you expect us to call you a Queen? You’re mighty, child, but you’re far from royalty. In many lands, royalty has no meaning. In some world’s, lands far across the seas and summers, royalty is an idea laughed at: someone born into leadership? Power? Such things must be earned! We laugh at the notion!

“The Ororono are women, with arms like trees and a fragrance of the unweathered storm! All of them: women warriors standing at the top of the mountain, wailing against the injustices and violence. Did you expect our homeland to be perfect? Without strife and fire? We are human, girl. We are mortals born of clay and violence! But, we are prouder than those across the seas, and so we do war without the added displeasures of human injustices. A slave might exist on the savannah of clay and flower, but a slave does not exist within their minds as well, for the Oronoko will not allow it! Powerful in stride. Vicious in action. Their spears are shaped like the thunderbolt. They hurl them at the heart of the thundering opposer and dance on the nimbus until she cries in happiness, spreading her love about the wronged and desolate.”

The air went stale and silent.

Mambo Lolita pulled Sarah to her feet, showing her around the cloud. She gestured to swirling masses, where a woman in a thick poncho twirled a spear and struck a brutish man in his chest. Another man grabbed her and ran her down into the ground, slamming his fist down as she rose a leather shield in defense, before militia of women tackled him, yanking their sister free, before liberating the world surrounding them. That downtrodden women smirked and rose, joining her sister-warriors in triumph.

“Oh, We are sorry. We believe you were asking simply about your people, that tremendous tribe of amazons and riders-in-the-heavens. But, you want so much more than the forgotten whispers of the thunderers. Maybe I tell of your ancient gods, or perhaps not. Ours are teachers who gives, loves and structures in a fitting way to benefit survivors. Notice we did not mention fight and win, because winning is not why we fight, it is just an occasional symptom of the necessity. “

Mambo Lolita caressed Sarah’s sunny face. “Or perhaps, I should tell you of the homes and fortress which protect from weather and might! Their villages were round, circular, rooted in cycles distanced apart from one another with paths of rivers. Their huts, formed with shined stoned, polished like a cumulus. They tell stories before they laugh, about their motherly elders, those mighty spear-toting juggernauts, who presented warriors and nothing else unlike them, who cultivated legacies in all women, so nothing, no one and nobody shall have desire for royalty.”

Sarah was crying. She had been for minutes, her mouth covered in awe, turning about, looking into the mists that ordained the world forgotten. The women were her, and together they were an unstoppable whole.

Mambo Lolita wiped a tear free from her face.

“Our dear, we are wondering, as you peer into these honest clouds, who are you?”

Sarah turned towards Mambo Lolita, her lips trembling.

“I — I… all my life I had an image of what I could be laid before me. I prayed for what I thought I wanted: a mother, who could comb my hair and save me from the vicious people all around me who would refuse to call me: “sister,” and subjugate me in the pattern of the unfaithful that grabbed us. I know it’s wrong; you must bear with me. I am a girl, a singular one, but I am also two. I represent two halves of a whole that cannot always agree with one another.”

Sarah turned to me and Esther, stuck in her words. I looked her into those soft eyes and nodded for her to go on.

“My mama: I don’t know her, but the Priest tell tales, because god-fearing folk spread more fairy tales than a crucible. They say I got the smile of men who like to dabble with whores and fornicate with things so exotic that one might thing they are descended from the nemean lion that preys in a world so tiny that it is indestructible by their standards. I’m called many things, many lustful things, but what the people always call me when they think I’m not around is a slur that tickles their tongue and stings my ear to hear, one reserved for people born into a family with the worse of the fornicators at the helm, a wealthy one that calls half-breeds like me anathema, like in the bible. I am a daughter of someone who doesn’t want me, but desires women like me. So, if you ask me for truth, I can give you one. I won’t be long one hundred percent to anything, all my life, never in my life, I won’t and that’s why I dream of a mother who will hold me and protect me like that, because I always know though I sit in the shades of both night and day, I am only ever going to sort-of fit in one!”

Sarah’s face was as red as her face and her eyes were large, puffy and searing with a ravaging. She shuddered, her tears falling down her face and over her chin, dropping like rainlets down the hill. Mambo Lolita grabbed her and coveted Sarah deep into her own chest. Sarah wailed and screamed, but to my ears she sung a song of fiery rebirth.

Sarah needed assistance leaving that day, her entire being exhausted and taxxed. Mambo Lolita carried them to the door. “I thoroughly enjoyed our encounter here,” she said with a smile. “I’ma sleep good tonight.”

Esther whipped around. “W-wait, we can’t be done! I can’t be — I didn’t get a chance to ask you!”

“‘Lax child! We can meet tomorrow. Mambo Lolita never forgets or neglects a client, and that’s my honor!”

Esther seemed willing to argue more, but she simply nodded and stepped off. Together, they carried Sarah back in silence. They passed Wicker on their way out, who gave them a just, solemn nod.

The sky was creamy blue, just before the crack of dawn when they returned to the Church gates. Sarah stood in front, calmly pondering her return.

“So…” I said, violating the silence. “That’s some family history.”

Sarah frowned.

“I agree, girl. You come from power.”

“It’s happy to know I come from somewhere respectable,” she said. “You all have probably heard the rumors: I come from a woman, but not like a woman you would expect. She was a teenager, back in those days in the Black Light Districts.”

I nodded, attempting to veil my shock. The Black Light District was infamous: women standing in glass windows with a collar of thread and paper, marking a price tag. It was a despicable practice, and I told that to my father when I learned that was where he frequented when he thought my mother was too fixated on her bibles to worry about him.

But, I was unable to conceal my shock when Sarah looked up at us and boldly stated, “I am not ashamed of her.”

Esther tilted her head. “Oh?”

“No,” Sarah said. “I know the Convent expects me to be. I was for a little while, when they had a hook inside of me, but now? I don’t. It’s only the truth. To be ashamed of her means I am judging her for her choices, a if she had many options as a woman like she was: a black woman, without an orphanage. Eventually, such things cost, and she paid by leaving her daughter so early that she couldn’t even name her proper, but she had no choices…and to be ashamed of her for the work she finally had a choice in deciding would be disingenuous to the truth.” A shadow eclipsed her terrible mood. “We cannot be disingenuous.”

Sarah turned around and walked into her home. She stopped for a moment and turned to the two of us. “I — thank you for the night out,” she whispered. “I will see you tomorrow. “She entered the church, her home inside the temple of a foreign god.

That night, I laid. I found myself drowning in the mists conjured by the Voodoo Queen, Mambo Lolita. My exhaustion caught up to me and I fell into dreamspace. There, the image of the Amazon sisters, fighting as one, as a unit and team replayed on a loop in my my mind’s eye. A sour sting trickled across my heart, and I knew I was jealous for the first time of another’s union outside of love.

We moved with silence: it was a church night, and Mama was up. She kneeled in front of the beat up sofa on a long mahogany table, her knees squarely bent in salt grains, her fingers joint in vigorous worship. I pondered as I passed her, if she knew of the ancient gods we called our own, would she find favor with the one who aided in her ownership?

Sarah waited outside the Covent gates. Her hair was braided down the back like Mambo Lolita’s

We returned to Negro Knocks to find Wicker waiting outside again. “Sarah. You look far different.”

Sarah walked passed him. “I did it for me.”

Wicker nodded. “Straight to business, I like that in ya.”

I glared at him, but Sarah shoved me in the arm. “Calm down, Carver. You ain’t even really have the right to be jealous for me anyway. I am not yours!”

She strutted ahead. Esther laughed, but Wicker just stared. People got weird in Negro Knocks it seemed, particularly Black folk. Maybe Mama was right?

They arrived at Mambo Lolita’s home to find the door prematurely open. “Come on in children,” she said joyfully. We entered, and she escorted the group back. As she walked, she was kind and made offers. “Anything you need? I have it all.”

Esther rushed to the back room, interrupting Mambo Lolita’s rhythmic flow.

“Oh?” Mambo Lolita asked.

“I’m sorry Mambo, she’s just tired of waiting and wants it now.” I said.

“Questions?” she asked. I nodded. “Questions. She wants them answered. Now.”

She laughed skillfully and dragged us further down her hallways. We arrived at the end in the room. Esther sat criss-crossed in the middle of it. I joined her.

Mambo Lolita joined us with a glass of water. She downed it in seconds. “Okay, friends, you all know the set up by now, so,” She began, “ask your question.”

I opened my mouth, but Esther was faster.

“How do I avoid marrying Carver’s ignant ass?”

“Hey!” I exclaimed. Esther leaned into Mambo Lolita.

“How do I be like…like you?”

I frowned. That was not what we planned. “Esther!” I shouted. Mama was right, she is a devil tupping demon!

Mambo Lolita cackled. “Calm down, little sister. I’ma get to your answers, but you don’t need none of the ancestor workings to help you. The Mysteres don’t need to bother coming on down here to help you; you want assistance, you can help yourself. Now, you asking me how to avoid and how to do all these things, but do you mean it?”

Esther leaned in. “Are you going to tell me about my people now too?”

Mambo Lolita shook her head. “Your people story ain’t as prevalent in the past. You wanna take a gander at them, you can in your own time: they were farmers. You won’t find any defiant warriors,” Mambo Lolita patted Esther on the shoulder. “You the first one.”

I scoffed. “She ain’t no warrior.”

Mambo Lolita looked me up and down. “Oooooh, and you would know lil’ boy. You don’t e’en know ya self. You don’t e’en know ya desires. Sitting around here, talking bout somebody. Well tell me something, since you know every damn thing, who asked you to define what this woman is?”

“Ain’t nobody gotta ask me. My mama says the man of the house run the house, and if the world have its way, I’ma be hers man, so I run the house, and I run what she is.”

Lolita slapped me blind.

“I’ll tell you a story — not related to you, but of the past. Of a girl from an island, where the animals were decorated so their pelts radiated moonlight, capturing the clandestine rays in seven times their beauty. On that island, lived a people as black as us all, who slept in the shadows, who knew only the rules set by the god-shadows in the walls. They followed them like they followed their Chief appointed. His daughter was set to lead.”

“Sounds terrible,” I said.

Esther smiled, “I like it. Probably was a better world for it.”

Mambo Lolita laughed. “Oh? Just cause she got some girl bits don’t make the rule a better one. Sometimes, even women don’t got the good sense nature expects of all animals. She didn’t. She tried to rule like he ruled. Master the women, as told by the shadows, dominate the beasts, as she thought they ordained, never once following the credibility of her own instincts, of the shame harvested in her heart. She thought it fate what she did.”

“Why?” I asked, “Ain’t we supposed to do as gods say?”

“I believe it healthy to have some reverance to them on the clouds, but we can’t pretend they know what it means to be us. Them gods are just like the Men-At-Large: they rule us without know what it means to be us; they created the way we rotate their suns, but not our sunny feelings. They just direct, command and feel they are above sympathy.

“Don’t interrupt again. Now, the girl did bad things in the name of them shadows. That made her change not a thing, she knew she was doing bad, but ain’t care. One of the things she liked to do was fish up the stream. Because of that, a war arrived with a tribe from a culture in the water — turns out ain’t nobody ever think to look beneath the surface and find out they were depriving another’s baby’s tummy.

“They had her marry their prince to avoid more death. She got no say, and it was for the safety of everyone — that’s what the shadows said… She weren’t smitten with no other man… She just didn’t want to have this choice made for her. See, because the loss of choice is often a crime in the ugliest of ways. She hated it and ran away, turning from the shadows and dashing further than any man, woman or child ever did in their tribe. Want to know what she found?”

Esther nodded.

“The Sun. It was friendly and warm. And, unlike what the shadows said of it, it never burned them and cast them to the wind. Why would it? These islanders were not shadows. They were men and women who needed sunny things. She followed the sun down winding paths, stepping on vibrant colors she never knew she wanted to touch, until she found a waste. Here, where the dead were laid to rest. Everywhere lay bones and body.”

Sarah grimaced, “Yuck.”

Mambo Lolita nodded. “Indeed, but the girl wasn’t disgusted. She found herself overjoyed. She saw these bones and saw the past of her people and the future of herself. She kneeled and prayed for seven days and when she opened her eyes, she found her back scarred and an epiphany on her tongue. She dug her hands into the dirt, dirtying her pretty nails until she found a shiny stone. She rose and returned to her people, walking into the cave and when she did, the stone shined, and the shadows vanished. She smiled, and said to them, ‘Your people have something to say,’ and she told them a story.”

Esther frowned. “And, how does this help me with my fate?”

Mambo Lolita shrugged. “No one can help your fate, but you. No one can stop the wheel hurtling to you, but you. Yes, it will be hard to do, you got a lot of things on the wheel hurtling at you, but you have choices. Men-At-Large demand that a wheel spins at a black girl like you: to crush you and make you flat and manageable, but you can step out of its way; you can leap over it; you can destroy it before it gets to you, and at all times pay for it. Or…”

She turned to me, disarming me. “Or stop it.”

“B-but,” I stammered. “I’ll be flattened, my Mama — “

“Ya mama is a shadow, too, despite being one of the islanders as well, ignore her. Do you honestly believe that wheel would flatten a man? Lil boy, you gotta ask yourself who is pushing the wheel along in the first damn place!”

Mambo Lolita rose, “Now, I will eventually need a truth. You two owe that much for a story, but I ain’t gonna want it now. I’ma want it when you got something worth saying. And you can’t have something worth saying when you dancing about screaming about fate, fear and mamas.”

Esther jumped up, “But why do he matter? Nothing he say matter! He can’t choose to make me a mambo! I decide that, I do!”

“Nah, he can’t, that’s for you to decide. Like the women of my story, you gotta decide eventually when you had enough and run out on your own to hear the stories, but it’s beneficial if you can embark on your task without a wound,” Mambo Lolita said. “Sweet black girls shouldn’t need more wounds than they can bare, when their brothers are next to them to finally take a licking or two for their benefit. Plus, it’s his story too. Are you gonna help ya friend?”

Later, I found myself outside, exhausted.I nearly passed out on the street corner. I took another step and almost fell into a alley.

Wicker caught me.

“You okay, boyo?”

“Get off me,” I slurred at him. Wicker laughed.

“Pretty boys always angry about something. I overheard what was going on in there, you gonna do it?”

I paused and thought of my Mama, the danger seething from her anger, “Well who gone marry you then, what they gone say about me?”

“She would never forgive me embarassing her.”

“Kinfolk, parents will always get angry about someone trying to build utopia, not a cave full of wall shadows. They think the world is already as good as it gets.”

I frowned, and noticed I do that often. All I do is frown.

“I want to marry Sarah. It’s best.”

“No, you don’t.”

“Well, I don’t wanna marry Esther. She trouble!”

“Well, Esther don’t wanna marry you neither. She a Mambo if I ever seen one. She got stories in her just beneath that beautiful skin of hers.”

It dawned on me. “You smitten for Esther?!”

“I’m smitten for no girl, kinfolk.” He laughed.

“You looked at Sarah!”

“You caught me looking at you, not them. Ain’t my fault you step in front of her a lot.”

I frowned and blushed simultaneously. Things were confusing, but made sense: it wasn’t anything new, Mama talked about people like Wicker a lot, but pretended ain’t no black man was capable of that. She said that was white-boy-business, but Wicker was every bit of black man and so she was wrong, like she was about a lot of things. Like the Chief was about the shadows.

“I don’t know what to do”

Wicker shrugged. “The right thing.”

He got close.

“Do exactly what will make ya feel good for the right reasons.” he said, walking me up the alley. We stepped out of Negro Knocks into the cold of the city. A brick lay at my feet.

I picked it up.

It felt heavy in my hands.

“All it takes is action.” I smiled at him, and he smiled back. Wicker’s teeth were nice.

I threw the brick and shattered a window.

“Mama won’t be proud.”

Adidas Off-White

by Steven Underwood

Nothing worthwhile is found in the streets. Before this September, if I were to walk home from school, I’d assume to find the usual swaying my head low, scanning the ground to dodge the broken glass and eye contact: a used needle (Retail: $20 per pack of 100): tiny green ziplock baggies barely big enough to hold a raisin (Retail: $5.05 per pack of 100): black gum stains pressed into cement after years of tramples (Retail: brand varying, $0.75): shoestrings (Retail: $1.00).

Now, those were shockingly the most common, mostly browned with age, but always bound together with a shoe not too far off (Retail: $0.05). When I tilted my head just slightly, I could see clouds of cloth-stuffed sneakers of all colors. Some were cheap and others were expensive. I even recognized a few of them, mostly Brice’s Concords (Retail: $125), identified by a dried penny-sized stain on the black plastic toe that hydrogen peroxide couldn’t clean (New Retail: $70).

Mama used to say they belonged to boys like me, and when I asked what they were doing walking around barefoot, she simply looked at me with her soulful brown eyes. “They ain’t, baby.” she’d say and then I’d stop asking questions, before her fondness of my curiosity turned into frustration-and-anger.

There ain’t need to be explanations, neither. If they were found on the streets, they’d be picked up: whether by God or by the Devil. What use did they have for some shoes except to dangle them?

Today, I didn’t just find shoe strings. It was a whole damn shoe, brand-new, with the strings perfectly in tact if not a little strained from dangle-stress. The logo was a three-pronged weed leaf like it was plucked off one of those tacky Marijuana brand shirts — the kind Grove City kids wore over cargo pants when they came around the block to buy (Retail: $9.00) . They were hightops, with a velcro tongue dangling from the sides across from a plastic white buckle.

Retail Price: $450.

Last person to have a pair of off-white Adidas on the block was Yvone. Her mama was just as poor as the rest of us, but her step-dad had a trucker job on route from Columbus to all places south, one of the few fortunes of living in a warehouse plant like the 614. He didn’t spend his money on much that couldn’t be carried in-and-out of truck-stops, so she found it pertinent to guilt him into an early present. She wore them to the first day of Sophomore year into Mrs. Martin’s Remedial Englsh with an outfit she snatched after a raid at Eastland.

In fairness, Yvone looked cute. She bought a rainbow of ribbons from Target to tie into her ponytail (Retail Price: $2.00) and a pair of golden hoop earrings (Retail Price: $1.50 a pack). It didn’t entirely come together, but Yvone, like the rest, made due with what she had — a single luxury in a body of cheapness, made whole with personality alone.

Alex Little sucked her teeth at Yvone from across the crowded classroom as she snuck another selfie — one arm fully extended, both lips puckered, an unfamiliar joy in her eyes. It was an Obama phone (Retail Price: $50), flat and silver with a pink protective cover (Retail Price: $12.00).

“She swear she part Indian, but her Grandma blacker than a skillet bottom.” Alex said. My friend snickered, as did I, to my shame. It was just funny; she didn’t even get her shoes in her pic — just half a fit. It hadn’t occurred till after what happened that Yvone didn’t have any, not any real ones. Being friendless meant no full-body pics. Just lonely, close-up selfies down a long three-year digital archive.

They got Yvone across the street, in the alley behind the Walgreens. Alex and my friends made a game out of how many times they could knock her down or bloody her nose. Yvone’d been cursing first, then fighting her mightiest, before finally crying and then, silence. And by the time of the Silence, Alex and her friends already made the effort to snatch her her ribbons, her phone, her cover, both of her earrings and, obviously, both shoes.

She walked back home barefoot in a pair of cerulean-and-white ankle socks (Retail Price: $4.50). The last time anyone saw her, she’d turned down Brighton Rd., her tears dried into two shallow grey trains down her chin.

A month later, when the cops stopped caring to find her, Her mother dangled her shoes from the phone lines. They twisted there, with her name scribbled on the bottoms. I saw her daily in the Walgreens, a blurred picture of a colorful girl I recognized in a house I didn’t, beside an aged rendering that I never would’ve recognized even if she walked up on me on the streets. I wondered how long those strings would spin there before they’d snap.

These Adidas had no name on the bottoms. Just a blurred stain.

The clam shell color was hardened, but striking all the same.

I stuff the shoes into my all black satchel and make my way home with a dedication to my stride. The morning felt defeated with silver in the skyline of the City itself.

Trauma and What I’ve Made of Isaiah Hickman’s Emoblackthot

Do we care about Trauma, today?

In 2013, I was deeply traumatized by an experience at a PWI culminating in the creation of my record, the first time I’d ever been in handcuffs and the development of my more serious contest with Adult depression. The memory of my paralysis before the prison hue of orange and the overwhelming terror of midnight suffocation are not things I can easily escape some six years later.

So, when I say Emoblackthot’s story of trauma and deception is not entirely what the first reaction would impress upon us. According to Isaiah Hickman’s testimony of experience and pain, he has endured something of a significant trauma both on his own Blackness and his own sexual agency, admitting to have survived a sexual assault earlier in his new adulthood.

Culminating with the habit of mistrust and suspicion, an account that was originally started to act in a sense of healing was born. In truth, nothing about this singular act is problematic. While many perceive a sense of entitlement within social media and creatives who employ it for branding’s identity, time and energy, they are not and it’s factually insensitive to assume you can have access to someone’s entire being, particularly if their own mental health is at stake.

A lesson that I have had to follow ever since my own battle with suicidal ideation and depression caused by a tic-for-tact on the very same app that Emoblackthot branded for his own wellbeing and health. In honesty, I was confused by where Hickman could’ve seen that he’d be in trouble for revealing himself, at first. On some level, I grew suspicious that he was suffering from the same sense of entitlement and access that I had been had one point: a guilt for not giving 100% of my all to people who’ve I’ve never met in my life.

I know too well that mistakes I’ve made personally because I was not, could not process the realities that my race almost destroyed me, and that someone else preyed after my being through the tight river of our relationship and trust. It fucks up your ability to ever want to be seen again. Today, despite my own publicness and outward energy as a middling writer and a larger than myself medium of my craft, I still hate the idea that I can be seen, read, consumed by anyone and everyone.

I’m terrified. I can’t stand it.

However, when we dig deeper into Hickman’s story and history as Emoblackthot/Madblackthot, we uncover a truth of the matter that I overlooked.

There was a time when Hickman envisioned himself as a Black woman not just in pronoun use, but in personality and lived experiences.

Blackness as a culture is obsessed with Authenticity. Who can do what, who has lived what, and how that has realistically informed whom and what they are. This ism ostly because Blackness is a form of Ethnostate in America — and without a language, Blackness has to identify itself in specific qualifiers, motions and ways of life.

One could easily make the argument that gender identity, being the lucid thing we want it to be on social media, shouldn’t matter in this situation; after all, I personally did not see emoblackthot as anything outside of the they/them pronouns I could deliver (thought, I DID envision Black femme-hood in some way).

But, that’s not the case here. There was no intent for Isaiah Hickman to have believed his reflection of being a Black woman. There are even dangerous cases of Hickman himself soft blocking individuals for outing Isaiah’s lived Black male-ness. And in that lies what Isaiah should feel some form of shame for and uphold a level of accountability.

Black women are allowed to feel whatever they feel on the personal journey to their identies being infringe and stolen by a culture that will do anything, but respect them. When we’re discussing the culture of Blackness that is being robbed in mainstream media, we are discussing the actual way Black womanism and feminities’ birth rights and creations are robbed from the proverbial cradle.

The accounts who are revealing stories of opening up to Isaiah Hickman’s emoblackthot are honestly shattering; particularly, because Isaiah Hickman himself seems to have internalized the reality of what he has done in his trauma

And there lies the thing that many aren’t investigating within Hickman: the trauma of it all. The reality that, perhaps, Hickman’s actions were not an intent to mock Black women, but a mad rush to invisibility. If in truth Isaiah has done what he has done not in honest realization that he was emulating an experience, rather than rejecting a reality that was in some way dangerous to a clean slate of healing, is he wrong?

Yes.

He is.

However, our thinking around what is authentic here is wrong. A lack of acknowledgement of the intent behind his actions is wrong. Accountability requires us to chastise accordingly to what we are looking at, the nuance of the thing, so that we find the heart of the matter at our feets. In this, we are not providing proper accountability if we do not actualize everything we as a community and culture have stated about the grand crime of trauma.

If we believe that there is error and flaw in the act of pain, that Black men are routinely subject to a specific set of standards and pigeonholing and the internalization of this creates a wrongness which expels itself in a variety of ways, then what are we to make of the ways we should be holding Isaiah Hickman accountable for his actions.

We do not make this arguments to uphold a praxis — that checkboxes are the entirety of the thing we are criticizing, not the spectrum of the problem and where the person stands on that spectrum. We uphold that we look at people completely and wholefully, because there is a portion of this problem that is easily repeatable, unless we express our anger without lying or denying the things we are really looking at.

And none of this is really about protecting someone because I empathize with them, or because of their clout on social media, or because I am a writer — in truth, this is about caring about the thing I feel we should be looking at ALSO.

Or not. I could be wrong.

Misogyny Ruins the World Again in Netflix’s the Society

Promotional artwork for Netflix’s the Society, premiered May 10th

I’m typically not captivated by the toil and vapidness of suburban white teenagers on television — especially if I can’t even get my maltreated Black tokenism that’s essentially the bare minimum of teen television. I’ve somehow sidestepped Riverdale for years now, and the closest I’ve found myself sinking into this kind of awkward gaze on the White agendas, but my timeline somehow tricked me into watching (and begrudgingly stanning) Netflix’s the Society — and the ending, honestly, has to be expected.

Netflix latest freshmen show of contained storytelling is about a small class of high school peers from a majorly white New England town of lawyers and affluence being abducted to an alternate dimension similar to their own with one caveat: a forest wrapping around their entire community, and no adults. The teens must figure out the rules of society and what to keep and discard from their old world in order to make this new one last long enough to escape.

Quickly, their class figure out how chaos works against the betterment of the community must give power to specific figures in order to enforce the peace. It’s high school, though, so of course we know who’ll be given that right: a bunch of football jocks.

The first nail in the coffin of this new, largely white — and privileged — world, if we’re being honest.

In no less than a whirlwind of three episodes, an Incel murders their leader, human rights are violated in what is the first time I’ve ever seen a White-on-White jailhouse beating and we’re introduced to one of the weirdest, sympathetic reflections of a clinically diagnosed psychopath. Worse, as the series progresses we witness the clear sexual assault of an innocent prisoner made to change during her period in front of “the Guard” and the eventual coup of the administrative superpower of their society in the name of Masculine Fraternity — where brawn will matter more than brains.

The Guard, consisting of, from left to right, Jason (Emilio Garcia-Sanchez), Luke (Alex MacNicoll) and Grizz (Jack Mulhern) holding up firearms for an execution with Helena (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and Gordie (Alex MacNicoll) baring witness.

See, where Allie, the self-appointed leader of the Society, had the game fucked up was trusting a Guard structured entirely of misogyny and lilted men-children who, admittedly, don’t even like each other to enforce her will.

Misogyny, at its most toxic — characterized by the sports-bros, will always want to see itself reflected in its leadership. From the inception of this Society, women had been in-charge, and hedging its bets on men to work in its best interests despite how it exists uncorrected. Allie did nothing when her two core agents sexually assaulted a person under their care; she did nothing when one of the same two perpetrators violently beat the prisoner — albeit guilty — prior to a trial. Simply put, Allie let sleeping dogs lie just because they were dogs of her household and was unable to handle them breaking free and framing her and her Black best friend/boyfriend, Will for corruption.

Misogyny becomes toxic in circumstances like this. It’s a tale as old as rape culture — where you give free reign of a thing that is obsessed with its self-involvement. This darkness is what also contributed to the murder of Cassandra, Allie’s elder sister and the first elected leader of the community. In the circle of privacy, men were free to discuss the rape of the women in power, were free to participate in the violence of the women in power, were quite open in the darkness of their hearts and their right to embarrass and destroy the women surrounding them.

Allie Pressman (Kathryn Newton) with Will LeClair (Jacques Colimon)

All of this violence, uninterrupted or challenged, sped quickly into her untimely death despite how clearly the society required her clear and measured leadership. Cassandra, being a brilliant leader, realized that in a chaotic society where misogyny is allowed to ramp up uninterrupted, women are not safe. The threat of sexual assault was on the very tip of her mind, and while there was still a modicum of order in their world, they had to assert their power sexually against the men of their society — a plan straight out of the Lysistrata, an ancient Greek comedy where the women of Athens withhold the “sexual privileges” of their husbands.

The feminist theme explored here is of sexual agency and how sexual agency in a world without order has to be leveraged — especially before the lawlessness being spread has become the idea that women are less than people and more than instruments of masturbation. In this situation, Cassandra, ironically named after a Greek princess who leveraged her sexuality to obtain the power to see the future from Apollo, is sentient of the duplicitous nature within misogyny — how it will reflect the most local society and as society descends in their morality, so will the men. A world where Brawn is power is a world where power is taken anywhere it is found.

Misogyny did not like the idea of being undermined, an instance reiterated when Allie — finally held accountable by the expectations of public opinion — denied the Guard the right to run for public office when she decided to hold their first elections. It wasn’t an hour later that they were planning to rig an election.

Luke and Helena sitting upon a car.

It wasn’t enough that the Guard hadn’t fired them despite the revelation that: yes, these two were sexual predators abusing their power behind the privacy of closed doors. It had to be that the Guard become the most powerful police force in the community — capable of doing anything and everything they want.

Eventually, a psychopath takes control of everything — progressively building a dangerous drug dependency within his puppet leader and fueling the misogyny surrounding him while also viciously twisting the target of his abuse, his girlfriend, Elle, into a political tool. At the very top of the masculine hierarchy is a man completely willing to destroy everything around him, and incapable of the empathy necessary to keep the balance of power outside of the brawn-centered interpretation of what strength will be in the world.

As a Black man “of color” — I’m not surprised. The issue with Whiteness’ brand of misogyny is its captivation with power being explored by how it serves the self, rather than the interest in the community. Repeatedly, as the community is set up, I’ve been in a situation of “couldn’t have been me.” I’m not saying misogyny doesn’t have a loft in the forests of Blackness; I’m saying that the Community comes first, and what you want for yourself ain’t necessarily what you gonna get. Misogyny is more about ego and the ego is contained to your little household where it’s “your business”. Psychopaths don’t get to play in the public.

And honestly, I might be hard pressured to not say that I would have been among the group that decided whose house we all staying at, calling for the Cookout and refusing access to everyone who can’t use the word “Finna” properly in a sentence (properly in saying that when it comes out your mouth, I think of hotcombs and not a curling iron).

In a world much like our own (maybe Netflix is aware of how conscious this generation of teens are), misogyny is destroying the community just months shy of the most necessary work that needs to be done to survive the most brutal conditions possible: a New England winter — the same kind of winter that decimated the first American colonizers. The men are obsessed with the power they think they should have: both sexually and socially and are willing to lie, kill and extort to maintain it and there is no one to blame, but the people who gave it the power to continue to exist in a world that cannot survive with it there.

Keeping my Ego as a Black Writer is the Best Advice I’ve Ever Received

Photo by Steven Van on Unsplash

Wherever it was said it was unprofesssional to position your confidence before the interest of people who do not care if you can get out of bed in the morning should be shredded, along with the book, the pen and the author’s hand who was goofy enough to write it.

I’ve spoken to many writers in my career as a twitter savant and an artist in a digital, clout-based industry like culture writing. One tip, by the genre-defying Clarkisha Kent, was to cling to my Ego as not only a defense, but as a justification for the expectations I hold for any contractor who even breathes in my direction for my art. As a Black writer — it’s all I can maintain whether I am paid for my work or not. This Ego is what I will hold on to even when the well of career success runs completely dry.

Ego is what is being explored in all artforms. Some English majors pretending to like Shakespeare right now will reflect upon this as “the Human Condition” — that analysis of what it means to be a person, to have personhood and, most importantly, be aware of your rapidly approaching demise. Yet, we’ve so many professionals standing above us and demanding we tailor this natural, human understanding o what and who we are.

Freelancing is particularly emotional because of this. As a writer, we are expected to face rejection countless times with a strong smile and a stiff upper lip. It’s a feeling completely alien from the criticism and critique of workshop, where ego is expected to be subject to worldview of those surrounding you. A rejection letter feels as if the talents you’ve accumulated are not good enough — that your world will never appreciate the effort you put into a thing of substance. When your financial security depends on this, it also accumulates such a painful stress that gathers and builds upon itself. Multiply this by twenty different publications and platforms and over the span of six agonizing months of peanut butter sandwiches and water, you’re still expected to take it with a smile.

To do this without the expectation of ego is cruel and inhumane.

Ego is the protective shell surrounding all of your endeavors as a creative, especially when it is earned. In today’s digital era, we are surrounded by those whose work have been supported and reiterated as captivating and important to them. The work executing the thought that went into it is commendable, because — as a writing tutor — I’ve seen how few people can get their clear and established ideas onto paper, let alone published into the cold, judgmental gaze of the internet.

Personally, my ego is the only reason I continue to write. I’ve written at large about different topics that have faced constant rejection from every larger and smaller publication, but have garnered life-changing reactions from the fan-base enabled by public platforms like those found here, on MEDIUM and on my personal Blog, Blaqueword. My work has merit and talent behind it whether another has interests within it and my ego is not in that I expect to be published or admired for it by those with money, but that it deserves a level of respect from myself and a level of respect from people who expect to consume it.

In a different era, this Ego would be unprofessional. In that era, writers served the interests of platforms and publications who controlled the audience. However, the internet is as beautiful as it is atrocious and is the grand equalizer. Content creation is a vigorous industry and requires a constant feed of work by, you guessed it, writers. To treat ego as an “unprofessional marker” in a world where you do, in fact, need us is strange. Today’s industry is as much about clout as it is about skill set. Clout does not decide talent or the dedication put in to prove that talent.

Or maybe that’s the Capricorn in me talking. Actually, no. Art of any kind is incredibly difficult to do right. Everything within our field is circumstantial and experimental; however, so many of us have accumulated an understanding of what works for us — the tools to utilize for specific behaviors and interpretations and the techniques that breed majesty from these mechanations.

What are actually the risks of retaining your Ego in this industry? Some Editors feels it is unearned in so many people; some may not guarantee you roles or work according to that parameter. These places fucking suck and will largely try to take advantage of you — they can suck your gigantic dick (and if you don’t have a dick, they can envision one — the sentiment is the same).

As a Black Artist, there is seldom that we can do without our ego. The bravado is essential to avoid the world that will tell you to expect and want less for what you can provide — and only you can provide.

Have your Ego: it has almost zero risk to anything other than making the insecure unsafe in the roles they’re taking up.

Black Boys and Bird-Chests: The Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia

Black Boys and Bird-Chests, or the Racialized Legacy of Body Dysmorphia in African-American Men

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

The burn in my chest the first and last time a friend’s mom punched me was the final time I allowed myself to be okay with having a “bird-chest” and lanky arms. I remember the thought crossing my mind followed solely by the immediate regret of showing up over this house at all, and I should’ve demanded such a thing the day white friend told me he was blacker than me because he could dunk on a full-sized rim and I couldn’t.
However, the catalyst for this sudden change today came somewhere between the push-ups and sit-ups, and everything she thought was a favor to build me into a more suitable image of what she deemed acceptable for a young Black man to be when I realized that anyone speaking of my body or forcing themselves upon my body’s right to exist was not okay. Perhaps if I made such a stance for myself sooner, I would have a prouder self-image that doesn’t equate my body’s lack of athletic hardiness to a failure to live up to my cultural pride.

The world is obsessed with the Black male body image, in a way that often crosses into the gross. Not only in how these bodies can perform as a tool or commodity, as we often find in sports but in how one should conduct itself within parameters of Blackness. In the last year alone, we’ve seen Terry Crews having to defend his body against other high-profile Black men about what he did or didn’t do to protect himself during a sexual assault. The power isn’t with Terry Crews, however, and while it is also with these other celebrities, it speaks to a culture surrounding Black bodies; it’s rooted in a traumatizing experience that many Black men go through in their youth that not only pressures Black boys that dictate Black identity only as an extension of our bodies’ physical worth — and more specifically, only when we abuse it.
To be frail in a Black space is to be seen as less than Black. This was the case for me even before that day at my friend’s house in Ohio; it was like this before I was old enough to know, everything I did at a young age was dedicated to hardening my body to the same icy stone that one might expect of Black men.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

At six years old, I was expected to know how to play basketball, I was expected to race and run laps, and fight and be struck square in my chest without crying, caving on flinching because I had a ‘bird-chest” and that, in the world of West Philadelphia was not okay. The fantasy of my future involved a sport, and only a sport — and somewhere down the line basketball, and the revulsion of anything feminine, but the over-consumption of anything female. There were even dreams of what my first tattoo might be.

Imagine my mother’s disappointments when despite all of this, I still lacked all repulsion with anything athletic. And honestly, to this day I’ve never had little more than an ear piercing.

It was not my mother’s disappointments that concerned me or continues to do so, but the point of view of my family — both young and old — that somehow I tarnished my sense of Blackness by not dedicating myself to physical achievements. No matter the academic or emotional milestones I hurdle, we can always come back to the failure on my part to end up Strong in this one real way which counts to them — even if I no longer have a “bird-chest”. It always ends with an expectation to hit a gym sooner or later.

Infamous image of Gordon, or “Whipped Pete” (1863) depicting his scarred back

And, it wasn’t until that eventful night where a punch took it steps too far that I realized this was not regionally specific behavior — this was behavior canonized across Blackness and where I rebelled against it, it became the basis of my peer’s masculinity to the point it ostracized me from my Blackness and, in truth, there’s no reason for that to have been.

Yet, to this day, when I look upon my own Black form and how it fails to conform to this image I have now grown to expect of myself, I feel an involuntary revulsion. I feel beautiful, but at the same time, I am forced to feel incomplete, because the brownness of my skin is supposedly meant to be accompanied by a hardiness, and not a softness. I’m incapable of seeing even the curves I’ve developed as anything as my own way of escaping the whiteness and weakness my bird-chest once implied.

The history of Black bodies as commodity isn’t unknown to our understanding of what America is and it is ahistorical to discuss Black male bodies and not mention this. Slavery was all about reducing a whole culture’s human spectrum — their emotions, memories, their habits, and happiness — into a disgusting price tag to be tossed out on a wooden chopping block.

Ken Norton as Mede posing for slaver inspection, formulating one of the earliest forms of the fetishization of Black male physique.

The mind held little worth, though it could be marketed as a profitable gift with purchase, and the idea of a greased up mass of muscle who could only react, and never act (and therefore exist) became the model of Black men. Thus, we can note the beginning of the fetishization of Black male bodies.

This legacy continues throughout American fiction. In 1975, the graphic adaptation of Kyle Onstot novel of the same name, Mandingo was released by Paramount Pictures. The film, starring boxer-turned-actor Ken Norton, depicted the sexual victimization of male and female Black slaves and the gross physical exploitation of the Black male form. In the film, Mede (Ken Norton) is a prizefighter forced to physical extremities such as bathing in cauldrons of hot salt water to toughen his skin. His worth is placed solely in the fact that as a Mandingo (of the Mandinka ethnic group) he is of superior physical virtue, and thus more suitable for breeding. The film ends with the murder of Mede after the Woman of the House extorts sex from Mede, culminating in his execution due solely to attracting the unrequited sexual desire due to his biology.

The stakes Black boys face today are nowhere as comparable as these moments of extreme brutality in reality, or fiction, but the line of succession passes itself forward. Today, only the conduct is different; Terry Crews has to defend his choices to not assault his sexual aggressors to other high-profile Black men who in some sense of a world are challenging his sense of Blackness for his decisions to not use his body — which is apparently his physically imposing — to fight.

Some might suggest that this is a case of Machismo, and while it is similar, as both concepts can be attributed to hypermasculinity, the extreme racial fetishization by both Black and White cultures makes the concept feel as unique as the other systematic structures imposed upon Black existence.
In any case, Black men are expected to resolve conflict violently or not at all, and this narrative has become a dangerous entity — a caustic cancer that has ended in the routine and systematic execution of Black youths. The narrative of the Black male form as monstrous have followed us further back than the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown or the prolific exposure of social media.

Public Domain Clip Art of Trayvon Martin, black minor executed in 2012

Yet, there is always the expectation to perform our strength and to fit into this idea of our bodies as a vehicle of aggression. It’s not an uncommon part of my day for a stranger to waste sixty whole seconds of my time guessing which sport I play — and it’s never soccer, tennis or track: football, or basketball, only.

And if I were to investigate the effects of this trauma inward onto myself, I find the ways that this trauma manifests itself routinely in my behavior: the sudden pauses and obsession with my image in the mirror, or the peculiar ways my self-image prioritizes the same arms, chest, and torso that alienated me culturally from a sense of Blackness that has no origin within Blackness.

In 2018, Javaugn “Javie’ Young-White (@jyoungwhite) penned a thread which poignantly explored the body dysmorphia suffered by African-American men due to this phenomena. “A lot of Black men struggle with body dysmorphia [because] of the emphasis that is placed on our athleticism [and] physical stature throughout childhood [and] adolescence,” he says. “It’s especially confusing because the body types we’re told to aim for also serve as justification for profiling and unarmed murders”

When our bodies are used to clock the mileage for our race and culture, it becomes the weapon by which others oppress us. How else could in the case of those less than athletic do our forms become synonymous to whiteness, or in cases of racial brutality, our physical intimidation become juxtaposes to the barbaric imagery?

The middle ground between these two ideas speaks only to the extreme ways race factors into our bodies, and the demands expected of these bodies in our youth. It speaks to the false realities we shove onto children to appeal to a standard that is as toxic as it is hypermasculine, and the traumas which haunt these youths — and have for generations

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Steven Underwood is an award-winning writer and essayist from Columbus, Ohio. Multifaceted, He has expanded his range deep into the recesses of Black speculative fiction and poetry. In the past, Steven has published essays with MTV News, Essence, Le Reine Noire, Comicsverse and Banango Street on identity and culture. He cites his writing style as the intersection between Toni Morrison and Fredrick Douglass. Follow him on social media @Blaqueword.

#THECRAFT: 6 Things Artists Need to Know About Social Media

By: Steven Underwood

What’s Güd?

A lot of you guys have been asking me for advice on this pro-art thing so I decided why not turn this into a series?

Today, we will be covering social media in this steadily rising landscape. All artists know that exposure is important, but how to use it is kind of a hit-or-miss. What’s SEO? Are metrics important? Should I have a high follower count?

Read sweet babies. Let me guide you.

  1. Twitter vs. Instagram: social media platforms are as diverse as they are specific in execution. The main question artists ask is what they should be on? Maybe you know you should be on social media, but you’ve heard conflicting success stories about both. Essentially, it’s important to look at these mediums for what they prioritize. Writers have gained a lot of success on Twitter due to its idea and written based format; careers are literally defined based on how successful your thoughts are and that’s why it’s so important to apply this to your work. Instagram is far more visual. Just think about it, we’ve all heard the term IG model before, not Twitter Model. Brands and clients pay more attention to what they can see on a platform designed to make what you see better! Graphic designers should pay special heed to this, but not too much. Twitter has a need for Design as a form of meme generation and gif processing. I hear the older folk asking “What about Facebook?” Eh… Facebook as a brand is good for getting news out, or posting updates, but you can get better reach with these other two. It has a use, but as a support to these other two formats.
  2. Network Groups: Networking is 80% of the job. If you don’t know anyone, you won’t get far– no matter your talent. In writing, this means you should be hunting for the DM group chat on Twitter and doing whatever you can to stand out and participate. This includes online Forums and FB groups. Keep your name in their mouthes and betaread! Giving criticism and doing reviews for other writers will not only get your name out, but that translates into more Social Media advocacy. Followers are closely watched by publications. They matter! What matters more is if your posts are being shared by others who might have a larger network than you, or if you’re interacting with someone who has a better standing socially. This doesn’t mean be fake, or lie about what you review, but authentically these people share the same passion you do. The rest is simple to iron out. Visual Artists on IG should go to Meet-Ups, and frequent groupchats as well. Also, don’t be afraid to spam!
  3. Metrics/Avoid Purchasing Followers: This is a big one, and it isn’t top priority because now most people know its bad. Essentially, your follower count is only as good as a Thesis statement in an essay: it’s vital, but not as good as your body paragraph. Metrics are fat superior. For Example, my twitter account @Blaqueword, boasts a pretty 1k in followers, pretty average. However, my impressions range into the 40,000s. How? My followers are frequent and avid users and my tweets “go in”. Basically, more of my followers interact and share my content AND they have a larger follower count than me (boasting 100 active followers with a blue check mark works out soooo well). As long as I use this, my posts and shares will always guarantee me an upward trajectory! However, purchasing followers works out worse for you. If your followers are all not interacting, clients/brands will notice and hold it against you. It makes you a creative catfish. Sure, they should be interested in you because they like your work, but that’s not a good bottomline. They want someone who can guarantee sells or interest. You just don’t. Organically generating followers always works out.
  4. Scheduled Posts: This is probably the most difficult feat. Staying on top of your social media is important and draining. Sometimes, there just isn’t enough hours in a day. Well, not postinf frequently enough in one day can drastically harm your impressions and therefore your metrics. If every 10,000 impressions gets you 2 followers and they afford you 300 bonus impressions with whether they like/share your posts, you miss out on a lot of potential reach. But, being online limits how much art you actually get to do. Ergo, scheduling. For @Blaqueword, I use Hootsuite. It allows me to not only schedule posts, but knowing my analytics, I can better understand what I should be posting about via knowing my audience. CMS (Content Management Systems) is an important factor in all of this. Know your tools of your craft (or pay someone else to).
  5. Analytics: SMM or Social Media Marketing is all about knowing what your numbers are. This is categorized in so much. For instance, my IG: @Blaqueword holds a humble amount of followers. However, I can increase my range of likes and follows by applying posts at the time specific audience members interact. Most of my followers are from Columbus, OH and like Culturally mindful content on Fridays at 9 PM. So, I post those things at the exact time AND include hashtags to appeal to those groups! Starting off, this is difficult and requires a lot of base-setting. You’ll end up using random hashtags just to see which stick and which do not, but it is a necessary step, so if you’re self-concious about a step, feel free to delete and try again. After all, if you failed that means no one saw, right? (Wrong, god and Beyoncé saw, but they forgive you)
  6. Hire a Writer: Not a self-plug, though I do run several Social Media accounts for brands at a retainer fee. You need to know your medium well enough to pull this off and most of it involves proper writing technique. Writers thrive on social media because we can coordinate our thoughts for the platforms. If you can’t, it’s going to take a lot of footwork to get Followers to fall in. And, honestly, that means you’re depending solely on luck. Don’t do that. If you are incapable of reading trends and knowing what to say at the moment, you probably won’t get a tweet that sticks like grits. Take it from me, a man with 7 viral tweets under his belt, knowing when to say the right combination of words is key!

If this all sounds very business-like, welcome to Art: it’s 60% business. You just got to know how to play it to your advantage. If

Any more questions? Comment! I’m happy to answer.

Steven Underwood (@Blaqueword) is a writer from Columbus, Ohio, where he reigns supreme as the original Urban Bohemian. He received his Bachelor’s in English: Creative Writing and now wanders fiction shelves employing his academic powers to investigate where it says exactly that Black kids can’t be wizards.