Open & Awake

a realist's guide to thriving in today's world

I didn’t edit this photo at all. I just want to say that even though being alive is hard sometimes, it’s also very beautiful and surreal and nonsensical in a way that always makes me want to see it through. I felt like I was in love looking at this sunset last night (you know that feeling in your chest like a balloon is being inflated and your heart feels like it’s pressing against your skin and you don’t know exactly what’s happening but you know it’s love?) and I realized that it’s bc I’m in love with who I am and with being human and getting to experience this world as the unique person I am. Nothing about it is easy. I get overwhelmed sometimes. But I’m here. I’m trying to be present. I’m trying to feel it all. I hope you are too.

Thanks for reading this.

I am a queer woman. I will not be attending another Pride.

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I am a bisexual, black woman. I have been out for over 3 years, but had yet to attend a Pride parade, so I wanted today to be my first. I hold issue with a lot of aspects of Pride festivals, including its insidious corporate stronghold and inclusion of uniformed police in the parades. But like so many people, I thought I could shelve the voice in my head in favor of queers in tutus, party floats, and rainbow confetti.
After the experience I had, I will never attend another Pride parade, and if you have any sense of allyship, you will examine the ways you celebrate Pride, too.

Today I stood in the crowd on Hennepin Ave and 12th Street, waiting for the parade to start with my friends. An hour rolled past. I started to wonder what was going on when a group protesting police involvement in Pride walked down the route and stopped at our intersection. Anyone who knows me knows that I am pro-community, anti-police, and anti-white-supremacy. So naturally, I threw a fist up in solidarity and loudly screamed along with them: “No cops! No KKK! No racist USA!

No one else around me joined in: I looked around and saw that I was the only black person within the 50 or so uncomfortable white people at this intersection. Unfazed, I continued to loudly cheer and support the protesters’ chants for the remainder of their time at our intersection. It was disheartening to me that this crowd was so resistant to the activists’ message considering Minneapolis police had just murdered yet another civilian just the night before. There could not have been a better time to talk about the issue of policing in Minneapolis, and using Pride no less: a platform that originally began in direct opposition of the police. I have no doubt that corporations turning Pride into a bubbly, love-fest (only now that queerness is cool and profitable, cough cough) is a big reason why the people who attend it now would rather cheer for police than ever pick up a rock at the sight of them. Despite the fact that police are still overwhelmingly discriminatory against the LGBTQ+ community.

As the activists moved away, two white men behind me started to complain about the protest. Two of my friends had left to use the bathroom, leaving me and one of my other friends (who is white) alone. It was as the two of us were waiting that I overheard one of the men say the protest was “unnecessary.” Annoyed, I turned around and said, “Dude, the fact that you’re saying all this shit means it definitely was necessary.”

Without looking me in the eyes, he replied, “I mean, I get it, but it’s a parade.”

At this point, my friend spoke up saying, “Bringing awareness to people’s lives is more important than a parade.”

I agreed. “Also, if you actually got why this is happening, you wouldn’t be fucking complaining, you’d be supporting it. But I can see from your Target rainbow glasses that you probably don’t see an issue with Pride being run by corps and cops.”

Did I get an attitude with this man? 100%. I don’t regret it either. I’m absolutely tired of white people rolling their eyes at protests and putting their desire to be comfortable over the human rights violations happening to their neighbors of color. I’m tired of having to listen to white people throw their uneducated opinions into the wind, not caring who gets hurt when it’s inevitably carried to their ears.

I’m tired.

The white man’s friend decided that this is when he would join in the conversation. He was wearing shades so I couldn’t see his eyes, but I definitely saw his creepy smile as he said, “Oh she doesn’t like capitalism or cops. If you don’t like it here then you should leave and go back to where you came from.”

In the words of one of my favorite queers, Jonathan Van Ness:

Let’s unpack that.

A white man…presumably queer, if not queer-adjacent…at a pride parade…a supposedly inclusive event…told the only black person there that they should go back to where they came from. He said nothing to my white friend standing right next to me who clearly also felt the same way as me. It was me he singled out to leave the country.

I’ve got a couple ideas as to why. It could have been because I’m loud. Perhaps my sports bra and shorts combo offended him. Maybe it was because I was black, and a woman, and had the audacity to step out of my place on the hierarchal ladder and speak against him. Maybe it was because my strong Minnesotan accent mistakenly screamed “foreigner” to him.

I’m bisexual, so I like to consider more than one option, but one of these feels more likely than the others.

Have you ever had a moment where things seem to slow down? Where your head goes from being slightly tilted in confusion, to looking at someone dead in the eyes, your back straightening out, feet planted, no waver in your voice?

That was me when I looked at this smiling white man, pointed at him, and said, “Fuck. You. I was born here, asshole. And even if I wasn’t…fuck you!” [Side bar y’all, I’ve dreamt of this moment where a white person would step outta line with me and I’d have to scream in their face, and it finally happened, and I did not disappoint myself.]

He smirked, “Well this is a capitalist country. If you don’t like it, leave. We don’t want you here.”

My friend is backing me up (bless him, an actual ally) but I’m not listening because at this point, an older white man in front of me turns around to me and says, “You need to be quiet. There are kids around.”
“THE KIDS?” I laughed in disbelief. “This man is literally spouting racist bullshit to me but what you’re advocating for right now are the kids?? You’re not going to tell HIM to shut up?”

Everyone is watching us at this point. I know this because, 1) I’m absolutely screaming and, 2) I took a moment to look directly in the eyes of every white person standing around us, and said, “Every single one of you listening to this man say racist things to me? All of you not speaking up? You are part of the problem.”

I still can’t believe I said all the things I did. My hands were shaking and my head was pounding as if I’d gone days without water, and that crowd of white people was the Sahara.

Finally, a man goes, “Hey dude, even if you disagree with her, you’re out of line.” Other people start to speak up too, while the racist men just shake their heads and try to defend themselves as if their amused by it all. I’m speechless when a young woman steps up to me and goes, “Would you like to move over here? Away from them?” I let her pull me and my friend aside, and I watch as a few people — just a few — attempt to tell the racist man off.

One man comes up to me and goes, “I’m sorry that happened, but I just want you to know that more of us stand with you than there are those that think like him.” And I looked at him, voice shaking as I tried my hardest not to cry, and said,

“If that was the truth, then you should have stood up sooner and drowned him out.”

Then my friend and I left.


This is not the Pride that should be, but it’s the Pride that is. One where queer people of color do not find solidarity with their white counterparts. Where we do not feel safe.

Every white person that I told about this incident acted shocked. But there’s nothing suprising about this to people of color, because it’s what we’ve always known: queerness has never stopped white people from perpetuating white supremacy. There are queer racists. And because of this, our queer experiences have never been the same, and queer spaces have never felt truly safe.

You may be thinking, “this was just one incident, how can you generalize,” but what you need and absolutely must understand is that for every one incident that you hear about, 100, 200, 500, are happening that you don’t. Either because it’s happening outside your circle of friends, or to someone who doesn’t feel comfortable with talking about it, or to someone who’s plain scared to talk about it. My black, queer experience at Pride is not an anomaly. You just aren’t listening.

And if you are listening, if you’ve made it this far into this essay, this is your call to action: stop supporting corporate Pride. Stop supporting police at Pride (or anywhere else for that matter, but we can start there I guess). Start listening to and supporting the queer people of color who would also rather be celebrating and not using their time to bring attention to injustices. And for the love of god – if you consider yourself an ally to people of color, you need to use your voice and your body and your privilege to protect them from those who would fight to see them gone. We’ve come too far to allow racists, and those who would allow them to speak, a place in our community.

And if you’re reading this and you were there, and you remember a 5’4″ black woman staring down a racist white man at the parade today, and you didn’t say anything? I do not forgive you. You must do better next time.

There is no Pride in silence.
Shut it down.

Exodus: Decisions

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Part One. “Exodus” is a series of vignettes, posted till completion, describing my experiences growing up and out of an evangelical church. All names have been changed to account for privacy.

“Do you want to be baptized?”

I was seventeen and desperate — to please and be loved, among other things — when I heard those words. Desperation is funny in the way that it convinces you that you don’t have a choice. So when my friend Megan, a card-carrying member of the Going-to-Heaven-Club, asked me if I wanted to join the walk on that narrow road…I knew that I would say yes, regardless of how I felt.

The prospect of baptism had sat like lead in my heels since I’d first been told of it as a child. The weight of it caused me to drag myself spiritually for years, avoiding the topic while many of my church friends took the holy plunge at ages as early as fourteen. The only way to get to heaven is through baptism, said my Sunday school teacher. Some churches teach that you can pray Jesus into your heart, but we know that not to be true, said my pastor. People who aren’t baptized disciples go to hell, said my church. I felt broken every time I heard these “truths” and felt everything but the relief I was told comes with knowing that eternal life could be mine. Why didn’t I want that? Who wouldn’t want that?

Anxiety is funny in the way that it convinces you that you couldn’t possibly know what you want.

I envied Megan, and the way she truly loved the church we’d grown up in. I looked up to her—my first memories of friendship were of her and the other girls my age, and I desired their affection and acceptance more than most things. Megan was one of those intelligent, kind, funny people that everybody genuinely liked, including me. And even though I knew from years of conversation that her attitude and demeanor were not effortless on her behalf, I still wondered what I could do to be like her. Her response would be to say that she just wanted to be “like God,” a common, but meaningful, phrase in evangelical churches. So I considered that, perhaps baptism—a ceremony that our church believed not to be a symbolic, but literal, washing away of all sins in exchange for committing your life to God—was the way to acceptance and approval. A life less dominated by desperation, or enslaved to anxiety.

Of course, I was also into the whole peace-in-heaven-instead-of-being-tortured-in-horrific-ways-for-all-of-eternity thing.

I was careful to take my time before answering, though. It was the summer before my senior year of high school when Megan asked me this question. I was attending an arts school that had already saved me in a lot of ways, and studying theater had helped me explore experiences outside of my heavily Christian upbringing. I loved the challenge of taking my “self,” and denying it in order to fully embody a character. My entire major revolved around finding the humanity in people, discovering the good among the ugly, learning that humans are never always good or always bad. Theater is, in a sense, the expressed study of people. And my studies were leading me to become more open minded, more skeptical of the hyper-religious life I was leading.

While this growing skepticism had increased the space between the question and the answer, it had done nothing to change the answer itself. I was intensely afraid of rejecting 14 years of effort and immersion: attending church every Sunday since I was 3-years-old, midweek studies on Wednesdays, youth-services on Fridays, a week of summer camp, spiritual retreats, praying before every meal, praying before bed, praying, praying, praying. I was living my life according to the idea that baptism, and the believed connection it gave my soul to the creator of the universe, was the reason I was alive, the reason behind all of my actions.

And who the fuck is going to reject what feels like a reason to live, when they haven’t yet found what else there is to live for?

Megan stood in front of me looking expectant and hopeful, as expectations and hope are the fuel Christians run on. “Yeah. Yeah, I do wanna get baptized,” I told her. She squealed and hugged me tight. I hugged her back, her enthusiasm and loving nature contagious in the moment.

I can do this, I thought to myself.

I can be this person that loves God, loves her neighbors, loves religion.

My parents will be happy.

My sisters will look up to me.

I won’t be a disappointment.

And I’ll go to heaven.

This is the right decision.

This is what I want.

It’s not lying to say I want this.

This is my decision.

Dear God, if you’re listening…

I’m not lying.

I’m not.

Exodus: Prologue.

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“Exodus” is a series of vignettes, posted twice a week till completion, describing my experiences growing up and out of an evangelical church. All names have been changed to account for privacy.


My parents had very different upbringings, as parents sometimes do. My mother grew up subject to things that Lifetime would probably pay big money to make a heartbreaking biopic about. She was born in Chicago where she grew up on the south side of the city, one among nine children. Her skin is a shade of brown dark enough that the world pushes against her, and deep enough that you know she’s the descendant of slaves and indigenous peoples. She had two children of her own by the time she reached 25. My older brother and me. We both have her skin, and the trauma that comes built within the cell walls of melanin, but she knows desperation in a way that we never have.

My biological father is not in my life. It is, and is not, what you’re thinking—absent black father, and all of that. But that is another story, and it’s not for today, and it’s not for you. What you should know is he left me his name—Dionne.

My father, was born in a small town near Boston, Massachusetts. He grew up in a middle-class family with his sister, both parents, and at least one dog. Probably. While his childhood wouldn’t get a Lifetime movie, it could get a decent-sized publishing deal. He was splitting his time between college, work, and the Army Reserves when he was my age. His skin is white and freckled, the orange in his goatee the last hint of the red-headed child he was. I don’t have his skin, or the privileges that cover it so completely, but he knows religion in a way similar to me.

My parents met and married at the International Church of Christ (ICC), an evangelical church with ties to most major cities in the world. My father grew up in it, as I would once my mother converted to it. The ICC claims a non-denominational approach in its studies and teachings, which is to say they mean themselves to be unbiased. There’s no Catholic guilt, no Pentecostal spirits. Non-denominational evangelicals are the vegans of Christianity, adamant about their all-faith-based, no-human-by-products consumption of the Bible, and even more fierce in their belief that their diet is the only one humans were meant to have.

A lot happened in my seventeen years of attending church—some of it was great. I got to go to summer camps (that were basically spiritual retreats with some camp activities thrown in), I traveled all around the country to different gatherings where I got to meet other Christian kids from sister cities (but only from the International Church of Christ…mixing with other churches would be like adding dairy to your diet…potentially corrupting). I made friends that I still love and care for to this day. I had a community that was filled to the brim with support, and mentors that helped me grow into the headstrong woman who can sit here and write this today. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have so many genuine moments while attending church. Indeed, it would be very dishonest to say that every part of it sucked.

But truthfully, a lot of it did.

Suck, that is.

The process of growing up in church, leaving the religion, and figuring out who the hell I was without it, really fucking sucked.

Fast Review: “All the Crooked Saints” by Maggie Stiefvater

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All the Crooked SaintsAll the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“All the Crooked Saints” is so strangely paced that it was hard for me to get into it. I loved the premise and was really into this sort of agnostic-take on miracles. But by the time it felt like the book was finally moving toward something concrete, and not just Stiefvater waxing poetic or dropping proverbs, there was only a quarter of the book left.

If this book had been written by anyone else, literally anyone who doesn’t have the slinky, clever, tricky verbiage that Stiefvater has…it would have been horrible. Given that it was her who wrote it, it’s still a good book, but it’s not great. The ending feels rushed and disappointing given how full of description the rest of the book is. Otherwise, it’s worth reading just to get a taste of what masterful description and character-building look like.

View all my reviews

When I Said I Only Write What I Know

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I’ve wanted to be in love many times. I’ve only been in love once.

I was fresh out of high school. Impressionable. All-in, yet detached.

There’s something about youth that makes you want to make excuses for saying you were in love. Diminish it. Like what I felt as a girl could never be as legitimate as what I’ll experience as a woman.

That’s not true.

It feels like it’s true sometimes.

There’s a chance the person I loved grew older, as I have, and realized they didn’t love me then. That as they dated, as they became an adult experiencing life and new affections, they realized the time they’d spent with me as teenagers was simply time spent.

I can appreciate that.

I used to write poems about it. Being in love. About him. What I learned.
They were the kind of poems that went viral. It felt good, validating, seeing thousands of people tell me they could relate, they felt what I was saying, that they too have loved.

Those poems kept me in love with him, or perhaps the written version of him, or perhaps the him I never pushed away but only loved loved loved. Those poems made it hard for me to leave, long after I’d left.

Do you know what I mean?

It’s embarrassing to admit I still think about poems I wrote six years ago, I still think about a boy I last kissed at 19, I still fear being truthful in writing. What if the people I’m writing about read what I have to say?

What if the people I’m writing about don’t read what I have to say?

I’m 24. I’ve wanted to be in love many times. I’ve made the mistake of judging every relationship on whether they make me want to write.

I once saw a guy who made me want to write after we had ended. I wrote ugly, honest things that made me cry. There was no love in those poems. There was no love in me for him and my frustration at not being able to reanimate ghosts of feelings past spewed from me in sharp lines and rough cadences.

Those poems were popular too. I read them out loud at a spoken word gathering and imagined he was there to hear them. The closest humans will ever get to secreting poison is break up poetry.

I can appreciate that.

I stopped forcing myself to create love where it wasn’t, to write about it when I couldn’t. Trying to recall what it felt like to be immersed in someone started to resemble sitting under a lamp in the dead of winter and saying “This is what the sun feels like.”

For the someone who asked “why don’t you write love poems anymore?”…this is my answer. Because I’m not in it. Because the one time I was, seems so long ago. Because love makes me think of him, and he is somebody else, and also somebody else’s.

Because when I do write another love poem, I hope it’ll feel like the first storm of spring, like the midday sun in June, like the last few days of August.

New and familiar, all at the same time.

7 Things to Know If You’re Visiting Minneapolis for the Super Bowl

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The Wall

The state line between Minnesota and Iowa.

So you love football, or love somebody who loves football, or love seeming like somebody who loves football, so you got yourself a plane ticket and you’re finding your way through the metaphorical Wall (I just watched Game of Thrones for the first time, I will not apologize) of ice and snow to the city of Minneapolis, the unofficial capital of Minnesota, for the first time.

Great.

No, really, that’s great! We love visitors, especially ones from outside the Midwest. It gives us a chance to really turn on the Minnesota Nice™. You’re the only ones who will hear our tales of survival with a look of fascination and not roll your eyes. You probably have no idea what -33 degrees Fahrenheit feels like (nothing, it feels like nothing, like your skin and your entire self have ceased to exist and all that’s left is a bitter chill you’ll never quite get rid of) which gives us a chance to brag about our suffering. It’s great. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Can you drive? Cool. Don’t. The roads are mostly one-ways that definitely don’t provide access to the street you’re trying to reach, and I can guarantee if you haven’t driven in snow before, you won’t like it. Have you played Mario Kart? Remember Rainbow Road? Yeah, driving in Minneapolis in the winter is a lot like that, except if you drive off a sharp turn on I-94, there’s no adorable gremlin on a cloud to place you back on the asphalt. Your car belongs to the snowbank now. You can have it back in the spring. Just call an uber or take the train since Super Bowl ticketholders are the only ones allowed on it anyway…

2. Mock our accents and prepare to see the most passive aggressive way to say “fuck you” that you’ll ever experience without crossing into Canada.

3. Say anything about the stadium except good things. No decent person who lives in Minneapolis has anything good to say about our football stadium. It looks like a giant ship. It’s aggressively ugly. We miss the skyline without it and don’t want to hear anything good you have to say about it okay???

4. Minnesota Nice™ is a real thing only if you can tell the difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness involves smiling for appearances sake, feigning politeness, and saying sorry just so no one judges you for not actually being sorry.
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Kindness involves genuine acts and feelings. People in Minnesota are not kind. We are distant, passive, and not very easy to mingle with due to our penchant for staying indoors 6 months out of the year. I had a mom push me in a Target once because I was blocking the Babybel cheeses. Approach Minnesotans with caution, as we bristle at aggressive personalities and straightforward attitudes. Beat around the bush a bit. Phrase all statements as a question. You’ll do fine?

5. Know that not all of us feel positively about Super Bowl. Minneapolis folks are a lot of things, but you can’t say we aren’t passionate. We fucking love this city. We know its strengths, and we fight against its weaknesses. And honestly, us hosting the Super Bowl is only bringing out a lot of our weaknesses. Our transit system doesn’t put its locals and employees first. The road closures are affecting medical and blue collar service workers without supplying them with fair alternatives for parking and travel. The homeless are being removed from shelters and motels to make room for you. And a bunch of other issues. It’s not necessarily your fault for wanting to enjoy yourself while you’re here, but know that your sports party is negatively affecting more people than it’s helping. You can love football and speak out about the ways it’s contributing negatively to different places/cultures/people. Don’t be surprised to see or hear about protests. We aren’t taking these issues lying down.

6. Ultimately, we live here. You’re a visitor. One that we’re truly happy to see, but wary of, under the circumstances. So make sure you do something that leaves our city looking and feeling better than when you got here. And for the love of god, buy a proper winter jacket before you come. There’ll be no rising from the dead as a blue-eyed zombie if you freeze to death here. You don’t have an excuse when there’s a Target every five blocks.

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Me on my way to Target for the 4th time this week.

7. Be cool. Enjoy yourselves. No one does winter like The North.