Research Notes

Research Journal 1 – Starting the Project

 

I feel incredibly excited and inspired today. In one day I was able to build the website and begin preparing the IRB (institutional review board) proposal to conduct this research. I’m curious about what I will find, hear, learn. I’m open to how I will grow and what I will teach.

I had this idea about a year ago, and because life as an assistant professor is project after project, I am just now getting to it. The delay is over, although other projects haven’t ceased. Because I love what I do, I’m happy to manage my time well enough to add this work.

The first dialogue will not be included in the data I analyze. I’m piloting the questions with my partner Ramon (he created the beautiful introduction music for the podcast). It will also be important for me to draft a subjectivities statement where I answer the questions myself. That transparency guides the remaining process. I’m not falsely claiming to be objective. I am a human, just like everyone I interview. I like constructivist grounded theory because it doesn’t require me to feign or strive for objectivity. It requires me to credible, original, resonate with humans, and useful. If I do that, I’ve done this project well.

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Research Journal 2 – Sensitizing Concepts on Love

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Audre Lorde (2007) provides some important considerations for Black women loving each other, and Black men’s perception of this love. If our loving each other, romantically, sexually, or simply sisterly, gets misperceived as threatening, decentering of them as the prize, there are potential consequences such as isolation or violence. However, in loving each other, in any way, we find solidarity and support. If Black men choose love toward women, regardless of whom they desire sexually, and foster supportive networks between us all, then the collective power we have can be focused toward dismantling racism together. We don’t want to dismantle racism with you, to still live with your sexism, especially when these isms intersect in our lives.

In “All About Love,” bell hooks (2000) firmly situates love as a part of social justice, and all of the movement encompassed within that large umbrella. She describes the ways people are afraid to make that connection presently, relegating love to a choice for the weak. Her description of love’s components are: care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, trust, and honest/open communication. However, she clarifies, “remember, care is a dimension of love, but simply giving care does not mean we are loving.” She makes an interesting point about the majority of authors who write of love, but her assertion about love is spot on: “men theorize about love, but women are more often love’s practitioners.” I forward this statement with a belief that love’s practitioners are more often the marginalized across any social location. That is why this project is prioritizing their voices to understand the “how” of loving a human.

Patricial Hill Collins (2005) suggests that love unidirectionally expressed from the marginalized to the privileged is insufficient. I agree. Historically, turning the other cheek rhetoric has not persuaded people with dominant identities to be more loving. They may be more likely to experience public shame at their overt gestures of domination, but shame and love aren’t kin. Shame provides pathways for covert isms. Love must flower in the hearts of the empowered, enfranchised to result in action. Love must flower in the hearts of the disempowered, marginalized to build our internal resources for thriving. Collins suggests that Black men and women “might refashion the relationship between love and freedom in ways that expand our understanding of the connections among soul, spirituality, embodiment, sensuality, expressiveness, eroticism, and sexuality.” She cites James Baldwin’s position on love as a means of liberation to articulate the vast differences between love and control, two processes that are only conflated when we’re afraid. For Collins, love is honesty. She continues, if humans “can recognize one another’s humanity, love one another despite their faults, and commit to one another in the harsh environment that destroys love…then love and commitment constitute important qualities for a progressive Black sexual politics.”

I extend her assertion that love is political. It is political and revolutionary, and it must reach into marginalized communities, just as it must grow within it. I say love is power and purpose. It is the energy and the reason. I’m seeking to find out how people use their power to love, and what that may look like.

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Research Journal 3 – Love is…

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Love is resilience, resistance, and revolution.

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Research Journal 4 – Subjectivities & Transparency

I am going to answer the questions I intend to ask, before I invite others to do so. This helps me get clearer about what I mean and who I am in this first part of the research. It will be interesting for me to answer them again at another time and see if anything has shifted, and if so…what. This also gives the people I am interviewing a bit of insight into who is interviewing them. Although the dialogues will be less of an interview than other qualitative work I’ve done, they will still largely be the focus of the conversation. As such, putting myself out there helps them understand our positionality in the context of this conversation.


Share your most salient identities with me.

I identify as a Black, heterosexual, able-bodied Christian cis-woman. I am now middle class, having transitioning from a working class family of origin to my current socioeconomic status through hard work, grace, education, prayers, opportunity, and love. I’m an early career counseling psychologist, but I’ve had a number of experiences that have made that identity feel less vulnerable for me than it does for others. Because I have been a leader in psychology since I entered the field, I have some positional and proximal power. I’m an assistant professor on the tenure track, and that is such an exciting journey. This project, along with others, is some of the creative and interesting work I get to do in this professional role. I research about sex, social justice, and leadership. Love intersects with all three, from my vantage point. I’m a woman who centers love in my activism and social justice work. I’m a woman who would choose dying for, rather than killing for, a movement…although I’d overwhelming prefer living for it.

I am the second born, oldest girl of my mother’s children. I am the first born, oldest girl of my father’s children. I have five sisters and a brother. I have been well loved. I am soon to be married (I’ll be married by the time this project begins) to the man I love, Ramon Hargons. I’m learning what it means to be a wife, as a womanist, and sex-positive in celibacy. I’m thoughtful, bright, authentic, confident, courageous, and introverted. I try to always say what I mean, but in the most caring way. I learn from failure and feedback. I’m resilient and also vulnerable.

What makes those identities stand out versus others?

I led with Blackness, but I definitely think it is the intersection of these many identities I’ve named that make me who and how I am, rather than any one identity. I don’t separate my womanhood from my Blackness. These things stand out to me, because I really like them. I like all of the identities I mentioned, despite how they are positioned in society’s matrix of oppression. Even my privileged identities, such as being a cis-woman and able-bodied, are aspects of my life for which I am grateful. I get to use these privileges in service of dismantling oppression, and I value that. But, I am also aware of the ways my marginalized identities come with their unique strengths, despite the vulnerabilities.

What about…(add other identities the person may not have mentioned)

I didn’t mention complexion, nationality/ethnicity, region of birth (size of town and area of country), nor region of current occupancy. I am dark-skinned, deep chocolate. This has implications for me within and without the Black community, because of colorism. I am a US citizen by birth. I have always lived in the US, although I have visited a few other countries (Trinidad, Jamaica, Mexico, Canada, Italy, and the Bahamas). I speak English as a first language, and I speak marginal French. These give me access to so many aspects of life in the US and around the world. Being from the US, even as a Black woman with all of my identities, holds power in many places.

I was born in small town western New York: Lockport. I lived in small rural towns throughout that region and then in Franklin, VA until I was 16. Half of my life has been spent in small ponds, and I was a big fish. Despite both of my parents being working class, my mother’s aspiration for financial and educational achievement allowed us to move out of the housing projects and into a middle class community by high school. I moved to suburban Georgia when I was 16 (Lawrenceville), where I graduated high school. From 0-18, I lived in predominantly White towns, except Franklin, which was probably half White. This has pros and cons. I was able to witness and learn Whiteness first hand, and that includes linguistic inflection and diction, and other cultural norms. It also means that I didn’t see much representation of Blackness around me. That is why I chose to move to Atlanta and attend an HBCU, Spelman College, for undergrad. I wanted an experience that centered Blackness, and Spelman went beyond that. It centered Black womanhood, and no learning experience has done a better job of preparing me for the world.

I suppose I am Southern, since I have spent more than half of my life in the South, but I know enough about the small town North to see the similarities and differences. As I am writing, I see how all of these aspects of my humanity make me a woman I love.

What does love mean to you?

Love is the energy and the reason. It is the power and the purpose. This quote came to me a while ago, and it is the signature I use in my work emails as a reminder that both action and existence are represented in love. It fuels why I do much of the work I do in sexology, social justice, and even leadership. All of these areas are connected to love in that I believe the expression, seeking, relaying of love makes for good sex, activism, and leadership. Love is composed, a symphony of the following: empathy, humility, kindness, intention, patience, grit, and grace. My relationship with God informs this definition.

I think most people get why I’d say empathy. Connecting with other people’s experiences requires you to recognize the humanity in the other and heighten your awareness that not for some combination of privilege and grace, it could be you. Mirroring emotions, especially the hard ones like hurt, are at the core of this.

Humility is often overlooked, but love comes with willingness to be corrected and accept your own fallibility without egotistic defensiveness. It is not a posture of weakness, but of teachability that makes one humble. It’s seeking and receiving the lesson so that you can love better the next time.

Kindness seems to be another easy to understand one, but people often confuse kindness for feigning weaknesses. Kindness is a conscientious good, whereas weakness is passive. Kindness isn’t for the sake of being perceived as nice; it is a choice to be good to someone regardless of the emotions that stir in your in relation to them.

Intention holds this all together. Thinking and reflecting on how we love, intention is the purposeful choice to pursue the most loving option when we do or say something to someone.

Patience, one of the fruits of the spirit, according to the Bible, is ultimately an acknowledgement that your efforts at loving may not immediately be met with the intended outcome. It is the choice to persevere gracefully in loving, even when it is hard.

Grit is the ability to withstand the tough parts. Where as patience is the graceful waiting, grit is the resilience to handle the uncomfortable while you move through it. To take some hits (well, what feel like hits, maybe they may just be rejection of your attempts to love, suspicion, lowered initial openness, etc.) and be willing to understand where that comes from and remain committed to the love.

And, grace is forgiveness for any perceived insults or assaults. But, it moves beyond forgiveness. It is essentially the belief that everyone is good and doing the best they can, and their mistakes are exceptions rather than rules. Whether this is true or not, it is an attitudinal posture of love, especially when you have more of the positional power in that dynamic.

What would the world be like if it loved ______ humans? (fill in the blank with salient identities the person mentioned)

If the world loved Black women, and to be more specific with my marginalized identities, Black women in and/or from working class backgrounds, it would trust us, respect us, and appreciate us. It is interesting how these ideals did not factor into my definition of love, but it may help if I explain them further. Trusting Black women means that our wisdom would be valued, rather that dismissed. The ways we see the world, our awareness of who is and is not acting in a loving way, our understanding of what it takes to build resilience and care would be embedded in religion, education, healthcare, and business. We would not have to be perfectly articulate, coiffed and dressed in a certain way to be taken seriously. We wouldn’t have to fear sexual, physical, or emotional violation, and we wouldn’t be blamed for those violations enacted upon us.

Respect would mean that we were invited and welcome to sit at the tables of leadership if we so choose. It would seem weird that a Black woman wasn’t at every decision-making table, if the world loved us. People would notice our absence and go out of their way to correct that. Dolls, actresses, models, and other cultural icons of beauty would represent the range of our beauties. We wouldn’t have to be the sole standard, but we would be one of many. Our value, contributions, and worth would be acknowledged publicly and privately. No one would take credit for what we’ve done, nor would anyone feel threatened by our genius. Our worth would not be solely tied to how we have sacrificed for others. And to create that world, other humans, and Black women as well, would have to embody the type of love I described earlier.

What identities in others do you sometimes struggle to love?

I struggle to love humans with a lack of specific types of intelligence, verbal intelligence to be exact. I sometimes feel impatient when I encounter it, and my impatience is a barrier to empathy that I am working to resolve. As a cognitively able woman, I am at a place where I recognize my privilege in being able to communicate well. It gives me so much access and credibility. I couldn’t write this paragraph if I didn’t have that ability. And somehow I came to believe that humans who didn’t have this didn’t deserve the extra time it took to listen to them or understand. I realized this was a bias of mine when I worked as a therapist in a center for people with developmental disabilities. Just because I wasn’t mean didn’t mean my privilege and lack of love weren’t operating. I did my job, but how much better could I have been if I understood earlier how this bias was operating.

It is also important to note that for the first half of my life, I struggled to love the marginalized identities I hold. I didn’t know at the time it was a lack of love, but trying to straighten my hair, feeling ashamed of my kinky coils, wanting lighter skin, my diction, my rejection of some types of femininity was somewhat related to the idea that who I was was not good enough.

What do you love most about you?

I love my willingness to grow and openness to learning. I love my commitment to do and be good in this world. I love my capacity to love. But what I love most is my courage: to be myself, accept others, say what I mean, and do what I love

 

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Research Journal 5 – A Love Ethic

All About Love

In bell hooks’ All About Love, she has some amazing ideas about what love is, who writes of love, who lives it, etc. This quote, however, stands out as one of the reasons for this project. “In their work, loving practice is not aimed at simply giving an individual greater life satisfaction; it is extolled as the primary way we end domination and oppression” (p. 76). Yes! Yes it is.

“A love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well” (p.87).

 

 

 

 

 

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Memo 1 – Ramon Dialogue

I completed the first interview with my husband Ramon. I wanted to practice the questions with him before I used them with other participants, and I am also very interested in the way he thinks about love. We completed the interview in two parts, but the podcast will be one. In the time between the two, we had a chance to process the first part. It was engaging, interesting, and he answered in ways I hadn’t expected. His answers challenged my thoughts about how Black men see the world and themselves, in some ways. I love that I can still be surprised with him, and I love that I can always be surprised with qualitative research.

Themes that I recall include: competition, Christianity’s connection to his view of love, and correction. These three C’s made me curious. Will they show up again, or are they unique to him? Having to compete with privileged others that have unearned advantages stood out to him, and he remembers that from an early age. Wanting to create his own space/business/systems, so that he could resolve some of his resentment around that experience fuels his drive. Being Christian, which I identify as a privileged identity, was one of his most salient. Bracketing my expectation that everyone with marginalized identities will see those as their most salient is SO important. I am grateful that I learned with him.

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Memo 2 – Leighna Dialogue

I just completed a dialogue with Dr. Leighna Harrison. It was so rich. As my first non-family interview, I was excited to start this journey with a friend I’ve had the opportunity to work with on some social justice initiatives. Even after two interviews, it is interesting to see how people self-identify in the beginning, and then how other salient identities emerge through our dialogue. She noted her height, being tall, as salient, and I had not considered height identity. I noticed themes of belonging v. being othered/isolated. I often say that humans want to be loved and belong, and her emphasis on the desire and need for belonging stood out.

She said she prepared in advance for the dialogue, but additional questions I asked as follow-ups helped her to be even more reflective as we talked. She noted feeling exhilarated and exhausted after the interview, and I noted feeling more connected.

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Memo 3 – Aaron Dialogue

This one was special in another way, because Aaron introduced me to podcasting. His show, The Black Astronauts Podcast, and his #SupportYourOwn movement were a central part of my humor, healing and growth over the past few years. To put him on the other side of the interview coin was interesting. I love hearing from Black men who disrupt masculine norms and do so confidently. His themes for love highlighted sacrifice, and I was curious about the way the dialogue centered his most salient identities: father and husband. In a world that pretends Black fathers are unicorns, I appreciated being able to understand love from that position.

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Memo 4 – Della Dialogue

The beauty of this dialogue was captured face to face. Whereas I converse with most of the humans via Skype, since Della and I work together we got to have this in person. There is something to be said for looking a person in the face as you talk about love. Her themes for love included survival and responsibility. As we explicated this concept of love as survival, we moved toward love as the force that allows one to thrive. We also discussed body size as an aspect of identity. This is one that most people do not mention, so it stood out to me as especially important. What does body size have to do with how the world loves you? Plenty. Even though race, class, and gender intersect with how size is depicted, it matters. We miss the opportunity to love overweight women openly in the US. Something that our dialogue made me think of, and you’ll hear it here: People for social justice need to commit to a less convenient definition.

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Memo 5 – Melanie Dialogue

In this dialogue, I had an opportunity to connect with a friend and colleague who I identify as an ally. Melanie is a White woman and watching her navigate Whiteness and call it out for social justice has been refreshing and inspiring. Our discussion of social class and SES was rich with the nuance because of the ability to transition class in some ways. Whereas many identities are more socially stable, class has flexibility. Unpacking what it means to be White and from a low social class background bridged us to her definition of love. I was most intrigued by the way she described love as unconditional, in the context of marriage and friendship and social justice, but not in the context of self-love. So many of us have been there, pouring out love for others and questioning whether we are worthy of that love. I wonder how does self-love impact the way allies do the work. Is a struggle for self-love in any way related to the ability to love and empathize with people who are marginalized?

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Memo 6 – Kai Dialogue

Talking with Kai was an amazing complement to talking with Melanie, because the conversations essentially build upon each other. Kai frames love as acceptance. Both of them speak to having a major illness through which a romantic partner loved and accepted them. They each frame acceptance as a sustaining force of love, above and beyond one’s capacity to love herself. In fact, Kai forwards this notion by suggesting sometimes one needs to experience love from others as a way to learn self-love. She introduces her Black womanhood as salient in how she “conducts” love as an energy. Her use of metaphor is amazing. You know she is a poet by her use of love as a song you hear for the first time from someone else. This dialogue was such a pleasure, because we have known each other for a while. I have such appreciation for what she brings to the world as an artist and activist. (Please excuse the brief sound hiccup in the episode).

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Memo 7 – Kenneth Dialogue

This dialogue brought a different intellectual framing of what Whiteness means and can be in the lives of Black men and other People of Color. I enjoyed discussing the theoretical construct of Whiteness, but I found myself more interested in the intersection of love and Black masculinity. Now that I have three dialogues with Black men, I see how relevant love is to them. It wasn’t something I was unsure about, but this interview made it more salient. The need to provide (give/sacrifice) love is core to their conceptualization. Love is active and it is a choice one can make despite circumstances.

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Memo 8 – Carol Dialogue

I enjoy dialogues where we just talk like old friends. Although Carol is someone I have not known for very long, her way of engaging truly brings out the homegirl in me. We discussed love as sustenance, and this is a theme that has occurred once more. If love sustains us, and not enough people get it, especially folks with multiple marginalized identities, then we are asking people to exist on crumbs. Additionally, we discussed love in the romantic context, which happens more often with married people. But, marriage gives a way of seeing love differently that perhaps we can apply to cross-cultural relating and all of the “ists.” If at the end of the day you see the person’s humanity, accepting them for it, flaws and all, and you truly desire the best for them, can people with privileged identities love better?

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Memo 9 – Ed Dialogue

This dialogue let me know that although I was seeking to talk about social justice and love, romantic love is more salient for many of my participants. I wonder if it is because it is actually more familiar or if we all experience romantic love as the most coveted form of love. With Ed, I discussed the theoretical concept of love that one might have earlier in life v. the lived experience of love an older person can reference. The pain of loss and the vulnerability of maintaining one’s capacity to love yet again emerged as themes. Also, as the first Latino person I engaged in dialogue on this topic, his culture informed the theme of love as non-disposable. He framed the loving world through the choice to maintain connection and intimacy with others without an agenda. This resonated with me, because it would mean that institutions and individuals would place connection of task completion.

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Memo 10 – Bedford Dialogue

I was excited to talk with Bedford, because I had an opportunity to be on his show Naming It Podcast a while back. This dialogue’s central theme was about love as connection. There was a lot of information shared, and it was centered in Black psychology. Much of the way we understand psychology is from a Eurocentric model, so this resonated. Another aspect that stays with me is how difficult it is for these humans to imagine a world that loves them with their marginalized identities intact.

 

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Memo 11 – Lamisha Dialogue

Building on last week’s dialogue, I connected with Lamisha, also from the Naming It Podcast. She forwarded the conversation I’d had with Bedford by identifying love as both connection and action. The active piece resonated with me as we discussed what love looks like in motion. I was also excited for her to challenge my question on what the world would look like if it loved her. She was the first participant to state that the world loved her just fine. She indicated that if the world loved Black transwomen, it would be the type of world oriented around social justice. Wow.

 

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Memo 12 – Amber Dialogue

Talking to Amber from Black Chick Watching added another layer of perspective to my project. Her standpoint as a Black woman who openly discloses her Bipolar Disorder gave voice to many people who remain afraid to name mental health as salient. Coming from my family of origin, I know just how salient it is, named or not. I appreciated our discussion of how this identity intersects with Blackness, womanhood, and SES. Interestingly, she also described love somewhat differently than others. She described love as conditional, and she advocated for humans to accept love as such. She also noted that love is caring within the confines of those conditions.

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Memo 13 – Gilbert Dialogue

In this episode, the intersection of Asian identity and masculinity became salient. The myth of the model minority can be so enticing, especially when it seems positive, until we unpack the way it dehumanizes. Gilbert described love as caring and empathy. We also discussed his perception that how the world sees interracial relationships may be a cultural litmus test for progress.

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Memo 14 – J Mase III Dialogue

I first had the experience of listening to J Mase at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality conference. I knew that he was dropping the type of knowledge that could inspire millions of people to action around transgender and Black liberation. As a Black transmasculine person, he framed love as survival, remembrance, and care-taking. One thing that resonated with me was his use of cooperative economics and what that means in a capitalist society. He uses financial and social capital to empower transpeople, and this dialogue was one to remember. Find his work at http://www.awqwardtalent.com/j-mase-iii.html.

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Memo 15 – Ulysses III Dialogue

This dialogue resonated with me as a sex researcher. As an HIV advocate, Dr. Ulysses Burley III has contributed to work that has benefitted the lives of people heavily stigmatized by the disease, often using his privilege to navigate the politics surrounding that mission. As a heterosexual Black man, we discuss what that means in the context of HIV work and medicine. He also discusses how travel provided him a sense of liberation he didn’t expect. He framed love as justice, and you can see how he enacts that at UBtheCure.

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Memo 16 – Harris Dialogue

This dialogue explores love from a familial and spiritual context. Harris defines love as submission and as the decision not to take someone’s submission to you for granted. The concept of submission as a Christian resonates, and he describes what this looks like in practice. You can learn more about his work at Align Performance.