I was thinking the other day how fucking brave it is to try and heal. Period. And how brave it is to try all this “weird” “woo-woo” stuff (tarot, divination, acupuncture, stretching, body love, herbs). Even and especially because all that stuff is stuff that comes from many of our traditional communities. An old friend once said, “Black and brown people are the original hippies! Lentils? Wearing robes? Yoga? That’s all our stuff!”
Like a lot of survivors, I also have a complex relationship to words like “brave” “healing” and, well, “survivor”- words that are both core to me, and which I feel like I can’t say without rolling my eyes a little, because of how they’ve been coopted and white-light-new-ageified, and also because I am a mixed class person raised in Central Massachusetts. But I am going to use all three none the less because that stuff- the importance of those words, how they’ve been coopted, and the work of taking them back- is what I’m talking about here.
I thought about how big it is for Black and brown and broke and disabled folks to risk accessing different kinds of healing, as my partner and I went to community acupuncture this Monday, and I realized once we went there they had never been before and were pretty nervous about going in, but wanted to try. I watched them as they left, smiling and glowing, saying, “acupuncture is cool.”
I thought it as I witnessed several beloved community members recently try to access healing, despite huge traumatic histories with medical industrial complex systems, and being met with ableism, transphobia, so many “microagressions” that are actually really big aggressions, all telling them that they didn’t belong there and they don’t get to have healing. How brave it was for them to show up and insist that they deserved care anyway. How fucked up it was, and how overt, all these systems that were saying “no” to them.
I thought about some of the many times I have fought to get care in my own life. How hard I fought to find affordable, non-racist, survivor-competent therapy in my 20s as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. How much bullshit, judgement, microaggressions that are so heartbreaking and ridiculous you can only laugh and cry, and gatekeeping I ran into. Like every group therapy for childhood sexual abuse group that has a “You have to be currently having individual therapy to access this group therapy” policy. (If I could have afforded individual therapy back then, I wouldn’t have been trying so hard to access their crappy free YWCA 12 week CSA support group.) So many of us fight really hard to get care, and get it, or don’t. Some of us have been taught well that asking for help is not safe, so we take care of ourselves and don’t ever risk asking.
What it was like, the first time I cautiously walked into a community acupuncture clinic, in Albany CA in 2009. The only reason I was willing to try was that I knew the acupunk, Mari Lubota, a gifted gender-non-conforming, APIA healer. I didn’t go to get acupuncture. Needles? Hell no. Too scary. But they were offering massage, $1 a minute, and $1 a minute for anything was something I figured I could do. It took a while to do the math. It took a while to find a place in my tight budget, written out on the back of a used envelope. It took a while to shift my paradigm, to one where healing could be a regular thing I sought out in my life. And this is me, who had been studying herbals and making her own tinctures since I was in her early 20s. It took a while more to hesitantly agree that I could try acupuncture.
Myself and another member of the Babes of Healing Justice, a healing justice collective I was part of from 2011?-2014, once had a conversation outside of where they had set up their massage chair at Phat Beats, a POC food justice project that held a farmer’s market in Oakland with workshops and 2 for 1 EBT deal and free bread every Saturday in our neighborhood. We both talked about how much work we had to do to demystify and make getting a massage or getting a divination or tarot reading seem like a normal, regular thing Black and Brown queer folks got to do, to folks we wanted to work with. At the time, Ana Maria Jahannes Aguero was running her business, Wild Seed Wellness Massage, which did groundbreaking work in Oakland in the 2010s to popularize massage to QTPPOC. Wild Seed was the first place I went to get a massage in my adult life, and Ana’s warm home office in East Oakland, with “the gospel according to Shug” from Alice Walker’s writings on the door, Ana’s respectful asking about pronouns and access needs and care for QTPOC bodies was a revelation.
We talked about all the things Ana did to make massage seem like a normal, familiar ritual for Black and Brown QTPOC with out a lot of money to do- from doing self massage demos on stage at popular queer nightclubs to having pay what you can days. White, straight, mainstream massage therapists don’t (have to) do this! And how important that work Ana did was, how it made a paradigm shift where people started to maybe think that massage wasn’t for someone else, or a once a year treat, but a normal part of the medicine chest for QTPOC without a lot of money.
The work of healing justice isn’t just to learn about and share what we know about herbs, massage, acupuncture, divination. It’s also about doing all that work to shift cultural ideas about healing and who gets to access it, to shift how classism and ableism and transphobia and racism and colonization have taught us that “healing” is a luxury for someone else-even after so many forms of healing they are sold to the affluent have been stolen from Black,Indigenous and brown cultures. And I see that for so many healing justice workers, how the work we’re doing is not just to provide the acupuncture or the divination, but to change the framework for how folks think about “healing” in the first place.
So I think everyone who comes to me for a reading is brave. Every person who keeps searching for healing, who decides to try to get a reading or a community acupuncture session or to see someone about herbs, is brave as hell and is defying every part of the system that says we don’t deserve to heal, just to suffer and endure. Every healing justice worker – from hairstylists to community acupuncturists, sex workers to cranio-sacral therapists- who insist that healing is a right is doing the work and remaking the world.