Dear Philomena Tour Diaries: On Moonlight, Barbers and #BlackBoyJoy

I love the movie Moonlight for the same reason I love getting haircuts. Moonlight like a good haircut was full of intimate affectionate experiences between men. More particularly, shared intimate affectionate experiences between black men (as most non-black barbers can’t cut black hair, but that’s a conversation for another day). From the tender caress of a barber as they gently fold down my ear for a line up, to the loyalty and steadfastness that black men in particular have to their barbers (NEVER CHEAT ON YOUR BARBER UNLESS YOU WANT TO LOSE THEM). Haircuts are filled with platonic masculine intimacy and affection akin to the loving and powerful relationship between Little and Juan in Moonlight.

Moonlight is well-known and praised for how it handled queerness. However, an important feature of the film that is not as celebrated is the emotional intimacy with which it portrayed black male platonic/familial relationships. Moonlight is full of softness, vulnerability, compassion and understanding between black men.

As Mahershala Ali famously said in his SAG Awards speech:
“What I’ve learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happens when you persecute people. They fold into themselves. And what I was so grateful about in having the opportunity to play Juan, was playing a gentleman, who saw a young man folding into himself, as a result of the persecution of his community. And taking that opportunity to uplift him and tell him that he mattered. And that he was ok. And accept him. And I hope that we do a better job of that.”

In a world of ‘Toxic masculinity’ VS. ‘#NotAllMen’ and ‘Feminism’ VS. ‘Men’s Rights Activists’; the celebration of black male masculinity and the intimacy and affection inherent is not well represented. Examples of black men uplifting other black men, telling black men that they matter, that they are ok and accept as a whole intersectional being are prevalent but not spotlighted.

Last week, I witnessed (read: shamelessly eavesdropped on) a conversation between two black men. One told the other that they think they found the person they wanted to marry and what ensued was a beautiful, emotionally vulnerable conversation about this incredibly important decision. The week before this, I was a part of the beautiful camaraderie as a group of black men got together to see off one of our own who was leaving. The long hug that my friend gave me as he said goodbye and gave parting words of advice was full of tenderness, love and affection.

It’s this very same tenderness, love and affection that I aim to express through my often used hashtag #BlackBoyJoy. It’s this very same tenderness, love and affection I aim to express through my performances on this book tour and the amazing conversations on vulnerability I have with people afterwards. Those conversations are the reason I wrote my book, the reason I am on tour and the reason I preach my gospel of vulnerability as strength. As James Michael Yeboah said of his art exhibition, When Black Boys Cry:

“Black men, more often than not, are not given the space to express vulnerability. Because we are often oversexualized by white folx, we feel that we have to uphold this standard of “manliness” by not being open about how we feel and as a result perpetuate ideas of toxic masculinity. When Black Boys Cry is about navigating vulnerability as a black man in a space that normalizes police violence and genocide, ultimately decolonizing black masculinity. This is space for black folx to come together and be unapolegetically vulnerable and, of course unapologetically black.”

I aim to create such spaces with my performances, writing, art and conversations and I believe I successfully did that at Shab-e-She’r on Tuesday July 25th. The heart-space created as I was unapologetically vulnerable on stage and shared with the audience my most traumatic life experiences was powerful. The heart-space created as the audience shared their vulnerability with me after the show was even more powerful.

We could all use a little more #BlackBoyJoy in our lives which is why I am pleased to announce Songs About Men inspired by Jason Mraz’s Song For A Friend. As Jason Mraz says:
“This is a different kind of love song. This is a love song between a man and another man.
Oftentimes, you have the sensitive singer-songwriter make it up here and sing about his girlfriend over and over and over again.”

‘Songs About Men’ is going to be a poetry collection about several men in my life who have had a great impact on me non-romantically. I have a lot of beautiful friendships with men who I love and want to give homage to through my poetry Stay tuned!

     Much love, appreciation and thanks to Bänoo Zan and the amazing team at the Shab-e-She’r for hosting me and who did an absolutely incredible job of creating such an brave, warm and vulnerable space for the evening. Major shout-out to Heather Wood who joined me as a co-feature and put on an insightful performance! Join me on my next tour date on August 3rd 2017! Haus Orpheus Presents: Mek A Noise! @The Art Square Gallery & Café, Doors open at 8pm, show starts at 9pm!

Mugabi Byenkya with the host of Shab-e-She’r Bänoo Zan and the co-feature Heather Wood