Accepting Love in California

Foundation at a secret rose garden in the hills

In this moment, California is guiding me in accepting love.

Love has always been complicated for me. At the foundation of my history, love has always been confusing, scary, painful and numbing. Love has come with conditions. It was something I had to earn, to be good enough for and to piece together in times of scarcity. Love has been something I truly believed I did not fully deserve so even when it was right in front of me, I simply could not even open myself up enough to feel it.

But something has shifted for me during my stay in Oakland and my visits to San Francisco. I was warmly welcomed into homes that felt like sanctuaries. I was given space to write and think deeply about the ways in which conversations have touched me. I was held physically in a spiritual expression of my sexuality and trusted a love one to move and heal my energy. I was introduced to new ideas about my relationships that I never thought possible. I was embraced in safe spaces that honored my identity as a Queer Black poly kinky witch woman. 

I felt safe inside the space love made for me and was asked for very little in return. 

I know that Liberation is a journey in loving myself. When I first realized that, it felt out of body, foreign and down right disgusting. I am now becoming so shockingly present to how long I have hated being me and being here and that self loathing has blinded me from the possibility of truly loving others, letting others love me and having the willingness to love myself.

I’m realizing that until I am ready to dive into the experience of loving myself, I have to let others show me the way by letting them love me.

And honestly, it all still feels a little weird. Self love feels like something I still want to roll my eyes at and bulldoze over with sarcastic laughter just to feel safe talking about it. I mean what does it really look like to love myself? Mani pedi’s on Saturday mornings? Walks in the park with India Arie blasting in my headphones? Naked midnight howling at the moon? I’m guessing it could be all or none of these things.

I’m guessing that when the time comes to fully feel it, I’ll know.

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International Ms Leather 2017

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International Ms Leather and Bootblack 2017 contest winners: IMsL2017 Aisia (Girl Complex), IMsL first runner up Stela, IMBb Elisa, IMBb runner up, Mickey

My experience at this year’s International Ms Leather (IMsL) was so amazing, it is hard to capture into words (but I’m a writer so I’ll give it a try). If you are not familiar with IMsL, it is a contest, conference and sex positive play space for people of all genders that encourages sexual freedom and alternative sex practices. The contest awards a leather person and bootblack the privilege of  touring the country as a representative of the leather and kink community. This year’s theme of the conference was consent, exploring how our community voices the action of permission. And the sex positive play space provides a safe dungeon to fuck and practice some of the sexiest kink scenes I have ever witnessed.

So basically, IMsL is the shit. I look forward to it every year, seeing old friends, meeting hot queers and dressing up in my sexiest leather wear. After six years of attendance, I feel at home as my leather identity evolves from leather girl to leather woman, female identified to genderqueer and a growing exploration of what it may mean or not mean for me to be femme-ish.

Here are some highlights from the weekend:

Consent

I had the honor of sitting on a panel with three highly intelligent human beings to talk about consent in the context of identity, law and kink. As you can imagine, it is very hard to cover the full conversation of consent in 90 minutes but we touched on some very vital things that directly effect our community. I spoke about sexual consent in the context of being a person living with mental illness, what it was like to enter into a psych ward thinking that sex toys in my bag would label me a prostitute (a word I do not use daily as it criminalizes sex work, which is a whole other conversation) and how my experience as a person of color dictates my definition of consent and non-consent. I was delighted to discuss these topics with my peers and continue the conversation in my community.

Recovery In The Lifestyle

I hosted two recovery meetings this year and it was such an honor to be asked to do service as I approach two years of sobriety. Talking about recovery in the context of the kinky lifestyle is not only something that is much needed for my leather heart but engages me in looking a how the experience of sex has changed for me in sobriety. There is a huge sober community in the scene and I’m blessed to realize that they were always there waiting for me to heal alongside them.

Learning How to be a Trans Ally

From the consent panel I learned what it means to ask consent of someone who you consider yourself to be an ally to. As a POC who has the privilege of being surrounded by white allies, I am seeing the work I need to do to become a better trans ally. There is no such thing as “best ally of the year” – it’s not a contest you should ever expect to be rewarded for. It is simply our duty to straight up not be assholes to marginalized people and ask them/us what we need to have our voices elevated even when we are not in the room. I want to do that work and if anyone who is reading this is trans identified, I ask you – if you have the energy and emotional space – to please call me out when I need to be called out. I am more then willing to do the work, whatever that may be.

Negotiating Play

The beauty of the kinky, leather community is our learned ability to communicate what we want from each other in both sex and play. Some players practice higher risk sex behaviors so it is imperative that we communicate to those we play with what is physically and emotionally safe. During the weekend I had a kink scene that was not only super hot but a reminder of how empowered I feel when I thoroughly communicate how I would like someone to receive my body. Pre-play, we talked about what we wanted and where we were emotionally. During play, we continued to negotiate what was working and what was not. After, we processed any feelings or thoughts that we left the scene with. Learning how to negotiate has not only helped me in my active sex life but in my everyday relationships.

Landmarks in Leather History

I want to congratulate the new International Ms Leather Aisia (Girl Complex) for her win and am so excited and touched that she is the 6th Black women to receive the title. She is a badass individual who has so much to bring to the title when it comes to talking about the intersectionality of POC identity. And she’s fun! We ofcourse want a title holder who can have hard conversations but we also want a title holder who can bring the party! I can’t wait to witness her title year.

These are just a few of the highlights for the weekend. I am so grateful to have a safe space where I can experience the fullness of my sexual identity and be with my peoples on the West Coast. If you are a leather person or exploring and have not yet been to IMsL, just go! I promise you won’t regret it.

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Feeling hella fly in my leather jacket, corset, skirt combo the night of the contest 

Beginnings, Endings and In Between

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On a trip with two fellow witches to Big Indian, NY

Change is both beautiful and remarkably horrifying but when you dive into a new way of being with a willingness to leave behind a way that has stopped working, you’re free to create what’s next.

Last year, I became a women I did not recognize and this year, I know the women I am becoming and for the first time in my life, I am willing to love her.

June 15th, 2016, the week after my 28th birthday, I decided to get sober. It was the hardest, scariest thing I have ever done in my life but I realized in order to feel living, I had to stop attempting to erase myself with drugs and alcohol.

The results have been truly miraculous.

I found a spiritual practice. I am embracing my new journey as a Santera (a woman who practices Santeria) and am learning to develop a relationship with my ancestors. I am delighted to share ceremony with my ile (spiritual house) and be guided by my Madrina (godmother) in discovering my abilities as a Spirituous (one who talks to spirits/the dead) and a Medium. I am understanding myself as a spiritual being and that feeling is beyond words.

I have my family back. When I was using, I was so caught up in my own trauma that I held every memory against the people who helped raise me. Now I can acknowledge that yes, my trauma effects my everyday life but it does not have to dictate how I love others. My mother and I have a healthier relationships as adults sharing our struggles and creating boundaries with love. My dad and I are mending our once strained relationship. I can honor my family in a way that keeps me safe enough to feel how much they love me.

I manage my mental illness. I fully accept being a bipolar woman. I accept that if I do not take my medication, I will return back to the a psychiatric institution or worse. So I medicate myself everyday. I track my moods, have a relationship with my medical team and realize that my mental stability comes before everyone and everything. I don’t hate the disease, I accept that this is the life I have been given and I advocate for the mentally ill that stand beside.

I am finishing my first novel and a collection of poems. Since getting sober, my work has greatly improved and I am able to write again without fear. I can properly communicate the purpose of my long term writing projects. My first novel in progress, The Liberation of the Black Unicorn, is about a Queer Black women’s journey through mental illness, addiction, breakdown and recovery. My forthcoming poetry collection, Chronicles of Bipolar Living, is a collection of poems and prose about illness, love and healing. I am so excited for the day I’ll be able to share these works with my readers as they push through their own breakdowns and breakthroughs.

I’ve learned to have healthy relationships. It has been the hardest thing to put my own sense of well being and self preservation before my friends and romantic relationships. It doesn’t feel natural. But in order for me to maintain healthy connections, I have to let people go, create boundaries with love and speak my mind. I have to let go of old patterns that allowed others to hurt me (and in turn hurt them) and create a way to stay safe in my relationships.

I am learning who I am and who I am not. I can be a highly unstable chick. I live in a pattern of emotional extremes. I am working on using my voice. I am learning that I am beautiful and fierce. I am not an average girl. I am not willing to kill myself slowly any longer. I am not willing to go on hurting others. I am ready for healing. I am willing to love myself. I am willing to feel and define what true liberation feels like.

What lies at the other side of change is overwhelming but I am so blessed to be able to step out a self destructive life I created.

I am becoming the woman I know I was meant to be and I feel a little closer to happiness.

 

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Movie star freedom in Woodstock, NY

 

Ashley Young’s Summer NYC Reading Tour

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Photo by Robert Rosario

This summer I’ll be reading at five Queer events in the city, featuring sobriety stories, my contribution to the Glitter and Grit anthology, new work from a collection of poetry and prose Chronicles of Bipolar Living and excerpts from my novel The Liberation of the Black Unicorn. Come out to hear some of my new work and the work of fellow talented queers.

 

Queer Memoir: Under the Influence

     (part of the Eulogy for a Dyke Bar series)

Saturday May 21 at 5pm

Friends and Lovers

641 Classon Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

 

Glitter and Grit Hits the Road!

    Heels on Wheels #Glittery Awareness Book Tour

Thursday May 26, Doors @ 7,  show starts at 7:30 – 10:30pm
Branded Saloon

603 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11238

 

To Be Queer, Black and Gifted

Wednesday June 1 at 7-8pm

LGBT Center – Manhattan

Bureau of General Services Queer Division

208 West 13th Street Room 210, New York, NY 10011

 

Queer Text Reading Series: Rainbows Across the Diaspora

Tuesday June 14 at 7pm

Dixon Place

161 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

 

Queer Art Organics

Tuesday July 19 at 7:30-8:30pm

Dixon Place

161 Chrystie St, New York, NY 10002

 

Following Ashley’s tour, she will be returning to Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat for LGBT Writers at the University of Southern California to work with author and playwright Sarah Schulman.

Help Ashley get to the Lambda Literary Foundation Retreat by donating:

http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersRetreat2016/AshleyYoung

Black Unicorn Rise – Works in Progress Solo Show

Unicorn Writing

Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe and Activist Center

172 Allen Street, New York, NY 10002

Saturday, May 14 7-9PM

Audre Lorde wrote “The Black Unicorn” in recognition of those who live invisibly and fight for liberation. Queer Black feminist author and teacher Ashley Young writes to participate in this fight. In an evening of works in progress of poetry and prose, Ashley will present work that highlights survival and liberation from mental illness, addiction and the struggles of being a Queer Black woman. Come witness and participate in a writer’s fight to get liberated.

Ashley will be sharing from two works in progress: Chronicles of Bipolar Living, a collection of poetry and prose on Illness, Woman, Men and Recovery and The Liberation of the Black Unicorn, her Audre Lorde inspired biomythography. She is will also be announcing her upcoming summer reading tour and details on her return to Lambda Literary Foundation’s Writers Retreat for LGBT Writers.

 Help Ashley get to the Lambda Literary Foundation Retreat by donating funds at http://lambdaliterary.donorpages.com/WritersRetreat2016/AshleyYoung/