“…vulnerability equals uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.”
—Brene Brown, PhD LMSW
The best way to describe my vulnerability is running full speed down a dark tunnel with no shoes, no socks, and no shirt despite hearing petrifying unknown rumbles from inside. Sounds ridiculous, but throughout my short 25 years of life, I’ve found myself in anomalous situations that were in many cases life-changing and life-threatening.
I always found it peculiar, especially nowadays when I perform poetry, how individuals compliment me on my vulnerability. Following up with the common question of, “How do you perform in front of people and not get scared?!” In other words, how do you share your story in front of a group of strangers that potentially have a hold of dusty broken bones you left in your closet?
To be honest, I willingly take off my shoes, socks, shirts and run down the dark tunnel. I have no idea who I am talking to. I don’t know where I am going. I don’t know how what is affecting whom, etc. I just put it all out there. The adrenaline of doing something potentially dangerous can be freeing. The art of expression is dangerous.
Resurrection – I Used To Love H.E.R
I was a pre-teen that loved to be closed off to things. Didn’t go outside much. I stayed inside and played video games all day long. Instead of seeing the world, I wanted to watch anime. I pretended to enjoy all the new popular hip hop/R&B songs, when in reality I listened to nothing but the same type of underground rap. Hating on everything mainstream as a hip hop purist.
I did not talk to my parents about anything going on. I was “in a relationship” for three hours when I was 12 because A) I did not like her like that, and B) I was uncomfortable with the idea of having a partner because I had no idea what to do. So instead of exploring, I broke it off. I never even had a hamburger, a burrito, or a slice of pizza until I was in the 10th grade because that was outside of my norm. Trying anything new or expressing myself in my world deviating from a cycle I cultivated, I considered dangerous.
This comfortable fictional world sooner or later was going to be shaken. To be invaded by violence, racism, romantic feelings, sex, colorism, rape culture, homophobia and several other jarring realities the human experience provides. I had no choice but to venture off and to adapt. However, the problem was I did not know what my voice sounded like. I familiarized myself with what I feared, not with what could potentially build my character and strength.
For example, as a close-minded young adult I did not like to speak much. In high school, I knew I could to some degree string words together to express how I felt. I had performed a poem I wrote and got laughed at. My fear of public speaking was proven to be justifiable and I stopped writing for a few weeks; I questioned myself. The constant foreboding overshadowed my ability to be vulnerable. This uneasiness had spawn more negative emotions of envy, anger & hate.
I aspired to be like the legends whose works I’d read and studied: T.S. Eliot, Percy Shelley, Toni Morrison, mixed with the rappers I was listening to: Blu, Fashawn, Lupe Fiasco, etc. I’d see fellow classmates get held to a higher regard, while I felt I was not taken as seriously. As I left high school and started the wonderful journey of college at CSUMB, I promised myself that I would be respected and regarded as the best artist this community had ever seen.
This is where the problems come into play. I only understood the word “vulnerability” as a term of just being honest with those around you. There is a difference between being honest with those around you and being honest with yourself.
For the majority of the past decade, I was not being honest with myself. I continued pushing my limits for the sake of others and not for my own personal growth. I desired self respect, yet felt obligated to put people before myself. Currently, I am in a strange limbo of regaining, or retracing my steps.
“Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot these days, but it is essential for vulnerability. Essentially, we need to shed the person we think we should be and have the courage to be vulnerable as the person we really are.”
— Jared Dees, Medium (The Artist Life)
4eva N a Day – Boobie Miles
About a week into my freshman year in Fall 2011, I became good friends with Christopher Barahona, a fellow student in math class. I told him I’m a part of a music group, ShadowsOfSociety, and I write poetry. At the time I was still bearing looming doubts in my mind about my writing, so I gave him my personal journal/poetry book for a couple of weeks to look over. He read some of it and said it was good.
By the time the first open mic night of the school year came around, I had built some confidence—that is, until I hit the stage. I had a sudden flashback to an incident that occurred the year before and my nerves kicked into high gear. I performed a love poem in front of a crowd of 250 at Carson High School’s auditorium as a special guest. The piece was created for a special young woman in that crowd.
The woman’s friend who was in attendance in the seat next to her randomly yelled, in the middle of the performance, “HE’S TALKING ABOUT YOU!” Standing in front of a crowd of 250 people baring my soul is one thing. To be put on blast, needless to say, I was ready to quit again. Earlier in the show while introducing me, the MC completely butchered my stage name, so this situation was undoubtedly the cherry on top. As soon I was done performing, I ran off stage. However, so many people came up to me saying what I had done was brave. That’s when I got hit with that question, “How do you perform in front of people and not get scared?!”
Running down the pitch black tunnel, I turned out fine. I performed two pieces (including the one I created for that young woman a year ago) and it was received well at CSUMB’s open mic. From that point on, I was seen at every open mic and performance opportunity. I got relentless on my quest for respect.
Going into my sophomore year, I soon developed a reputation of being the “Poetry guy.” With that I was also nicknamed “Mr Hip Hop” for wearing headphones and a Hip Hop T shirt all the time. I continued performing at every open mic event. Suddenly, I had got hit with my first big show, opening for Michael Reyes.
I never opened for anyone and I thought this is it. No more being treated like a joke. No more proving myself. Fortunately, as expected in the most unexpected way, that show did change my life. I got something I wanted, but did not want at the same time. Respect & power.
We’re all familiar with cliches when it comes to artists needing to use their power and influence wisely and up until after this Michael Reyes show, I didn’t give a damn about power. I just wanted to be respected. After the event was over, a young woman approached me in tears, saying she could relate to what I was going through in the piece I performed. The poem was called “Cursed Skin,” talking about police brutality and my experience with colorism despite going to an all black school in Los Angeles.
To this very day, colorism has prevented me from being 110 percent vulnerable with folks of romantic interest. I’ve gotten comments like, “You’re too dark for anyone to marry,” and have faced rejection because of my dark skin. From that, I’ve harbored intrusive thoughts that there’s always someone else who’s better, simply due to their light complexion, or that I am not enough. Already suffering from a great deal of social anxiety, colorism made everything worse.
So seeing how “Cursed Skin” resonated with this young Latina woman really hit me hard. Her reaction led me to believe that the art is bigger than the artist. That you are sacrificing yourself. That you are solely vulnerable for others to resonate and see themselves.
After that point, I did not run down the dark tunnels to make it to the other side. I got trapped there. I never made time to process all the different trials & tribulations I was enduring, but I made sure to put it all in a poem for others to heal. I became a wreck. The respect and compliments I received didn’t mean anything to the next poem I was working on. The same year, I was asked to direct a production of The MENding Monologues.
An older gentleman who was part of the production warned me about the weight and heaviness of the task, explaining how sexual assault and gender equality effects everyone on all levels. He went into small details of his personal story and regrets he carried as a man. He was hard on me because of my age, wanting to ensure that I took the task at hand seriously. I was nineteen. I admit I did not understand the full extent of what he was trying to convey until now. I appreciated the lesson and apologize for taking his words in vain.
American Gangster – Fallin’
I knew good and well I did not have the emotional and mental stability to take on such a position, yet I took it on anyway. Honestly, it’s in the top 5 of the worst decisions I have ever made in life. I ignored my own cry for help. I believe the cast members could’ve had a way better experience if I walked away. However, the other problem that came about was finding another director that could take the position. There was no one else present. Although I regret directing, I ultimately walked away with lessons from MENding that I could not find anywhere else as a man.
How my lack of vulnerability contributed to the bigger picture of toxic masculinity. What’s even worse, with this knowledge is that I did not change. I sincerely opened up about several things including my thoughts of suicide, and family issues, but there was still a mask because everything is risk. Everything is dangerous. I had a therapist, but my lack of attention to myself outside of those sessions caused nothing to stick with me.
Bewildered with this internal battle of stepping up to become a role model and just wanting respect, I stopped indulging in my appearance. I stopped showering. I stopped washing my clothes. My own dishonesty was literally eating me alive from the inside out. I would go to my friends room, lay on the floor, and stare at the ceiling without speaking to anyone. With several friends and family friends dying over the past summer and my father battling with colon cancer as well, I felt as if death itself was after me, inching closer as each day came to a close. If something happened to my father I had to step up to become the man of the house, which I knew nothing about.
I suffered frequent panic attacks. Strange occurrences of feeling death was watching me through the people around me. I would walk across campus and hyperventilate as people stopped what they were doing and stared at me. I perceived them to be death in a human body coming for me.
A young woman that had taken an interest in me at the time actually was the first to point out that I never took the time to process all the damage done since high school. I had taken advantage of the growing relationship to evince all the hurt that I was too fearful to say out loud. The belief that deep down I was not fit to become a role model. It became easy to perform and more difficult to be me.
In my past I have taken part in contributing violence to my community and destroying my self-esteem. Getting into fights damn near every other week in grade school. Getting suspended. The last straw was getting threatened with expulsion and being sent away to juvenile hall. The woman that worked at the high school office expressed that she was tired of seeing me there, how I was setting a bad example, how I was messing up my life. I felt that, aside from a few people, no one saw me as their friend. The system hates me. The community hates me. Just an enemy. From there I inherited the word “criminal.” I viewed myself as one.
I lived like my community was shunning me and I could not speak up. I was the kid with a bad temper, whom you could not befriend. I also felt I could mend my wrongs by being a role model/activist. I wanted to make things right because I was unable to tell a close friend I was sorry for bullying him before he died in a car accident. I wanted to make things right, because instead of fighting and damn near getting expelled, I could’ve chosen a different path for these situations. I had a temper. My temper has gotten me in more trouble than I can count. Constantly thinking about these negatives, it feels as if I was living a dual life.
To Pimp A Butterfly – Mortal Man
My junior year, in 2013, I continue running down this pitch black tunnel that seems endless, deciding to fully take on this responsibility of being an activist. Another thing that influenced my decision to proceed forward was the fact that, in these spaces advocating for change, I only saw white faces, rarely any people of color. If I’m lucky probably three black women. On a blue moon, one black man.
Being vulnerable for the sake of others, I became consumed with the feminist movement as an ally. I weaponized my poetry to call out people and call myself out without self-healing. I had forgotten my roots and where I came from in Los Angeles. The type of education I was receiving in college, I did not get in high school. The tools were not there.
My introduction to high school, literally the first day before classes started, was misogyny. A bully, approached me randomly, pointed to a fellow classmate, and said, “Hey Siders, get that red haired bitch to suck your dick.” She heard him, turned around, glared at both of us, then continued about her business. I had no idea what was going o, or what had just taken place. I just knew that was the common behavior that was around me during my high school years.
The misogyny in the community was aggressive and I had taken part through entitlement. Being the “nice guy.” A woman I was interested in at the time confided in me that she was emotionally and physically abused. During that time, I thought if I was there for her then I can be with her, which was and is an extremely disgusting way of thinking.
Being some years removed from high school, I see some still carry the same mentality. Before my Junior year of college, I went to a Hip Hop release party and ran into some old friends. They asked what type of activism I was getting into. I was scared of saying the “F” word—feminism. So I said Black Lives Matter. The response I received was, “Oh that’s dope. Glad there’s a black man out here speaking on that real shit and none of that feminist gay shit. Niggas out here dying everyday by police, killing each other, and it’s a shame.” Not knowing how to respond, I walked away.
Looking back, my anger was misdirected when I spoke to someone that genuinely did not understand patriarchal constructs. My anger clouded my personal battles. It became a scapegoat. However on the other side of the same coin, it does not excuse the lack of empathy, and personal responsibility to educate ourselves on the matter that affects millions across the world, not just our loved ones.
For about 80 percent of my journey, I did not grasp the full understanding of what it meant to be an activist, an ally, to stand in solidarity. Being engulfed with my internal struggles I did not give the movement the proper respect it deserves by taking time out to educate myself. On my own I started problems with university police over campus safety after hearing about several stories of sexual assault going unreported. I generalized the Greek system over hearsay. I damn near started a war with a fraternity. I started problems with the president of the university, and my own friends. I literally put people in harm’s way for the “greater good.”
I became a target. I got death threats. I got falsely accused of sexual harassment & violence. Being vulnerable for others became 10 times more dangerous. A majority of the people I thought I could trust suddenly became enemies. It’s like my art, my poetry, had built a prison for myself. The more I wrote, the deeper the hole became. You could still see it in my appearance, the way I spoke off-stage or outside a meeting or classroom, something was horrendously wrong.
My final year of undergrad, in 2016, I bounced around from meeting to meeting taking on every debacle, from classroom micro-aggressions to racial profiling and urging the president to be more present with the students on campus. These frustrations led to me cussing out the dean of students, the vice president, and the president in front of hundreds of people in a poem I performed at a graduation ceremony. According to some in attendance, my legacy is a “polarizing controversial artist.” Instead of responding, I reacted. That action burned several bridges between me and a few individuals I looked up to. To those negatively affected, I sincerely apologize.
“If necessary, a man should live with a hurting heart rather than a closed one. He should learn to stay in the wound of pain and act with spontaneous skill and love even from that place.”
—Way of the Superior Man
Habits & Contradictions – Blessed
Nowadays, when I reflect back with mentors, some feel I was justified in my emotions to be disrespectful. I held so much anger & hate in my soul, I was willing to take down anyone and anything because I felt myself going down. That’s not me. The proceeding years after college, mid 2016 to the end of 2017, I stayed in the area knowing I was literally putting myself in danger. This place is a second home. Working two campus jobs and barely affording rent, I bounced from house to house, to closets, basements, garages, homeless, all for once again, being there for others and ignoring myself. It took for me to damn near lose everything to see the end of the tunnel.
I lost a best friend, got racially profiled, got set-up, lost one of my jobs, was sexually assaulted at my second job, and got falsely accused of sticking up for a predator. Due to being falsely accused of doing something again, some attempted to invalidate all the work I had done for the CSUMB and Monterey community. That killed my self-esteem, especially since I had sacrificed to contribute to the positivity and growth in a community I had loved and am proud to call home. The fact that this had come from individuals I loved dearly stung even more. At times, I feel it’s a little disturbing to call a place that causes so much turmoil, home.
Letting loved ones down is something I always have trouble with. Dealing with someone’s intensity surrounding a disappointment, 9 times out of 10 causes me to cry and take it personally. A little homie of mine compared me to the comic book superhero, Luke Cage. A foster youth said I done some “MLK shit” in relation to performing at the graduation ceremony. A mentor compared me to Tupac as a performer and the messages that was coming through on stage. The love I was receiving is something I never experienced before. There was an enormous amount of pressure to be something positive, as a negative individual. In this case of feeling as if I let my community down I thought it would be best to no longer to be an activist and provide a service to the Monterey community. It cut deep. I was ready to give up everything.
What kept me going was this little open mic in downtown Monterey called East Village. I honestly do not know what it was, but I sensed I could be vulnerable with my pieces and talk to people more in-depth with my emotions. Unfortunately, even at this safe haven, I was unable to escape the realities of racism. I received comments from audience members saying that I had won the weekly poetry slams because I was “black and angry.” That my poetry is not poetry because I sound like a rapper by applying techniques to rhyme schemes, diction, and my voice.
While attending East Village, I met two artists who were living out of their Volkswagen Beetle. Only within a matter of a couple weeks, we built up trust and opened up to one another. We supported one another through giving each other food, company, money etc. We were all we had.
After surviving those trial,s something clicked to where I really needed to put myself in more situations where I could flourish mentally and emotionally. I hit the reset button by moving back home to Los Angeles. I finally got out of the tunnel.
I used to (and sometimes still do) yearn for the mythological “normal” life. A life where everything is linear with a few bumps in the road, but no tunnels. Though if things appeared normal, there would be no guarantee that I would obtain the same knowledge, have the same perspectives and outlook on life currently. Remaining in a strange odyssey is something to be grateful for.
Returning home, I still bare a heavy heart full of hate. I have to shift my attitude. This is the tunnel I am currently in. Learning to love unconditionally and utilizing that to fuel my vulnerability. For example, currently I am getting into gender queer modeling. To love my plus size body, to love my skin, to be sensual, to be human. To be accepting of my pansexuality.
When I go back to some of the photos, I get emotional and think how much of a beautiful man I am and will evolve to be. I am getting to the point to see I am not only enough, but more for myself.
Flower Boy – Foreword
Treating yourself with kindness & love means you will have to cut out those that negatively affect your shine. The past year alone, I cut out a lot of people, but still love from afar. I have love for my old best friend, the person that falsely accused me, my old “enemies.” I wish them the best in the future, and I hope their vision for their lives manifests exactly how they would like it to become.
Despite still going to war with my PTSD symptoms and issues with processing affection, earlier this year I managed to establish a unique connection with someone. I can honestly say it is the first time in a long while, I felt as if I am me, and developing a better version of myself.
Over the years, it’s been difficult to establish a genuine connection with someone on platonic or romantic levels, out of fear that someone would believe that I think I am entitled to them. For example, during undergrad, an old high school friend asked if I was only a feminist to flirt with women or seek more. That’s not the case whatsoever. I caught feelings for many, and the majority will never know how I felt. I am very cautious not to abuse the power and trust given by my community. From a role model’s standpoint, I simply desire to be a decent human being that follows through with set boundaries set and consent.
However, when it comes to intimacy on a physical level, I tend to hit a wall in the dark tunnel. My experience with sexual assault and being falsely accused cause me to be apprehensive to touching. Hearing a partner or someone say, “No, I do not want that,” is soul crushing, due to the simple fact that someone is uncomfortable and feels violated.
Regarding the individual I was connected to, they expressed that when sex is the topic of discussion, they would feel awkward. The word “awkward” triggered me into thinking they were uncomfortable and that I made them feel less than. My PTSD triggered and I was shaking; unable to get out of my bed for a couple days. This is where I’ve identified I need to do better by loving myself unconditionally, as mistakes can and will occur. Forgiving yourself is one of the most powerful tools to healing. In addition to learning about forgiving self, thanks to a new friend, I am starting my journey on tantra healing to combat my apprehensiveness and anxiety regarding touching.
With my words and art, I now focus on humanizing myself, putting different life mistakes to paper to gain an understanding of where it stems from. I have also written multiple books showcasing the funny and jubilant side of my life. Upon writing, criticism of others and their perception of me would come to mind. My brothers from ShadowsOfSociety definitely helped with me blocking out the noise, proceed to develop the best person I can possibly be for myself, and live my truth.
I told myself no matter where I’m at in life I have the power to control my decisions, my environment, and my mind. It starts with the vulnerability of being honest with self. Vulnerability is dangerous, yet beautiful at the same time.
Kingdom Come – Prelude
Featured photo by Kim (@Fleekmasterk via instagram); Hair/Makeup By: Denesha Age (@youneedfab via instagram)