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“Introducing” is an ongoing series in which we ask bloggers, activists, allies, entrepreneurs and assorted Bostonians about their inspirations, motivations, super powers and experiences with street harassment. If you know someone you think we should feature here, please drop us a line!
T.F. Charlton is a former evangelical Christian, recovering academic, spouse to a pink-haired musician, and mama to a wise-cracking 4-year old. She’s the founder of the religion and gender blog Are Women Human?, where she blogs as “Grace,” and a writer and commentator on media and culture from a black, Nigerian American, queer feminist perspective. Her work has been featured in The Guardian, Salon, EBONY.com, and other outlets. Say hi to her on Twitter at @graceishuman.
You write an awesome blog and tweet up a storm on The Twitter – what else are you into? Reading – mostly nonfiction and genre fiction. Fantasy is my favorite fiction genre (almost all of the fiction I’ve read in the past couple years, actually). I also read some sci-fi and, when the mood strikes, mystery/detective novels. The nonfiction I read is mostly sociology, history, that sort of thing.
I love karaoke – like really, really love it. I’m often a homebody, but you don’t need to convince me to come out for karaoke – I’m there. I even took voice lessons for a little while (and did a couple recitals and open mics with my husband, who writes and plays music in his spare time). That was nervewracking, but fun.
Once upon a time (read: before I had a kid) I was really into knitting and yoga. I’d like to get back to that.
Define your style: I like styles that are relatively simple and comfortable, but have a little edge or quirkiness to them. I think my personal style is, for lack of better language, on the “masculine” side of femme. I love the styles featured at tomboyfemme.com. But like other things about my post-evangelical life, expressing that style is something I’m still figuring out. I’ve been thinking about experimenting with more consciously butching up my wardrobe – ties, suspenders, hats, that sort of thing. The main obstacles are my laziness and aversion to shopping, lol. Clothes shopping takes a lot of time and money.
Favorite Boston fact: This is kind of a weird one, but a fact I knew long before I moved to Boston was that the song “Wake Up Little Susie” (The Everly Brothers) was banned in Boston when it came out in 1957, for being too suggestive. I like that fact because it subverts a lot of common narratives – about the “progress” of liberal social mores, and also about Boston as a bastion of liberalism (in fact the song was just one of many creative works banned in Boston over decades – and as recently as 1965). It’s both funny and sobering that a song that we’d think of now as quaint and old-fashioned in its roundabount references to (not having!) sex was considered indecent enough that it was banned by radio stations.
Your favorite place in Boston? I like the usual places – the Museum of Science, Boston Common. I also have to put in a plug for the Collection of Scientific Instruments and the Museum of Natural History at Harvard. I’ve spent a good amount of time in both as a former student in the History of Science prograam. But probably my sentimental favorite is Bamboo, the Thai restaurant just downstairs from our first apartment in Brighton, which is also the apartment where our daughter was born. We were there for four years and the restaurant and the folks who owned it kind of became a fixture for us – they were super excited when our daughter was born and were just really welcoming. And the food was great, too! We should go back sometime.
Have you experienced/witnessed street harassment in Boston? What stood out most in your memory? One that stands out for me happened not long after we moved to Brighton. I wasn’t familiar with the area yet. I was getting off the T at Harvard and Comm Ave. I assumed – wrongly – that the train tracks divided the two directions of traffic, so I looked in the wrong direction before trying to cross. I very nearly got hit by a car going pretty fast – and then the driver, a white guy, yelled at me as he was going by. I don’t remember the exact words, but they definitely included “stupid cunt.” I get that the dude was probably really scared himself. But it really shook me up and made the fact that I’d almost gotten myself seriously injured even more upsetting. Why would those be the words that come to mind when you almost hit someone with your car? And he said it with a vitriol that was really frightening.
Another time I was walking home and a car full of white men pulled up next to me while I was waiting to cross the street. As soon as the light changed the one in the passenger side seat yelled “Smile!” and took my picture. Really, really creepy and unsettling.
I’ve definitely witnessed situations where other women are being harassed – in one case I saw a Black woman down the street from me walking at top speed to get away from a Black man who had followed her across the street to harrass her.
What’s your signature response to street harassment – your go-to Hollaback? The most memorable incidents that have happened to me were both over so quickly that I had no time to respond. In other situations I generally ignore the person harrassing me – avoid eye contact, keep walking. Between having anxiety and being an introvert, I’m not a terribly confrontational person.
Your superpower is… Writing many, many words. There’s nothing that can be said with five words that I can’t say with ten.
The way I think is very big picture, holistic, networked – it’s one of the reasons why I tend to have so many words to say when I write, because my brain is always looking for points of connection between different issues and ideas. It makes being super concise sometimes difficult, but I think it’s also an asset – sometimes I see an unexpected angle or link on an issue that someone else might not see.
Editing – there’s something really satisfying about honing and polishing a piece of writing into its clearest and most effective form. I’m pretty good at it. I also do it on a freelance basis, so if you’re looking for an editor…hit me up!
What are you excited about in 2013? I’m excited about new possibilities. When I started Are Women Human in 2010 it was in part to have a place to write about things that really mattered to me, but I felt like I didn’t have room to talk about in my day-to-day life. I was also frustrated by not seeing much analysis that addressed my particular experiences and perspectives as a Black woman and a feminist who had come out of white evangelical Christianity. I thought maybe if AWH did well, I could someday write for a broader audience on these issues and connect with other people doing similar work.
That’s started to happen for me over the past year. I’ve had some writing opportunities, and it looks like I’ll be doing some part time research on religion and social justice issues this year. I also have a couple book ideas in me, and I’m thinking about working on a book proposal this year.
I’ve also met some amazing people and made wonderful friends through blogging who I’m excited about meeting in person this year (like the amazing and brilliant scatx/Jessica Luther).
What inspires you? Creativity. Cogent, clear writing that distills the essence of something into a few words – writers like Audre Lorde and Dorothy Sayers had this skill. They could write a sentences that had so much truth and power and clarity to it that I could almost feel the impact tangibly. I just read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time and got the same feeling from a lot of it – just breathtaking sentences packed with so much insight into human experience and nature.
I’m inspired by the power of words to create connection. There’s something really powerful about seeing yourself in someone else’s words, and someone seeing themselves in yours.That’s the magic of words – they can speak truths (and lies) into being. They can help us do the work of self-exploration, of validation, or healing. They can make us feel less alone.
My partner has been a huge inspiration and encouragement. I’m prone to second-guessing myself, and he’s always affirmed my interests and intuitions. He encouraged me to start blogging, and he’s been super supportive of my writing endeavors and trying new things in really concrete ways.
If you could leave the world one piece of advice, what would it be? It’s the same advice I would give myself – be present. Our daughter has this book “What Does It Mean to be Present?” that a friend of ours got her as a birthday gift – it’s all about practicing being mindful of what’s going on around us, seeing the people and world around us clearly and being engaged. It ends with the statement that if everyone learned to be present, the world would be a much better place. I think there can be a lot of privilege involved in this kind of advice, but I also think that a lot of us who have time to pause, to be reflective, to listen, to really be engaged in what we’re doing and what impact it has often don’t take the time to do that. It’s something I’m trying to improve in myself.
And for folks who grew up like I did in highly controlling religious communities and families – I think one thing I really wish I’d realized when I was younger is that these communities work by making young people especially internalize “the rules” to the point where even in situations where we have some options available to us, we feel like we have no choices. It took me until I was 25 (and not coincidentally – a new mother with someone else to advocate for besides myself) to realize that I could tell my parents no, and really I was in a position to set boundaries with them many years before then. I just didn’t know it. It’s definitely come with a cost- but it’s also been worth it. So I guess my advice is really think about whether you, as an adult, have to do what your church/parents/whomever say – sometimes the answer is yes, you do, because the costs are too high. But maybe not always.
Thank you so much, Grace!
image credit: Are Women Human?
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