Healing and Community
(Originally published by Church of the United Community, 1996)
At one of the recent sessions of Brother-to-Brother (Black Men’s Healing Circle), we were taking up the topic of sex addiction. Reggie was the first one to speak and he is relatively new to the circle. He explained that he has been with over 1,500 women, and that he believes he is sex addicted. He has been working on his issues for the last three months, and this has led him to maintain faithfulness to his partner for this time. “That’s fifty or sixty women that I passed up — normally in a three month period I would be with fifty or sixty women….” He is saying this to ten or twelve other beings with human brains, so naturally no one is taking him too seriously, right?
The next person to share was Vern, who was also relatively new to the group: “I can identify with you, Brother, because I can’t get by unless I have ten or twelve women going at the same time. I definitely got a problem….”
Black men suffer from sex addiction across the board. As children we are sexualized by the dominant culture. It is very much underestimated how much incest and sexual molestation Black male youth suffer, especially in early childhood. Men who talk like this have universally been sexually abused in childhood. We are taught that our self worth is related to how many women we have, and to how well we can satisfy these many women.
When we say “sex addicted,” we do not mean “too much sex.” Sex addiction has to do, first of all, with the meaning we attach to our behavior and with the power we give to things sexual. Therefore, in this case, there is an inappropriate or unhealthy power given by these men to the concept, “I’ve had one thousand women….” There is some power associated with what this means to us — what it means for our Brothers to believe that we have had this many women. To us it means acceptance. When you are being raped as a child, the fear of being killed is close to the experience. In other words, the sense that in order to avoid being killed one must succumb to this abuse, leads to the belief or value that if I am sexual at the will of this other person I will live, I will be accepted.
A few of us in the circle this day had spent years consciously working towards owning our healthy sexuality. The sharing on this topic then necessarily, from the recovery standpoint, takes the form of working out of the present moment: “I feel such and such a way right now. What I do with these feelings is process them. This is how I process them….” “I am in a committed relationship today.” “I am working towards being in a committed relationship today…. This is what I’m having a hard time with at the moment in this relationship….” The sharing does not take the form of comparing to others in the group; it does not have the air of the “healthy person” versus those who are not. The sharing is not self-righteous; it is not a lecture on how to be a “good man.” Anyone who is doing serious work on these deep seeded patterns such as co-dependency, love addiction, etc., knows that self-righteousness is grandiose because addiction and compulsion are very powerful. They emanate from earliest childhood training in sick households in a sick society. They originate from the experience of our ancestors which we inherit when we are born. Once we become self-righteous — “I’m an expert on this topic, and I have no problem” — we have become grandiose, we have lost sense of how close we are to being lost in our addictive, self-abusive process; we are setting ourselves up for relapse.
After a couple of us shared on how we are getting through this day in a sober and life-affirming way, the conversation went back to what I call “bragging.” My sixteen year old son uses the term “gay” to mean stupid, or bad, or deranged. When someone does something he doesn’t like or of which he does not approve he says, “you’re gay.” I’ve been explaining to him that when he gets with the fellas and they talk about exploits with girls, especially when it drifts into the discussion of exploits with “bitches,” they are trying to impress each other sexually. This society co-relates sexuality with escape from self, abuse and negation. “To the extent that you and your friends [and these men in the Men’s Circle] are trying to sexually impress each other, to that degree are you participating in ‘gay’ activity with each other.” In my childhood it was called a “circle jerk.” If a man wants to be sexual with a woman, one starting point is to talk about things sexual with a woman. If one is interested in being sexual with men, then one will talk about sex with these men…. Langston, my oldest son, hasn’t quite resonated with this logic yet….
After more than half the men in the circle had spoken it was Moises’ turn. Moises is from Haiti and his English is semi-intelligible. He told us that he hadn’t been with a woman in two years. He told us about his recent experience of what sounded like being picked up by a woman in the local square. He told us that this woman brought him home. She fed him, and then took him to bed. Once in bed he failed to take off his clothes, and, he told us, he did not touch this woman. When morning came, Moises got up to leave. The woman stopped him demanding: “Excuse me, what is wrong with you? I bring you home, feed you, take you to bed. You don’t take off your clothes and you don’t even touch me. What’s your problem?”
Moises told us what he told this woman: “I come from Haiti. In my country we organize and we elect a new president. The military did not like this, so they came to my village and they go door-to-door killing all the men. So, my family [which is the extended family of the village] decided that I must escape, which I did. I came here with my little brother… [Moises is 30 years old and his little brother is fourteen]. When I get here they take my little brother away and jail me. [The Department of Social Services (DSS) did this. Moises spoke no English at the time and could not defend himself at the DSS hearing.]”
Moises told the woman and us, “I love my wife. I have not seen my wife in two years. I want to be with her. I don’t want to have sex with anyone else. I want my little brother back….”
The purport of our Healing Circle, the entire purpose and meaning, comes from the lessons of our ancestors. There is no healing outside the context of the circle. There is no individual health outside of the context of the health of the community, the health of our people. Healing and community have identity with each other. That is to say that the existence of one is conditioned upon the existence of the other.
In one session Moises got across what others of us do not have the ability to do. He showed that because he is a fighter for his people in the middle of a liberation movement his sense of self, and therefore his sense of his wife and other family is qualitatively different from many of us living outside of the struggle of our people. Moises is fighting for the liberation of his people. It flows naturally that he is fighting for his wife. He is fighting for himself and his little brother. He is fighting for the people of his village. In this context, Moises’ sense of devotion to his wife has unconquerable power.
Reggie and Vern are living under conditions that have much in common with those under which Moises is living. What the Tonton Macoute (the Haitian paramilitary trained by the CIA and Pentagon) does to people of their own nationality is being done in drive-by shootings by members of rival dope dealing businesses here in African American communities. This type of what the Eritreans call “anti-national” behavior seems more widespread here in the U.S. The illness has sunk deeper roots. In Haiti there is cocaine and crack which have recently been introduced by the U.S. military or their conduits, the Macoute. In the U.S. the military does not need to come in and kill people. We are doing it to each other. It is part of the fabric of our culture; it has become part of our way of life.
And then in Haiti there is the Lavalas Movement, there is the liberation movement — a movement adhered to by the every-day Haitian like Moises. Our liberation movement does not have a presence like this right now. Brothers like Reggie and Vern do not have a sense of belonging to a greater community to which they owe their lives.
When Moises was talking, the usual crosstalk, advice giving and the like, the usual transgression of the guidelines for the group’s discourse ceased. No one was trying to tell Moises how to handle this situation. In this one session Moises got over to the group what others of us had been trying to get through for months with little success in most cases. When I say that Moises accomplished something that we African Americans in the circle were unable to accomplish, it is not because Moises is “more healthy” than others of us who have been struggling for clarity and righteousness for years. It is a White cultural trait to go to comparison rather than identification, to look at things from the point of view of higher versus lower, rather than seeing each instance as a point in the 360 degrees of the circle of our ways. What I mean when I say he accomplished what we had been unable to do is that the community that Moises is coming out of is conscious of itself. We cannot act beyond the context of our people. Were we to say the exact same words as Moises it would not register because it comes from a different context. And this is part of the meaning of liberation movements supporting each other. There are certain things that we absolutely must learn from other peoples in struggle. We cannot liberate ourselves in total isolation from other struggling oppressed peoples. Healthy self depends on healthy community. Under imperialist rule healthy self depends on being connected to the liberation movement of your people.
As a footnote to this story, the group’s facilitator, in the capacity of Moises’ counselor, and backed by the Brother-to-Brother Black Men’s Healing Circle, of which Moises is a longtime member in good standing, wrote a threatening letter to the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) explaining the history of U.S. military involvement in Moises’ country, and paralleling that history with the treatment which Moises received from the state DSS. DSS responded within a few weeks by sending Moises’ little brother back to him after nearly two years of forced estrangement. % 5E���]