Monday, March 11, 2013

Happy Couple Highlight: Julia & Alexis

Partners: Julia Roxanne Wallace and Alexis Pauline Gumbs from North Carolina
How long have you been together?  This is our 5th year together!

How did you get together/meet? Julia: Alexis was on a dissertation research fellowship in Atlanta when the two of us met at several different literary and activist events.  Alexis introduced herself to me at a Quirky Black Girls cookout during Atlanta’s Black Gay Pride Festival and, a few weeks later, I asked Alexis on a date after a fundraising house party for Critical Resistance.

What was the initial attraction?
Alexis: I thought Julia was super cute on first sighting, but it was during our first date when she described her work to end capitalism as a multimedia artist and community builder that I fully swooned!  Julia: As I got to know Alexis more I understood very quickly that she is what I was looking for in a partner and a friend.

What was so attractive about her work? What did that tell you about her? Alexis: We were at a “For Sisters Only” expo. As we were walking through the booths, Julia shared about her project, Queer Renaissance. She talked about how to create a world that honors the gifts of all people and values the lives of all people by centering LGBTQ people of color. She did not just have lofty ideals; she had specific plans and programs for how we could move in that direction as a community. Her faith, brilliance and passion resonated for me. The future that she spoke about was the future I envisioned. It’s the type of future that I want for our kids. I want my life to be full of bravery, faith, vision and passion. And, that’s Julia. That was attractive to me. The idea of being with a person who was also a visionary, constantly in the process of looking at what is and envisioning what could be was very attractive to me.

Julia: I had been revising the list for my divinely perfect partner for years. I listed the important attributes of this person in detail and even meditated on her with a name,  “Pauline.” As I got to know Alexis I found that she had all of the great qualities on the list and her middle name was Pauline. I knew it was the universe responding to the intention I set with my full being!

Julia, what were those attributes that you hoped for? Julia: I hoped for a woman with natural aesthetic. For example, natural hair seemed an indicator of a certain way of thinking and valuing your own beauty. I wanted my potential partner to be able to have a job or vocation that allows travel or allowed them to move around freely. I didn’t want her to be tied to a job that controlled her time. I intended for her to: dance with me and have rhythm, always be eager to learn, be a woman of color, be smaller than me, lovingly hold me accountable, support my growth. I was very specific because what would it say about my faith if I limited my vision.

What would you say is the key to the success of your relationship?
Julia: Establishing individual balance and knowing what you want and need in your partnership are important first steps.

Many people don’t know what they need, how were you sure about your relationship wants and needs? Alexis: That was an evolving process, and some of it was trial and error. Past relationships reveal what works and what doesn’t works. That gives you clarity. My own journey of self-love was important too. Our insights about how we love ourselves helps teach other people how to love us. I would say – analyze what you want and don’t want. And take more opportunities to learn about yourself. Julia: I agree with Alexis. It is an intentional process. You can learn from all of your relationships – parents, friends, mentors, etc.

Alexis: Communication, sweetness, inspiration, patience and collaboration are the keys to the success in our relationship.   We know we have the opportunity to choose the way we relate to each other, so we choose to relate to each other with sweetness and love.  We also know that our ancestors have brought us together for a powerful purpose, so we honor our ancestors by honoring each other.

Can you share more about your ancestors bringing you together? Alexis: My belief is that my ancestors are guiding and blessing me all of the time. My ancestors know what I need to accomplish my purpose. They give me confidence to do that work. Our ancestors have brought us together to do important things in our communities. By honoring Julia as an individual,  I honor our ancestors for giving us an opportunity to make miracles together. It is sacred work – loving ourselves, loving our ancestors and loving each other.

Discuss how you deal with and face challenges that might come up in your relationship?
Alexis: We deal with challenges as a team.  The outside world has lots of challenges to throw at a young queer black couple of full-time artist visionaries.  Some of those challenges are social and financial and some are due to other forms of oppression.  We support each other through those challenges.  When disagreements come up between us we communicate with love, even if we have feelings of frustration or anger.  Sometimes we use music, poetry and even dance to communicate where we are coming from.
 Julia: We are fortunate to KNOW we have a wealth of resources at our disposal to engage challenges. We can watch and/or ask friends and elders. We can consult books or online resources. We can pray and  just pay attention to the solutions that present themselves. Sometimes just learning from other people's mistakes is a great resource when facing a challenge. Challenges are an opportunity to grow.

What does communicating with love look like? Julia: Recognizing that you have a choice at every moment to choose the words and actions you take. You have a choice even when you feel justified to be mean or respond harshly. You have a choice to be compassionate and loving toward your partner regardless of their behavior or your circumstances. Often the thing that starts an argument is very small. Choosing to engage with compassion and tenderness is important. It is a choice to give them understanding when they are where they are; when they are frustrated, grouchy, or hungry. We tend to do that well for a child why not do it for your partner?

Alexis: Communicating with love is sometimes the words you use, but it is also giving some silence. That’s something that is challenging. But sometimes the most generous and loving thing is to offer silence to let each other move through the emotions of the moment. Sometimes it is good to wait until you get to a better place before you talk.  Leaving a disagreement is not something we would recommend for an extended period of time because then resentment could build. But giving a moment so you can take a deep breath and feel the emotion is important.

How do you know when to use different forms of communication with each other? Julia:
We have a “by every means necessary approach”. You need to realize that words are sometimes inadequate. It is just like you using strategic planning in your job. You have to ask yourself – what is my goal and how do I achieve my goal. If we are talking about something that is already heavy, why not try to find a different approach to make it more light?  Alexis: I agree with Julia. That comes out of who we are as creative people. If things are complicated, regular conversations just will not do. There is always a way to relate. You have to find what works for you.

What role does spirituality play in your relationship?
Alexis: During our relationship we both have had a huge amount of spiritual growth.  Julia is right now in her initiation year on her path to become an Ifa priest and also draws on her upbringing as a Baptist PK (Preacher’s Kid).  Julia: Alexis is reclaiming the wisdom of Shinnecock ancestors and adding those practices to her work as a Black feminist love evangelist.   We consider our relationship itself as prayer in practice and ancestor reverence in the best sense.

What role does sensuality play in your relationship?
Alexis: We practice sensuality and sexuality as a way to practice liberation, a way to unlearn the internalized oppression that society has put on our bodies.  We find our sensuality healing and affirming.  We literally make love and that love nurtures our relationship to each other and also our relationships to our communities and our spiritual practices. Julia: Communicating with our senses is one of our primary forms of communication. We have senses for a multitude of reasons. I say use them all to express yourself, especially your love.

Love that you view sensuality and sexuality as practice of liberation. Can you share more? Alexis: Our bodies can be a major site of oppression. We are told that our bodies are wrong. We hold shame and blame in our bodies.  It is healing to practice love as liberation.  The experience of being loved and being in love, and trusting that the desires of my body are safe and affirmed pushes back against what society has taught me about my body and my very being not being “right”. Trusting that I am right, divine in intimate space is a way of learning who I am again.  It is a space to tap into that knowledge and that’s profoundly healing and liberating.  I can create joy with my body and with my partner and we affirm each other’s bodies and each other. It is a way to be really present. When we know what that feels like, we won’t settle for anything less.  We can walk around every day in the world remembering what it feels like in our bodies to be completely divine.

What advice would you give to other couples?
Julia: We would remind all couples, like we remind ourselves, to remember that you have the opportunity to choose to honor your partner in every moment.  You can choose to honor the love that you experience with the sweetness, consideration and care that you are capable of.   It is important to support your partner in their growth and know that as each person grows you can grow together and stay fresh and ecstatic in your love!

Love is choice and honoring your partner is a choice. How do you make sure you stay committed to that choice? Julia: Being accountable to your partner and being confident in your commitment to love. Your partner has the power and right to reflect back to you when you are not being loving, kind, etc. Alexis is good at gently correcting me if I am getting worked up in inappropriate ways and I appreciate and respect that. She is on my side and I am on hers.

Alexis: By being present and making choices. By doing my spiritual work so that I have the capacity to do the work and to make the choice. For example, if you are tired, you might not have the capacity to make sure that you are considerate, present and compassionate. Every morning I get up early to  write a poem – it is my version of morning coffee, my prayer. That gives me the capacity to stay present. That gives me freedom because I have done those things that make me me first. When I get up early, I don’t have to negotiate and navigate for anything or anybody so it makes it easy for me to do that. That way I don’t feel like I am depriving myself. Writing poetry and dance are important to me to do everyday and as long as that happens I find myself able to be considerate of other people’s emotions, needs and processes all day long.

Julia: Walking in an amazing relationship all of the time makes it easy to make the choice. Being with someone where you can be who you need to be and do what you need to do makes it easier to relate to a person with compassionate, grace and tenderness. I have that with Alexis and I realize that she is a gift. It is a gift to be exuberantly loved for who you are everyday.

What has your relationship taught you most about yourself?
Alexis: This experience of being loved unconditionally and fully has given me permission to love myself better. To take care of myself better and to be more generous with myself.

How are you taking care of yourself better? Alexis: Being loved by Julia has taught me to be more compassionate with myself. For example, Julia says feed yourself like somebody loves you. I know that I wouldn’t allow someone that I love to eat popcorn all day, so I feed myself better. Many times I will cook for others, but not for myself. Julia has helped me with that. Being with Julia has allowed me to love others better too. Since I am experiencing profound love, it makes it easier to love others. I feel so blessed because Julia has taught me to love as a practice.

Julia: The experience of partnering romantically and creatively with Alexis has taught me the power of intention. I consistently and strategically developed my character and the practice of my purpose to be ready for an excellent companion and collaborator. The biggest lesson and gift is that she exists and chooses to walk in love with me. By extension, I can set standards and intentions for our relationship and every area of life while consistently and strategically pursuing their tranifestation (transform + manifest). Lesson!

What have you learned from each other? Julia: A “do it now” approach. I have a lot of ideas and intentions to make things happen. Alexis has a “do it now” approach. It is a way that she raises the standards of what I can get done. She models that even in the way she loves me. I have learned about Black Feminism and the legacies of Black women and Black lesbians living and loving one another and their communities throughout history. Alexis: Julia is the “king of the bright side”. She has taught me and is teaching me that there is an amazing side of everything, and that even our challenges are opportunities for a miracle.

What word or vision describes/characterizes your love? Alexis: Expansive. This love is so powerful that it feels infinite and feels that there is space for me to be me. It feels bigger than me - even in the way that it manifests. It is like the ocean and a sky filled with stars. Julia: Evidence. Whatever faith I have, this relationship grows it. Whatever I dream but have not yet gathered the audacity to even try to realize it, this partnership transforms me and the world around me to actualize it. To me Alexis’s very existence is proof of magic, miracles and the divine among us.
Learn more about Alexis and Julia and their work.

Interviewed by Minister SharRon Jamison

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