InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each month ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This month ELIXHER spotlights 32-year-old Marsha Philitas, founder of The Trifecta Tribe, an organization based in New York City that offers sacred retreats and life coaching to queer women of color.
ELIXHER: Who is Marsha?
MARSHA: To give the census version, I would say that I am a queer, Haitian American, Christian-identified female. To go beyond the census labels, I am someone who is really concerned with [and deeply committed to] helping people to know that they are truly loved and entitled to love.
ELIXHER: Tell us a little bit about Marsha the life coach.
MARSHA: That’s something I feel like I’ve been doing for a long time without the title. Growing up I feel as though my friends always looked to me as that person. They would say, “Marsha I’m dealing with such and such” and for some reason they always expected me to have this fair, overall perspective on what they were going through. I have always been the person my peers came to, just for a less judgmental, more balanced view of their issues and their situation and people just always came to me for advice. I feel like it’s something that I’ve done informally for an incredibly long time. [Professionally] I lived and worked at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for two years and learned that life coaching was actually a career, that people actually did this for real, and the minute I heard about it, it was like [a lightbulb went off]. That’s what I’ve been doing forever. After it just seemed like a natural fit to go and become certified and build a business around something that has been a natural talent of mine for a long time.*
ELIXHER: What is the trifecta and who is the tribe? How did it all come about?
MARSHA: That’s a really good question because the minute I settled on “Trifecta Tribe” as a name I realized that it made a lot of sense to me but that it maybe didn’t make sense to anyone else. “Trifecta” is this word that essentially means three but in the gambling world it’s when you win three games at once. I love that idea for helping to describe the community of Queer Women of Color (QWOC), because we’re on the margin in three major ways: we’re queer, we’re female, and we’re of color. People can use those facts to describe all the ways in which we are other and I love the idea of thinking about how we have “won the game” in three different ways.
For me, it’s the larger game of thinking about what it means to be human in this world and what does it mean to think of your divine self-worth in this world. I think that’s a question that QWOC have to deal with more often than others because of the ways that people like to put us in the margins. To me this is a tribe of people who are, just by virtue of how the world has treated us, thinking about, again, divine self-worth. Why is that important and how do I stay in touch with my divinely inspired self-worth? When I think about “The Tribe” I think about QWOC who are thinking about self-love, self-care and spirituality.
ELIXHER: That’s powerful. Snaps for that.
MARSHA: Thank you.
ELIXHER: You’ve talked a lot about QWOC. Why focus QWOC and not just WOC as a whole?
MARSHA: I think that’s an awesome question because it is really easy to see the work that I’m doing with Trifecta Tribe and apply to women of color in general so it definitely is a venue that speaks to a lot of different people whether you’re QWOC or not. For me it was specifically important to focus on queer women of color because we don’t have a lot of spaces that are specifically for us that are dealing with this issue. There are so many places that deal with self-love and self-care that, when you look at the poster girl for those places it’s usually a middle class white woman. I don’t think that’s been done with any sense of maliciousness or with the intent of being exclusive, however, they have been exclusive by accident. You’re looking at these sites and these events and realize that you’re not being affirmed or celebrated; and that was my experience quite a bit.
As someone who walked in the yoga world, walked in the buddhist world, walked in all these spiritual spaces and realizing I had to be the one once again speaking for QWOC and be the one that said, “No my partner is female, and sometimes my partner could be male but they’re not right now.” To be honest, I focused on QWOC from a social justice perspective but also from the perspective of a person who was frustrated because I have been frustrated with my experiences in the self-love world. I realized that I could either wait around for someone to create the space I needed or I could create it; so in a lot of ways, yes, this is something that I hope will blossom into a larger movement but it really is coming out being really tired of not being able to be a whole person in these spaces.
ELIXHER: In addition to life coaching you also hold sacred retreats. You just talked about how being Christian and spiritual is a part of who you are. Could you tell us a little bit about that connection between spirituality and sexuality, why that’s important in the work you’re doing?
MARSHA: I think any time you think about identity and who a person is in the world that is a spiritual question in my mind. I think that’s true whether you identify as a god believing religious person or not; even in what I learned about humanist or atheist traditions there is a sense of spirituality when they talk about identity. When I hear people talk about identity I feel like there is an underlying conversation about spirituality and about how you interpret who you are in this larger world. Often time I would hear that underlying conversation happening yet people wouldn’t feel comfortable explicitly naming the spirituality piece. Part of what I’m hoping to do with Trifecta Tribe is give people the space to integrate those aspects of themselves and be able to speak about their sexual identity from a spiritual place.
I think it’s important to realize too when we talk about sexual orientation we’re not just talking about what we do in bed, we’re talking about who we are in the world, we’re talking about a culture and a lens that people are using to interpret their experiences and what better definition for spirituality than that. That lens that you’re using to help you decide who want to connect with or not. So those two things are playing a role in how we are in the world all the time so we might as well bring them both to the table. In terms of leading the sacred retreats, one of the things I think is important to do for QWOC communities is to allow people who are like-minded to be able to meet, see and learn from each other. When I decided to create this business I knew that I wanted the center point to be the opportunity to connect and the opportunity to create community.
ELIXHER: One of our favorite things that you have created is the Trifecta Tribe Manifesto. What was the inspiration behind that?
MARSHA: I thought it was really important to be clear that the Trifecta Tribe is a “we” space and not a “Marsha” space. And that the people involved in the Trifecta Tribe have a way of knowing what the “we” stands for. So it reflects what is important to me but also what I was hearing from people on how the work of the Trifecta Tribe has been resonating with them. The manifesto was my way of making clear statements around what I was hearing from them but myself as well.
ELIXHER: As a life coach, if you could help QWOC to manifest one thing in their lives what it would be?
MARSHA: I think it is crucial for everyone to understand that they are worthy of love and belonging no matter what. I think that’s a little bit beyond what you usually hear in the self-love coaching world, because typically you hear, “Yes, you’re worthy of self-love but here’s what you have to do to get it.” But what I believe is that you could be on your couch 29 days out of 30 not thinking at all about what it means to be a good person in the world and you would still be worthy of love and belonging. That is just something that is intrinsic to being a human being. I think it is especially important for QWOC to understand that, because we never hear it. We’re the ones that are actively hearing another message, that [because of] who we are — because of our sexuality, race, gender — we actually have to prove we deserve to be treated as humans. It’s very hard in the face of that to say that that’s not true. It’s incredibly important for our community to make that belief known.
ELIXHER: You focus a lot on healthy relationships and maintaining one’s self within a relationship. Why is that?
MARSHA: Because healthy relationships are the place where the rubber hits the road in terms of the self-love work. It is relatively easy to say that you love yourself or care for yourself when you’re not in a relationship, romantic or otherwise. When it’s just you in the world and you’re trying to learn how to love yourself that can be relatively easy. But when you actually have to interact with other people, their beliefs, and learn how to take in their criticism, that’s when you really start see whether you truly love and care about yourself. Relationships are these beautiful, amazing mirrors to who we are and if you’re in a relationship with someone who is loving, caring and compassionate, they will call you on your stuff; and they typically are calling you out on things that you wouldn’t know about yourself unless you were in a relationship. It’s an opportunity to really do that deep work to touch on the places that are refusing to hear the self-love message and forcing them out into the light so you can do the work. It’s a really beautiful playground.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Marsha and The Trifecta Tribe?
MARSHA: Well, the next step for Marsha and The Trifecta Tribe is we take over the world. The plan for the end of 2014, beginning of 2015 is training women to be their own Trifecta Tribe retreat leaders in their area. I would love for every community of QWOC, no matter how large or small, to be involved in the conversation of self-love, self-care, and spirituality. I can’t physically be the one going to all of these spaces and I would love it if locally there were these amazing leaders stepping up to say, “I want to lead these conversations for my community.”
Also, coming up this October is our very first Trifecta Tribe Retreat will be held on October 18-20, 2013 in Western, MA.
*Note: Marsha received her official training to become a Life Coach through Souluna Life Coaching.
– Interview by Latishia “Elle” James
Latishia is a self-professed contradiction. A reproductive health and sexuality worker, she is currently a seminarian based in Washington, DC. She is a firm believer in the Divine and is on a quest to bridge the gap between reproductive, sexual and spiritual justice. You will be able to follow her journey soon at “The Purposefully Queer Seminarian.” For now you can follow her insights on Twitter @purposefullylj.