What happens when two Black queer women sell all their possessions, quit their cozy careers, and decide to drive across the country in an RV?! Find out in ELIXHER’s new column, QTWoC Chronicles, where Tabia and Mimie Lisenbee-Parker of Purpose.Driven.Love. document their physical, emotional and spiritual journey. Get an intimate look into their lives and lessons around love and intentionality.
By Tabia Lisenbee-Parker
“The greatest demonstration of power and security is to actually make oneself defenseless, to become as comfortable with one’s weaknesses as possible.” – Mark Manson, authorWhen I shared with my wife, Mimie, that I would be positioning vulnerability as a privilege in our column this month, I had no idea that I would be uncovering the core of what I intended on exploring. We spoke briefly about the wild, and likely unpopular, comparison to more widely known privileges like those pertaining to being white and/or male, being educated and/or financially well-off, or speaking a language native to the country where you live. She mentioned that there could be some discrepancy around intersecting the idea of vulnerability with the idea of privilege because the concepts are theoretically on opposing sides …privilege being associated with power/dominance, and vulnerability with susceptibility/submission. “Exactly!”… I said. My urge to dig deeper into this intersection is due to that presumed separation, and I’m pretty certain that it can’t be covered in 1,000 words or less.
My journey towards understanding vulnerability and becoming “a whole-hearted person” as scholar Brené Brown would say started long before our yearlong honeymoon around the country. It honestly started before meeting Mimie, I just hadn’t realized it until recent years. One of the biggest lessons learned from living so closely with my partner is how much our individual experiences collectively filter the scope we use to shape our perceptions of the world and people around us. Becoming familiar with our own vulnerability and that of others is what leads to newer (and maybe fewer) layers for our thoughts and feelings to pass through. Often times we subconsciously choose to partner with people who can fill in the places that remained void after our childhood. Once I accepted that theory my approach to the health of my relationship shifted significantly. I knew that in order to have my emotional pot holes repaired and not just temporarily patched, I had to start with my very first love relationship…the one with my mother.
“I recognized the power I drew from believing in my concept enough to offer it up and my preparedness for feedback, good or bad. Building fear around possibility is stifling. Leaping without the guarantee of a net beneath you is
crazycourageous, and criticism–when offered and received constructively–fuels innovation.”
I won’t go into the details of our ebbs and flows, nor the serious work is has taken and will continue to take in order to build a more whole-hearted relationship with my mother. What I will share is that I found the answer to all of my questions regarding why I didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t feel things during one of our hard talks several months ago. I asked her what vulnerability meant to her. After a short hesitation she simply replied “weakness.” Well damn, I thought. Admittedly I felt let off the hook a bit about my past approach to feelings. How could I have properly acknowledged vulnerability within myself and in others if my emotional guide…aka Mother… defined it as weakness?
Then a moment later I put myself onto a brand new hook…one that made me even more responsible for my choices because now I knew better. This hook also allowed me to really see my mother, this time as a daughter who never had this conversation with her mother. She’s lived 60+ years without a healthy practice of expressing her desires, doubts, fears, passions, etc. With more examination I saw the same pattern of behavior in many of the adults in my family, especially the paternal side. Although I thought I had already forgiven her for mistakes she’ll never apologize for, my mother’s answer further liberated me from the expectations and judgments I didn’t know I still had.
I actually had to break my own heart. Realizing that I wasn’t who I thought I was, and then ending my relationship with that version of myself was extremely heartbreaking…yet essential to earning the privilege of vulnerability. Having privilege means having power, and because I believe that a tremendous amount of power lies in the courage it takes to be transparent, non-judgmental of yourself and others, honest, and connected, I associate vulnerability with privilege. As a Black-queer-woman-artist I have an inherent fear of criticism and an obsession with perfection. Quite a combination, right? Pinging back to sharing the topic of this piece with my wife, I hesitated to go into detail with her about my position on vulnerability because of my fear of criticism, her familiarity with my journey, and my belief that she would have trouble discussing the concept objectively. Filters, remember? Those are just a sprinkle of mine. After I shared, and after she critiqued my theory, I recognized the power I drew from believing in my concept enough to offer it up and my preparedness for feedback, good or bad. Building fear around possibility is stifling. Leaping without the guarantee of a net beneath you is
crazy courageous, and criticism–when offered and received constructively–fuels innovation. The power is in the risk and not the outcome. That power, harnessed and targeted, will combat any fear your brain can manifest.
My vulnerability and my wife’s look and operate differently, and that’s okay. Regardless of how they look, we are both authentically practicing seeing and being seen. Vulnerability is like a custom-tailored suit (or dress). I’ve failed, and will continue to fail on my search for the right fit for me. There are days when I’m Captain Emo, and other days when I take people breaks. As long as I manage the expectations of the people who those choices affect, the road has fewer bumps. I listen to myself, pay close attention to my work/life balance, and keep my ch’i in tact. The challenge it brings pushes me to continue to do this work. It’s part what makes it so valuable. So valuable that not everyone deserves the chance to be completely exposed to it.
‘The Vulnerables’ seem to have their own privileged species…you feel them before you see them. A Vulnerable will almost always make space for you; someone who is not one, will likely resist. When operating from a vulnerable place, it’s easy to sense when your counterparts are doing the same (or not). Trust plays an important role in that because vulnerability cannot be accomplished alone. You need connection and more and more opportunities to establish a pattern of trust with the people in your life. For example, Mimie has no fear in asking for help. I had (still have at times) major anxiety around the same thing. Camping full-time is absolutely fulfilling for the spirit, but not so much for the pockets. Without her courage to just ring up a family member (blood or chosen) and ask for help, I don’t know how we would’ve made it. They even brought us Thanksgiving dinner last year, y’all…so incredible.
I am thrilled by the new clarity and flexibility of my feelings and thoughts, the boundaries they support, and my ability to communicate all of that, or my intentional decisions not to. See, the way our interconnectivity is set up, heavily influenced by our relationships, media, and social media, is the perfect setting for second-guessing to breed. We have so much access to each other, and so many opportunities/platforms to formulate our opinions of people regardless of how much or how little we know about them. When we subscribe to reckless use of that opportunity, the flaw is in our character, not the folks whose lives we dissect from a distance. Reality TV is successful because most of them thrive off of the judgment of viewers…they bank (literally) on our criticism. Eras of R&B singers used to affirm those they desired and beg and plead in an effort to earn their love. Now, they affirm themselves and brag about having their pick(s) of the litter. I’m not hatin’, I’m just sayin’…if you base your value on how many bottles you can buy, my guess is that vulnerability is not at the forefront of your mind. Not yet anyway. It’s not for everyone.
Even though it’s still not widely encouraged, I’m excited to see that vulnerability is fighting back against extinction. It may seem idealistic, but having a more connected and vulnerable society could just change the game.
Purpose.Driven.Love. is a personal movement designed around living ON purpose and loving intentionally. Follow Tabia and Mimie as they embark on an epic adventure across North America to discover a life filled with more of less. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PurposeDrvnLv and on Twitter @PurposeDrvnLv.
*Photos Courtesy of Tabia Lisenbee-Parker