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Feminists We Love: Van Bailey - The Feminist Wire

Feminists We Love: Van Bailey

Van Bailey HeadshotDr. Van Bailey is the inaugural director of the Office of BGLTQ Student Life at Harvard College. He was the assistant director for education at the University of California, San Diego, from 2010-2012. Dr. Bailey has overseen and implemented educational outreach programs at the Resource Center. Dr. Bailey has also advised several student organizations, been a liaison on LGBT housing, overseen monthly cultural and identity celebrations, and managed other LGBT-related activities, including incoming student orientation, family day, and a community leaders retreat.

Additionally, Dr. Bailey worked at California State University, Northridge, for three years, first as community director and then as senior community director, responsible for, among other things, supervising resident advisers, coordinating the freshman year experience and faculty steering committee, along with the residential community center, and creating and implementing a residential life LGBT student support caucus.

Dr. Bailey was awarded a doctor of education in educational leadership from CSU-Northridge.  He earned a master of arts from Ohio State University, and a bachelor of arts in black studies and English from Denison University.

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TFW: How did you arrive at feminism or how has feminism shaped your politics, activist work, and intellectual projects?

Dr. Van Bailey (Van): My approach to feminism has always been intergenerational. There have always been lessons from warrior women in my life, starting from my immigrant grandmother to the young women of color who I work with on a day-to-day basis in higher education. As a freshman in college, I knew that there were clear inequalities that women faced. These inequalities were often unnamed and were coupled with notions of insanity. That is to say, it seems that some thought that women act a certain way because they are crazy. I would hear comments like, “don’t listen to her, you know she’s crazy, right?” And in my heart, my identity as an empath allowed me to feel that something wasn’t right. The sisters in my circle were not crazy, they were silenced. Silenced through the constant expectation that their existences or reasonings had to be explained, just to be dismissed. So, my work has always been to create space for the most vulnerable and to always make room for women in my life to define themselves for themselves.

TFW: Are there any particular books, articles, or poems written by feminist writers, poets and/or cultural workers that serve as sources of inspiration for your life and work?

Van: Audre Lorde is and will always be the champion voice that lives deep in my spirit. Her work caused me to pause and listen to my emotions. I have learned that my masculinity takes up space and often propels me sometimes to speak up, protect, provide or speak out. But, how often do I just sit in my emotions and actively listen to my own spirit? In her work, “The Uses of Anger,” Lorde explains that our emotions are packed with useful information. For a period of time, my masculinity was expressed as aggressive through the cultural labels of “AG” or “Dom.” This self-fashioned label was full of information regarding how much space my rage was taking. Yet, because of the social construction of masculinity, I dismissed my emotions as secondary and not worth exploring. Now, as a transmasculine person I have explored that bridge between the heart, mind, and spirit.

I know that empathy and connection lies deep within me and it is my responsibility to explore it because it informs my transformative leadership work. How often are masculine people explicitly given the opportunity to just feel without leaning on women of color to navigate our own self-work? Audre Lorde’s work has given me insight on how to use my voice and emotions to transform the people who walk similarly to explore masculinity. We must utilize our own voices in community to pursue liberation. Remember, “your silence will not protect you.” So, I am using my voice to love myself and the bois around me so we explore how we connect to our spirits, bodies, and others around us. In my spirit echoes, “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” Thank you, Audre Lorde.

TFW: You are a member of a the Brown Boi Project that was founded by the amazing B. Cole. Central to the mission of the Brown Boi movement is the notion of masculine of center (MoC) expression. Can you say a bit about the Brown Boi Project and MoC?

Van: B. Cole and the Brown Boi Project leadership team have created a movement in which Masculine of Center bois of color can explore the notions of self-love, financial advocacy, and accountability of privilege through the educational techniques of transformative leadership. Often, when I have gone to forums on masculinity, only particular voices are at the center of that exploration. However, the Brown Boi Project creates the space for transmen, masculine-identified women and genderqueer folk, gay, fluid, bi-men, and cisgender straight men to explore masculinity. This exploration is in the hopes that we re-envision a healthy masculinity that puts women and girls at the center by exploring our strengths and holding ourselves accountable for the privileges around masculinity. We understand that we live in a society that anyone who embodies identities around femininity can experience intense realities of violence. The Brown Boi Project came at a point in my life in which I was not thinking about how problematic my unexplored masculinity was affecting women in my life. However, through connection, exploration, and healing, I have used the core strength of masculinity to educate other bois of color so we can love ourselves fiercely enough to be accountable for our privileges.

TFW: In many ways, the Brown Boi movement continues to be a remarkable queer intervention. And I am using “queer” here to connote the move to destabilize gender boxes and binaries as we know them. Do you also think that it challenges sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny?

Van: Absolutely. We cannot explore and re-envision a healthy masculinity without challenging sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny. All who embody masculinity must be accountable for our privileges and we must use our core strengths to embrace self-love so we can begin to heal on our own terms. We no longer need to cry and rage in the dark. As a collective of masculine of center people, let’s work on ourselves because we are worth it. The women in our lives are worth it.

TFW: In what ways do Brown Bois offer a vision of a range of masculinities that get closer to gender expressions and ways of being that are also anti-sexist?

Van: We do that by naming our stake in sexism and working on our own ways of understanding masculinity. We love ourselves. We hold each other accountable for our privileges. We educate one another because we desire a healthy masculinity that does not abuse women but holds them as sacred.

TFW: Masculinities are often conceptualized as antithetical to feminist visions of equality. I am thinking, for example, of Mark Lamont Hill’s point that “masculinity itself is a construct that must be destroyed – it can’t be re-imagined.” How do you vision and perform masculinities that also correspond with your feminist politics?

Van: I cannot be destroyed because my self-love is my resistance. I exist and I resist. I own that I have a stake in how masculinity plays into sexism and I actively work to dismantle systems of oppression that affect women and girls, especially transwomen of color. My work is never done and I cherish the bois enough around me to have transparent and real conversations about how we all play into sexism. We can no longer just place the responsibility on cisgender men, we all have to come to the table and explore how we are impacted by masculinity.