My Body Is My Own
I am fully aware that over the last 12 months, family members and other people I consider to be friends have criticized and made fun of me for being what they consider too cautious in my attempts to avoid COVID-19. Until recently, there were no vaccines, and there was no concrete way of preventing the spread of the airborne virus. And even today, the vaccines are not yet available to everyone who wants one. All we can do is try our best to keep to socially distant, wear a mask, wash our hands, and be mindful of the air circulation wherever we are. While I acknowledge that one can do nothing without risk, I have done my best to mitigate the levels of exposure to this virus.
Since the pandemic began, I have missed out on social functions, impromptu meet-ups, and spending time with people about whom I care deeply. It has perplexed them that I, known as a "social butterfly," have seemingly retreated into a cocoon. Despite their criticism, I have reveled in this newfound solitude. This time with myself has allowed for revelation, reflection, and rebellion. And frankly, I have enjoyed it.
This time of reflection has made me think more about the temple that is my body. More than any other time in my life, I know and embrace that my body is my own, and I must protect it. I grew up poor, Black, and gay in a world that was not kind to people with any of those attributes.
Throughout 2020, I was reminded almost daily that unfortunately, not much has changed. The news was a constant reminder of the senseless murder and death of black bodies. African Americans were more likely to be infected with, hospitalized by, and die from COVID-19.
I also was forced to reckon with the repeated murders of innocent Black people at the hands of law enforcement, such as Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Daniel Prude, and Breonna Taylor. These senseless murders sparked protests worldwide. The killing of Ahmaud Arbery reminded me that my body could be hunted, like an animal. Taken together, these things made me feel as though I was not often safe in my body.
On January 6, 2021, I watched footage of the US Capitol insurrection. I was horrified by this blatant attack on our democracy, aware of the damage to the building and the sense of security of people who worked there and the rest of the nation. Furthermore, I was shaken by the recognition of how much more deadly the outcome would have been if the majority of those who participated had not been white. Protesters with Black bodies would have been treated differently; they had been treated differently by law enforcement just months before during Back Lives Matter protests.
The last 12 months have given me the time and space to reflect more deeply on my body and how it shows up, moves through the world, and with whom, when, and how I share it. I must love it, live in it, live with it, and be its protector.
Audre Lorde once said, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Taking care of myself, nurturing and protecting my body, mind, and spirit as I see fit are rebellious acts within social, political, and economic systems and structures that were not designed for me.
So yes, I have been in my cocoon for the last 12 months. But I do not apologize for creating boundaries to protect myself (and you). I feel no sense of shame or guilt for not providing anyone access to my body. In my cocoon, I have developed a more liberated sense of self. With my liberation comes my better understanding of myself and body, and respect for yours, too.
We each get to make our own decisions about our bodies. When people ask how I am doing, I respond that I am whole and well by my own definitions. I wish the same for everyone. Embrace your body. Make decisions for yourself that are in your best interest. Decide what it means for you to be whole and well for you, and then pursue that.
Clarence J. Fluker is a public affairs and social impact strategist. Since 2008, he's also been a contributing writer for Swerv, a lifestyle periodical celebrating African American LGBTQ culture and community. Follow him on Twitter: @CJFluker, or Instagram: Mr_CJFluker.