Identity is the source of my anger. The lack of being seen and heard. Who is Joshua? The way I like to open that is, I’m too gay for the straights, too straight for the gays, too white for my people, and I’m not white. What I have added lately is that I am not too tall, so I don’t have that going for me either. I was a light-skinned Latino, growing up in East Harlem in a Black neighborhood, at the Alfred E. Smith school in the South Bronx, a black and latino neighborhood and school, mostly male. Then, you have the white boy, me. And even before then, in, Junior High School, I got into fights because of the color of my skin. I was tested often. So, I started taking martial arts in high school, the jiu–jitsu club. And through that process, I learned about brotherhood. I learned what it meant to connect with other young men at this time, to enjoy camaraderie. Some of the relationships were based on the companionship of men bonding. Intimately, in the space of discussion, holding space for each other, and making sure we stayed connected. I got into a lot of fights. White boy this, white boy that. And so, my only validation came through violence and the power that came with it. But I wasn’t a bully. I just had to meet the threat where it came to me. I had to run up to it, and stop it. But also, I had to show that I wasn’t a bad guy by not overdoing it.
I read comic books growing up, which is why I have Spider-Man tattooed on me. With great power comes great responsibility. And I wholeheartedly believe that. To be able to defend yourself successfully and stop a threat without overdoing it is not easy. But that’s the responsibility of power. What is power? Flow. Power is about flow. Action. That’s what power is about. Making things happen. If it’s not that, it’s abuse and selfishness. Do I believe in equality? To some degree, yes, as humans. In power structures, no. I think there has to be one leader.
In school, I toyed around with the theory of communism. I would have hearty talks with some of the teachers about communism as an ideal, as opposed to a practice, and utopias, etc. I believed that the point of humanity is the success of thriving, that we could be better if we stopped being so selfish. Anyway, I got into a lot of fights. There was a music teacher, Mr. Tarrytown. He used my first name. He said, “Joshua, I want you to use the color of your skin to your advantage”. I think he said that because he was Muslim. I had high regard for him. He had cancer. I don’t know if he is still alive, but he was a huge inspiration to me. He validated my existence, being there as a young man in a school with opportunity, with desire and motivation. He wasn’t going to let me fail. I was supposed to fit in with my people, which were never really my people to begin with. My people, as it turns out, didn’t have skin color. They had character. They had courage. They had identity, individuality and a desire for community.
In the Marines, I made a name for myself pretty quick. My last name is Rodriguez and there I was in the Marines. They didn’t have to look at the color of my skin, they just looked at my name tag. There was no confusion there. Rodriguez. I went through shit with my last name. And what sucked was paying a price for something I had nothing vested in, because by then, I had already been rejected by my own people. So why would I claim it? I had always looked at myself as an American first, and still do, because I believe in what this country was theorized and founded on, but I don’t connect myself culturally. And from there, when I moved on to law enforcement, the same thing happened. Rodriguez, Rodriguez, Rodriguez. I can’t get away from it. I’m not sure how it translated into not feeling seen and heard, but at another level, it sparked anger. That’s where some of my anger stems from, a response to repeated invalidation.
Recently, I was talking to a good friend of mine in the UK, a healer by the name of Brian. He helped me reflect on that. That maybe my anger stems from a lack of feeling seen and heard when I was younger, right? How far down it goes, who knows? I remember the fights for the color of my skin. And then just a couple of months ago (It’s currently May 2022), I realized that I have resented the color of my skin all this time.
As I went through my journey of gender and expression, I had to keep asking myself, “What am I doing? Who am I? Why is this important to me? And why is this part of my story?” So in coming to realize that I resented the color of my skin, I also realized that I can’t change it, much in the same way I can’t change my gender, even though my chosen expression conflicts with the societal notion of what my expression should be. As a result, I said to myself, “I can’t resent myself. I can’t resent anything about myself, because it is my entire makeup.” This is all me. This is my whole story. There’s nothing wrong with me. My suffering brings with it the reward of self-awareness, the isolating reward of self-awareness. But without it, who can I help, right? How can I help someone, really relate to someone who is suffering, if I don’t know what it tastes like? So sometimes, the suffering isn’t just for the sake of suffering or for the sake of joy. Sometimes the sake of suffering is so you have your own hard experience and scars to help others see. Not see, but connect with themselves through your message, the message that comes from direct experience. To help them navigate their own life experiences, self-actualize and live a deeper life. And to let them know that it is possible to come out on the other side.
So what are we doing? We’re giving value to peoples’ perspectives. We give a way to change the perspective they have about what it is they are experiencing. It’s a shift that says “there is more on the other side”. Look behind you, the trail of breadcrumbs. It is the evidence of your faith. Let that be your proof. Let that be the evidence. It’s right there, right now. Lean into the next step.
What does it mean to have faith? It can’t just be about what it’s not, about just believing that something is there when you can’t see it. So what is faith? In formula, what is that? Faith is belief built through consistency, belief that faith will come through consistency of action. In most cases, faith has happened already.