Rashawn & Beyond: Anti-Violence News for Queer People of Color

The Rashawn Brazell Memorial Fund aims to establish a sustainable tribute to Rashawn that promotes critical thought about the impact of violence and intolerance, particularly upon queer communities of African descent.

Through this blog, we provide action alerts, event postings and breaking news as a means of informing these communities in ways that enable them to combat racism and homophobia.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The long road back

Drag performer Kevin Aviance reflects on his recovery a year after a brutal attack

Friday, June 01, 2007

Almost one year ago, drag performer and singer Kevian Aviance’s life changed irrevocably. On June 10, 2006 he was beaten by several men after leaving New York gay club Phoenix. The injuries left Aviance with a broken jaw, dozens of bruises and emotional trauma.

“I can tell you that everything in my whole life that I had put away, everything came to a head this year,” says Aviance, 39, of the recovery process. “After the beating, I just allowed all my feelings to come out and deal with all these things that I’d been dealing with since childhood. It’s been a rough year.”

Reports of Aviance’s attack, during which he was not dressed in drag, included up to seven attackers who started by throwing garbage bags and a paint can at him before they punched and kicked him, using anti-gay slurs during the incident. (Four attackers pled guilty on March 21 to the assault. No others have been charged.)

Aviance had been due to perform at New York City’s Pride two weeks after the attack, but with his jaw wired shut it seemed enormously unlikely that he would be able to make it to the event at all. In fact, he wasn’t going to go, but then he heard that some people were going to skip the celebration because of his absence.

“I was in a lot of pain, [on] a lot of morphine,” he says. “It was painful, but to see everyone’s faces — everyone was very happy.”

He went, he says, also to make a stand for all the victims of hate crimes.

“I was alive,” he says. “A lot of people are dead after a beating like that. I wasn’t just walking for myself, but for all the victims.”

HIGH-PROFILE CASES like Aviance’s often jolt people’s consciousness, says Clarence Patton, executive director of the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

“Since Kevin was already well-known within the community, that did add a different dynamic to things. People identify with what happened to him, because they already felt a connection to him because of his work and his connection in the community,” Patton says. “People are like, ‘God if something could happen to this person, then perhaps it could happen to any of us.’ What gets most of us through the day — most days — is an ability … to say you know that this happens, but it’ll never happen to me. People need to create barriers between themselves and people who are motivated by violence.”

The guilty pleas of the four attackers meant that Aviance was not required to go to court to testify, but giving the depositions and seeing theirs was difficult enough, he says.

“Seeing their sneakers and they were just right there in front of me, it was really hard for me,” he says.

Despite the trauma of his experience, Aviance seems to be trying to detach from the hatred his attackers expressed to him.

“[People ask], ‘Don’t you want these boys dead?’” Aviance says. “No, I don’t. I wasn’t brought up that way. I was brought up to turn the other cheek, and it’s hard when your cheek is broken. I would hope that we could have a discussion one day. It happened so fast, it was so crazy and … I forgive them.”

The process of forgiveness is as complex as the act implies, and Aviance is the first to admit it’s not easy.

“It is hard because sometimes you just want to scream and yell and you just have to sit in the now and know that it’s going to get better … [there’s a] lot of work involved, but it’s going to get better.”

AVIANCE’S JOURNEY OVER the past year went far beyond walking at Pride or healing physically. (The process isn’t complete, either. He’s in speech therapy to work on his diction hampered by his broken jaw, which still locks on occasion.)

He says he continues to experience panic attacks when he sees people who resemble his attackers and sometimes when he walks he senses that someone is behind him when no one is there.

“I go to the doctors because they really help me a lot,” Aviance says. “You just don’t know about things and they explain it to you afterward: ‘This is why this is happening.’ It’s something that lingers on for a long time in your life. It doesn’t just go away.”

For a while after the beating, Aviance tried to heal himself, turning to drugs and alcohol, but finally a friend told him he had to go to rehab.

“I had a dear friend that at the time came on board to help manage what was going on in my life, and he pretty much said that we couldn’t go on any further unless I got help. So I thought about it for about three weeks and then went off to get help.”

Aviance headed to treatment on Feb. 1.

“I got better that way and allowed myself to heal because I wasn’t healing properly. It was hard. Once you go to treatment, you start opening up all these things you put away. You had 28 days to do that. If I didn’t do this, I know that right now I wouldn’t be alive because the pain and everything was so intense, so dramatic, I didn’t have a handle on it.”

Several months out of treatment, Aviance says he feels farther along in the healing process.

“I think it was really good for me, because I’m a better person today,” Aviance says. “It’s so hard to even describe all that happened and all the suffering that I’ve been though, but I feel so good now.”

Aviance is working on a women’s shoe line, his third album and his Pride performances. The album, titled “Misterpiece,” will debut later this year, and it shows what Aviance considers a greater emphasis on masculinity for him.

“It’s funny how the true self is coming through,” he says. “With ‘Misterpiece,’ it just came at such a good time in my life. The third album is such a good part in your career because it’s when you get to do your art. And a lot of people don’t make it to their third album.”

The shoes, Aviance says, were inspired by his mother.

“My mom was a big shoe person … she loved the shoes,” he says. “She’s always my inspiration.”

The collection of shoes is moderately priced, starting at $49, and though they go up to large sizes, the main clientele is women, Aviance says.

“[The shoe line] is just sent from heaven. I love it. We just did the fall collection. It’s beautiful, beautiful stuff,” Aviance says and admits that the fall collection is his favorite.

Despite his busy professional and artistic schedule, most of his energy is focused on considering his life more fully.

“Every day is a beautiful day. Things I never used to care about before, I care about. When people say something to me now, I listen. I’m working on myself right now. I just want to be a better person.”


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