Disappointments

Life is chock full of disappointments. More for some than for others. I have had so many I have lost count. Disappointments in friends, in jobs, in opportunities, in family members, etc. While I believe that nobody comes out unscathed, I also believe that some of us face more than our fair share of disappointments. I would fall in that category. I think my identities play a large role in the amount of disappointments that I face. I am fat, disabled, chronically ill, trans, queer and economically challenged. I am also a first-generation student, from a working-class family, mentally ill and a person in recovery. Given these realities, it not that surprising that life would not go my way much of the time.

What does a person do with disappointments? That is the big question. Obviously disappointments are going to cause a range of emotions, including rage, anger, sadness, frustration, bitterness and depression. I have faced all of these and more. I think when faced with disappointment, a person has to allow themselves to lean into their emotional response. The dangerous part is when someone tries to avoid an emotional response. The only way through is through. There is no way to avoid or even take a shortcut through your response to a major disappointment.

I wish disappointments never happened. They royally suck. I know they contribute to my depression. An example of disappointment is having my writing rejected for publication. I have nothing but the utmost respect for professional writers who face rejection again and again to get published but they keep on sending their stuff in. I was rejected around 10 times and I just gave up. I took each rejection very personally and was angry at the people who rejected my work. I’m SO glad I do not have to do peer-reviewed articles as part of my job. That is rejection on steroids, or long anonymously-penned comments about how and why your article sucks. Disappointments can really gnaw away at you. They can lead to that dangerous emotion called bitterness, which eats away at the host and does nothing whatsoever to the cause of your disappointment.

I can’t really say anything “positive” about disappointments. What I can say is that they present an opportunity. They present an opportunity for you to take care of yourself. Self-care is always important. But it is vitally important when you are facing disappointments. Disappointments can affect your self-esteem. They can make you feel like a “loser.” I know I have certainly faced that feeling. “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be successful? Why can’t I win?” The internal monologue can go very negative very quickly. This is when you know that some self-care is desperately needed. We are so much more than our list of disappointments. Our very lives are a brilliant success. This is particularly true for people who face multiple forms of oppression. We can take pride in our every survival. Everything else is icing on the cake.

When you face disappointment, do whatever it is you need to do to spread some healing balm on yourself. Customize your self-care and indulge yourself. You are more than the rejections that you face. You are a child of God and you deserve to be proud of every achievement you have ever made. I know how much disappointments hurt and how much they suck. This is all the more reason to treat yourself with the utmost kindness. You deserve to celebrate your existence and all that you have achieved. Love the successes and even the disappointments for they have made you exactly who you are. And you, my friend, are a shining star!

 

Oppression

Oppression is at the top of the societal chain. It encompasses prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions, bias, hate and bigotry. It contains the word “press” which is significant because oppression is all about pressing people down. Oppression is a system, i.e. it is systemic and across the board. Oppression is an unjust exercise of authority or power in order to harm a particular social group. Oppression does not really operate on the individual level like prejudice does; it is a group benefitting from the oppression of another group. Oppression is subjugation and it is a pattern of control. Oppression is the injurious outcome experienced by targeted social group members due to the cruel and capricious exercise and abuse of power in our society.

Let’s talk more about the outcome. Oppression is unbelievably destructive. I firmly believe that the ultimate destination of oppression is death. As Audre Lorde wrote in her poem “A Litany for Survival”, we [oppressed people] were never meant to survive. In addition to death, oppression affects the living in a myriad of ways. This includes: impoverishment and economic stratification, homelessness, institutional discrimination, lack of education or miseducation, joblessness, employment discrimination, poor or nonexistent health care and minority stress. It is overwhelming when you are impacted by all of these forces of oppression. It is not just one thing coming down on you but multiple things simultaneously crashing down on you and your kin.

The topic of minority stress is incredibly important. Minority stress greatly affects a person’s health primarily due to the accumulation of excess stress. The daily nature of systemic oppression affects a person’s health physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.

According to Wikipedia:

“Minority stress describes chronically high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized minority groups. It may be caused by a number of factors, including poor social support and low socioeconomic status, but the most well understood causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Indeed, numerous scientific studies have shown that minority individuals experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health. Minority stress theory summarizes these scientific studies to explain how difficult social situations lead to chronic stress and poor health among minority individuals. It is an important concept for psychologists and public health officials who seek to understand and reduce minority health disparities.” [Emphasis mine]

Oppression leads to poor health. This poor health can then lead to an early grave, which returns us back to my point about the ultimate destination of oppression being death of the person. This statement is not hyperbolic. Life expectancy is the ultimate issue for oppressed people. This is why we can never talk about oppression enough. We need to eradicate oppression but in the interim we need to lessen oppression so we can lessen minority stress and improve people’s health in the here and now to increase their life expectancy. It is not just psychologists and public health officials that should seek to reduce minority stress. We should all be attempting to do that in whatever way we can.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I am very convinced I will not live an average life span. I have faced a lot of oppression, stigma and prejudice in my life and I see it shaving years off my life. I already have a constellation of physical health, mental health and economic problems that make my day to day life very stressful. I have seen how oppression has played out in my own life and either outright caused or been a serious factor in the development of mental and physical ailments and chronic health conditions. Oppression is insidious, dangerous, destructive and deadly. We all need to work together to lessen the scourge of oppression in targeted populations. It is not only our health and well-being that depend on it, but our very lives.

Hatred

After writing two entries about love, I would be remiss to not write about hate. It brings me no pleasure to write about hate. Writing about love is pleasurable. Writing about hate is highly uncomfortable, particularly if we write about it in an honest manner. Hate is not just an emotion “out there” amongst those bad people. Hatred runs deep within everyone. It has different amounts in different people, to be sure. But it is in all of us. That, to me, is the most important lesson about hatred. We need to look deep within ourselves, not just cast aspersions on those bigots that are more overtly hateful.

The man who we will not name, who we will call 45, is one of the most hateful people to ever show up in public life. A commentator referred to him as Archie Bunker with a Twitter account. He is undeniably racist, with a long and vile list of examples of racist behavior and language. That he is POTUS and so hateful is abhorrent to an unprecedented degree. We have seen an uptick in hate crimes and bias in our country. It is not surprising given that it is coming from the top. The most powerful man in the U.S. and possibly the world is setting an example of hatred, bigotry and prejudice.

45 deserves to be called out for days. There is no doubt that he is harming our nation and harming our people. He could bring us to the brink of global catastrophe in the blink of an eye. 45 brings hatred into the public square. Perhaps the only silver lining is that there are more discussions of racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry. We need to talk about this abhorrent man and his hate, but we also need to talk about the other, more insidious hatred: the hatred within. None of us are immune from it. When someone says they don’t have a prejudiced bone in their body I have to laugh. Is this person actually human?

We are taught to be afraid. We are taught to fear each other. We are taught to have prejudice towards others. We are taught to hate the other. For most of us, it is not overt. It is covert and hidden, but it is still there nonetheless. Every institution from family to media to the government, etc. indoctrinates us into the beliefs of what bell hooks terms the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. We cannot escape this socialization and enculturation. The result is internalized dominance for people in the agent class and internalized oppression for people in the targeted class. Hatred affects us all but targeted social groups bear the brunt of the oppression while advantaged groups lose part of their humanity.

Some of the hate that I have is the result of being hated. You see, hate begets hate. It is like a chain of dominoes. The way to get rid of the hate within is not to deny it. It is to confront it and interrogate it. We need to examine our own prejudices that have congealed into hatred and ask how it has happened. What have we learned and what fear do we carry around with us? How can we consciously attempt to confront these fears and dislodge this hatred from our being? There is no easy recipe to get rid of our hatred. But the first step is admitting that we have it. Pointing fingers at 45 is not enough. We need to look in our own back yards.

 

Laughter

Laughter is an instant vacation. – Milton Berle

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter. – e.e. cummings

In writing previously about hope, it occurs to me that one thing I didn’t mention was laughter. Laughter makes hope easier, more possible. Laughter is the gateway to hope, and an antidote to fear. While I am not the best at cracking jokes per se, I definitely have a good sense of humor and like to laugh. Sometimes people get the wrong impression about me because I am an activist and social justice practitioner. I also am a feminist and a Women’s Studies professor. Feminist are thought to be dour and humorless. In actuality, feminists are some of the funniest people I know. We have to be. After all, we are doing battle with the patriarchy, and that is no small feat!

One of the most important things for me about laughing is that the laughing does not involve the dehumanization of any individual or group. Too much humor punches down rather than punching up. Humor that punches down routinely goes after women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, poor people, people of size, old people, religious minorities and people with disabilities. Given how oppressed these groups are, “humor” against members of these groups functions to further press them downward and perpetuate status quo power relations. Humor can still be funny and not go after any specific group. Poking fun at people in the dominant groups can be sharp analyses of the power structure and the unfair privileges that these people receive.

Queer people are often very funny. I feel that members of oppressed groups are often funnier out of necessity. Due to the pervasive prejudice and discrimination we face, we must develop coping strategies to survive. One of these coping strategies is being funny and frequently laughing. Laughing is a medicine that is free and readily available. Life can seem less harrowing when you can laugh and make other people laugh. Stand-up comics can be very hateful and bigoted, but others don’t rely on degradation for their humor and can be fantastic. Queers have a long history of “camp” humor, humorous drag performances and there are many fabulous queer stand-up comics. I think queers also often have a sarcastic or sardonic sense of humor that also reflects our difficult life circumstances. This humor is a healthy outlet of expression and freedom.

I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder. While laughter is no cure for this serious condition, it can help to lift the symptoms, at least for me. I am thankful for every laugh that each day brings. This is one way to practice gratitude. Laughter can be taken for granted; it shouldn’t be. And the ability to make other people laugh is a true gift. I marvel at some people’s wicked senses of humor. Without thinking, they can make jokes about the most mundane of circumstances. They often don’t know how much their humor can benefit people who are suffering. So many people with depression and other mental health challenges are suffering in silence. Laughter can be, as the quote above states, an instant vacation. It can jolt somebody out of their current despair and provide hope. Thank the Universe for every laugh you have every day and remember that the silly joke you crack could be a healing balm on somebody’s else’s soul. It could even be a life-saver. Namaste.

 

Hope Part II

Hope Queered

“Hope is never silent.” – Harvey Milk

“’I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.” – Harvey Milk

In thinking about this entry on queerness and hope, the first person I thought of was gay icon Harvey Milk. As a queer person, I faced a ton of adversity in my life. This adversity has literally been life-threatening. While a variety of things have helped me to get through these hard times, chief among them is hope. Hope is like the air we breathe. It is ever-present and never in short supply. I believe it is intrinsic to the human soul and spirit.

I remember once when I was talking to a friend about my desire to end my life, he said to me: “Don’t you want to see how your life turns out?” I believe that this question was intimately linked to the question of hope. Hope means you want to stick around to see how things pan out in your life or in a given situation. Hope means that you hold within you the possibility of a different and better outcome.

This is especially important for queer and trans people given the systemic oppression that we face. It is easy and understandable to get down and depressed, to get hopeless about life. In addition, it is not uncommon for queer people to face loneliness and isolation. This is certainly one of the challenges I face, particularly living in a very rural environment. To be queer in this cis-centric and hetero-centric environment it is hardly surprising we face despair and despondency. So often we are made to feel like misfits, pariahs and marginalized people. Between higher rates of depression, anxiety, isolation addiction and suicidality, we are at risk of a whole host of harrowing outcomes. Our lives are on the line and we need something to help us.

Hope is one of those things that can help us. Hope is the thing that saves us from the notion that there is no possibility of change, that the situation is static and there is no use trying to change it. Hope lets us know that the ways things are now can be utterly transformed. I have hope in hope! I have hope in hope as a generative force, a life-giving phenomenon, a saving grace and a force for betterment in our lives.

Hope can be generated in a variety of ways. It can be brought forth through reading inspiring books, quotes and articles. It can brought forth through watching hopeful TV shows, movies and internet clips. It can engendered by our friends and family, who sense trouble in us and do all they can to help us turn a corner. It can enter our lives through meditating, through silent moments, through breathing mindfully, through a delicious meal, a meaningful trip or voyage or a loving relationship. There are so many ways hope can quietly enter our lives, or blatantly slap us upside the head! The trick is to listen attentively for hope’s appearance. It is will come and it will transform. As queer people, we are an oppressed people but we are also a determined and strong people. We are the epitome of perseverance. Part of what makes us so is the hope we possess within us.

“You gotta give ‘em hope” said the indomitable icon Harvey Milk. Give yourself hope. Give each other hope. We will all be the better for it.

 

Fear Part II

Queerness & Fear

As queer people, it takes existential courage to live our lives. We live in a culture where we are routinely harassed, bashed and discriminated against. Homophobia and transphobia are deeply engrained in the culture. I have faced prejudice and discrimination my whole life as a trans and queer person. It has taken a lot out of me to be sure, and in fact I believe it is going to shorten my life span. There is good data that minority stress takes its toll on all marginalized groups in the U.S. and beyond. While there are many positive things associated with being queer for me, I never sugar-coat the experience or de-emphasize the very real systemic oppression that we face.

Given this reality of oppression, it is not surprising that we often live our lives in fear. We are fearful to come out of the closet. We are fearful to walk the streets as gender diverse people. People are afraid to walk hand and hand with their same-gender partner. People are afraid of discrimination in their workplace. People are afraid of being denied housing. Youth are afraid of being ejected from their house. Queer people are fearful of being brutalized by the police. Queer elders are afraid of discrimination in assisted living facilities. The list goes on and on.

I have been afraid so many times due to my sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Fear has almost become a constant. As stated in my first post, I do not believe “getting rid” of fear is the answer. It is figuring out how to live with it. Because in order to get rid of our fear, we need to get rid of systemic oppression. The reasons for our fear is real. How could we not be afraid given the forces that are aligned against us? The same goes for People of Color, People with Disabilities and other marginalized groups. Intersectional oppression means that people that occupy multiple targeted identities face double or triple the amount of oppression.

It can seem like a hopeless situation. What serves as an antidote to the fear for me is courage. Courage is standing up to the oppressor, looking them square in the face, and demanding that we be treated as full and equal citizens and humans. Whether one comes or not, one can fight for what’s right, and that includes liberation for the whole spectrum of rainbow identities. In addition to courage, I believe that determination can combat fear. I believe that perseverance can outlive fear. And I believe that love can overpower hate. If you are going to be an activist, it means that you must be determined and that you must persevere. Being an activist does not mean a week or a month or a year. It is a life-long commitment. That takes courage and determination and perseverance. It may involve a spiritual component, as the setbacks and opposition are tremendous and spirituality can give people the strength to continue the struggle. It is not a straight upward line to freedom. There are lots of fits and starts. And our opponents can ramp up the fear-mongering, causing us to fear for our lives and the people in the dominant group to fear us.

One of my favorite quotes is by Audre Lorde. “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” Lorde was a Black, Lesbian, Socialist, Mother, Warrior, Poet who wrote and fought for social justice her entire life until she passed away in 1992. I like this quote because it is telling us to go for it, to reach for it, to fight for it. It is telling us to be powerful and strong, and not to let fear be an impediment for the realization of our most liberatory and revolutionary visions of a new world. Icons like Lorde inspire us to shoot for the stars, because this is our one and only precious life and we are ordained by the Universe to live it with integrity and courage. As queer people, our lives are filled with fear. But they are also filled with courage, and that gives me hope for the dawning of a radically different world.