Divine

I am fat, queer, and transgender. In fact, I am an unrepentant fat slob. As I like to say, I always feed my clothes! I see beauty in fatness. I see beauty in ugliness. I see beauty in imperfection. I see beauty in doing things contrary to cultural norms. I refuse to kowtow to what is considered normal, regular and mundane. How did I reach this? Through many different channels. But one of the most important was through a 300-pound, dog-shit-eating drag queen named Divine.

I do not recall which movie I saw first. Time tends to run everything together. But it might have been Hairspray. I marveled at this larger-than-life figure. Where had she been all my life? I had watched The Ricki Lake Show and discovered that she was in a movie called Hairspray. While Rickie was fabulous in her role as Tracy Turnblad, Divine as her mother Edna really transfixed me. I was just coming out as queer and transgender. At the time, I was average-sized but I was always fascinated by fat people and on board with fat people’s rights. Divine’s comic timing was impeccable. Her expressions were unforgettable. I was in love right from the start.

Hairspray was the film that Divine could take her mother to see at the premiere. When I went back in time, my little small-town sensibilities were shocked! The early films of John Waters were low-budget, tacky, tasteless and trashy. And I loved every minute of them. Two of them are my favorites: Female Trouble and Polyester. In Female Trouble, John Waters creates a kind of Citizen Kane on acid and copious amounts of pot. It tells the story of a lifelong misfit and criminal named Dawn Davenport. Dawn is a “bad girl” in high school and hangs with a rough crowd. When she does not get her much wished-for cha-cha heels for Christmas, she has a complete melt-down and runs away from home. From there, many zany adventures begin that blow one’s mind upon a first viewing.

Polyester features a woman named Francine Fishpaw. Francine Fishpaw is an upper middle-class suburban housewife in Baltimore. Although she strives to be an upstanding Christian woman, the money to support her lifestyle comes from her husband’s pornography theater. The townspeople protest her house because she is the wife of a pornographer. Her son is the notorious “Baltimore Stomper” and has a severe fetish for women’s feet, her daughter is made pregnant by a local hoodlum, and her husband is having an affair with his secretary.

As you can see from the synopses, the stories are outrageous and infinitely interesting. Growing up in small-town, rural New Hampshire, I always felt a need for something that challenged this conservative up-bringing. John Waters’s films truly fit the bill. They actually made me feel less lonely and like there was a lifeline beyond conservative NH that I could very much relate to. It is not surprising that there is such a huge cult following to John Waters and Divine. I know that they fulfill the same longing that I have felt for so long. When I watch their films I am transported to a wacky world, but I am also transported to a brand of humor that I just adore. The films of John Waters make me laugh. I have had a life beset by a lot of prejudice, discrimination and oppression. Much of that oppression has been due to queer-phobia, transphobia and fatphobia. Seeing Diving up there on the screen has always given me hope. John Waters and Divine have a brilliant method of turning everything upside down. What is deemed inferior and ugly by mainstream culture is served up as beautiful and valuable by this duo. Their work together speaks volumes to the cultural need for something totally outside the Hollywood establishment.

In mainstream Hollywood, we see the “beautiful people” who are usually straight, cisgender, thin and conventionally attractive. Divine is queer, gender-variant, fat and unapologetic. Her larger-than-life drag performances challenge conventional gender norms and help to liberate the viewer from their preconceived notions. For me, the esitence of Divine has been life-changing. I have struggled with internalized queerphobia, transphobia, fatphobia and looksism. What is so great about Divine is that she is incredibly beautiful AND she entails all of these stigmatized identities. In addition, she is willing to be “ugly” for the sake of the movie. In Female Trouble her face is burned of by acid that is thrown at her and she wears a Mohawk haircut. At the end she wears no make-up as she excitedly awaits to be executed for a lifetime of crime. In Female Trouble, crime is beautiful and patriarchy is thoroughly upended. The “bad girl” comes to a bad end but she is excited by the fame that the execution is going to bring her.

When I turned 30, I started to gain weight. Over the span of about 8 years, my weight ballooned from 200 to 400 pounds, literally doubling myself. In a virulently fatphobic society, it is very difficult to have self-esteem. The cultural pressure to lose weight is ubiquitous. This is why Divine is so important. She inhabited her fat body with pride. In Female Trouble she does amazing things on a trampoline and reminds us how much the fat body can do. Divine made me feel better about being fat, just as she did about being queer and gender nonconforming.

It was a supreme tragedy when Divine died back in 1988 at the age of 42 due to an enlarged heart. But one of the great things is that her films live on. Her songs live on, as Divine also had a career as a Disco singer. These cultural artifacts will allow not only current fans to have access to her, but will also allow future fans to benefit from her brilliance, brashness and her utter unwillingness to conform to the mainstream. I feel such gratitude towards Divine, John Waters and the entire “Dreamland” crew for their contributions to our culture. I eagerly await the next batch of kids who will feel less alone, less different and less isolated because they discover the one-of-a-kind icon named Divine.

Sexual Orientation

What does it mean to occupy a queer sexual orientation? The problem with sexual orientation is that it tends to apply fixity to identity, much like gender identity does. That’s fine for people that have a binary identity, but much less so for people who are outside the binary or who are fluid.

I think my critical perspectives on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation all have to do with my commitment to gender abolitionism. After all, if gender as we know it was obliterated, would sexual orientation even be said to meaningfully exist in any way?

Right now there is such a hyper-normalized sex-gender-sexuality trajectory. If you are labeled physically male, you identify as male, you present as masculine and you are attracted to females. If you are labeled physically female, you identify as female, you present as feminine and you are attracted to males. Obviously, sex, gender and sexuality diversity transform this trajectory. To their credit, categories of sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation help to illuminate some of the diversity that exists in terms of intersex, queer and transgender people.

However, all of these categories have become overdetermined. And the rigidity of the binary has congealed and hardened. Are you male or female? Are you masculine or feminine? Are you gay or straight? For some of us the answer to these questions is not possible. We exist outside of binaries in terms of bodily geographies, our gender expressions and our desire or lack thereof.

Many refuse to acknowledge intersex, trans and non-binary and ace, pan or bisexual orientations. Even adding these additional identities is insufficient. We can add dozens more words or we can trash the concepts altogether. My own view is that the terms will continue to be used for some time to understand diversity and may even prove useful in doing so. They provide a pedagogical function. But after a while people will tire of having to identify their sex, their gender identity/expression and their sexuality. It is not just a question of eschewing labels. It is constructing a new vision of personhood in which people do not have to grossly simply the complexity of who they are.

Many people are now fond of saying “everyone has a gender identity” or “everyone has a sexual orientation.” But what gives someone the right to say that? Do people not have the right to opt out of these categories? Why are they now seen by so many as fundamental components of the self? Why do some get so incredibly angry if someone ELSE says that for them sexual orientation is a choice? If sexual orientation is not a choice for someone I would never attempt to abrogate that reality but if someone chooses their sexual orientation [for whatever reason] I also support that. What if someone chooses to be queer because they like to be different? Who does such a choice harm?

I am well aware that my dream of gender abolitionism is not going to happen any time soon. The concepts of sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are also not going anywhere anytime soon. However, we can in the interim continue to problematize them, continue to stress fluidity, spectrums and continuums, defend a person’s right to choose to be queer or trans and support a person’s right to “opt out” of any of these identities. My criticism is not a questioning of identity politics; it is a far deeper questioning of ontology. What does it mean to be a human being? Why are sex, gender and sexual identity so often cast as basic building blocks of the self? And do they need to be?

 

Gender

What is gender? Many tomes have been written on that very question. First and foremost, I see gender as a mechanism of control. It is two and only two boxes and each person is stuffed into one or the other. When each of us are born, the doctor makes a cursory examination of our genitals and declares “It’s a Boy!” or “It’s a Girl!” This is not a benign utterance. It is a life-shattering declaration and prescription. The intent behind it matters not. It has a velocity all its own. When the attending room physician makes this declaration, the baby is off like a race car. We get placed on pink and blue tracks for the remainder of our natural born lives. If we obey, the ride is very smooth. If we disobey, it is one car wreck after another. It is no wonder that the vast majority of people obey. The bigger question is why some of us don’t. Or can’t. One can only withstand so many crashes. Eventually it can even be fatal.

Some may see my language as hyperbolic. It is not hyperbolic to me. As someone assigned male based on a brief glance between my legs, I am angry. I am angry that gender exists and that it affects so much in our society. If your own personal declaration does not match that initial declaration, you are in for it. If your declaration is the “opposite” of the initial declaration, there might be hope for you if you look as much as possible like the “opposite” of your birth assignment. If you don’t try, don’t care or don’t feel like either male or female, you are flushed down to the bottom of the social hierarchy of the society. You are trash.

As someone who has been treated like gender trash my whole life, I have had a front row seat to how gender is A) bullshit B) all about social control and power. It is about the perpetuation of cis-heteropatriarchy. Cis people, heterosexual people and men are seen as superior. Trans people, queers and women are seen as inferior. Gender is the glue that ties the whole system together. To get the glue unstuck you have to smash the gender boxes. This is why I am so committed to gender abolitionism. It is not a popular position, including in the trans community. But then again I don’t see anything good about gender. I am the negative nancy of the gender studies world.

If gender is an apparatus of power, and we need to smash it, what should we do? For starters, we should all be feminists, all be queer advocates and all be trans liberationists. Beyond that, we should opt out of gender whenever possible. Do the opposite. Undo it. Do it differently. Anything that goes against what the scripts of normative gender tell us we should do. Even if it doesn’t smash it, we can still fight it. It will be exhausting and we will be punished for it, but I’m afraid that is the price of the ticket.

 

 

Liberation

Liberation is one of my favorite words in the English language. [Though it sounds even cooler in French: libération.] Liberation is defined as “the gaining of equal rights or full social or economic opportunities for a particular group or the gaining of protection from abuse or exploitation.” To me, liberation is freedom. But above and beyond that it is the fight for freedom: freedom from exploitation, freedom from abuse, freedom from discrimination and freedom from oppression. It is a word that can go after so many different fights for freedom: women’s liberation; animal liberation; Black liberation; queer liberation; disabled liberation, etc.

Liberation is radical and revolutionary in scope. It moves beyond traditional democracy or liberalism. It becomes radical in that it wants to get down to the root. It is revolutionary in that it is a forcible overthrow of the government or a general social order in favor of a very different, entirely new system. When I think of liberation, I feel hope. Liberal democracy is not going to cut it. In an era of Trump, an era of absolute political reactionaryism, then liberation is a gleaming, shining prize sitting atop the mountain. It is going to take tremendous effort to achieve, but it is exactly what we need to save material lives and take people out the condition of mental slavery.

I will take liberation and put it in a queer concept since this blog is entitled concepts queered. In recent decades, there has been a continuous push away from queer liberation. Queer liberation was what happened at the Stonewall Inn in 1969 and in the immediate time afterwards. It was dedicated to a complete overhaul. It was not interested in placing gays and lesbians [bi and trans people were not really being talked about] into a discrete minority group. Under queer liberation, there was a desire to liberate the queer in the entire population. There was an understanding that same-sex/gender eroticism and gender nonconformity was something that everyone could enjoy and benefit from, not just self-identified gays and lesbians. Everyone was queer. And the goal of queer liberation was to help the entire populace to realize their inherent queerness.

In addition, queer liberation meant an overhaul of society where no one was discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. This included queer people of color, poor and working-class queer people, disabled queers, gender variant queers, incarcerated queers and everyone else. When we look at the trajectory of the gay/lesbian movement, it has become very conservative. It has become about the ability to adopt children, the ability to serve in the oppressive, imperialistic U.S. military and the ability to enter into the hyper-patriarchal institution of marriage. These things have nothing to do with queer liberation. In fact, under a queer liberationist framework, marriage and military would be abolished, not strengthened through the participation of LGBT people.

Liberation is, as you can see, far reaching. It demands fundamental transformations to the status quo of society. It is not, however, impossible. We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must have a vision of what this looks like or we will never be able to reach it. I breathe in the sweet scent of queer liberation and I am fortified. I am cajoled to push for the kind of society I actually want to live in. Liberation is not dead. In fact, the current evil of Trumpism is incubating it. It will be seen in our lifetime as the people can only labor under this much oppression for so long. It is in reach and we must always remember that.

 

Queerness

For this entry I am not going to write 500 words or write in a typical format. I am going to answer the question what is queerness. Queerness is so many things; here are a few.

Queerness Is…

Queerness is Pariah Status.

Queerness is Outsiderhood.

Queerness is Marginality. It is taking up space in Marginality. It is not attempting to move from margin to center. It is moving into the margins and taking up space there and joy there.

Queerness is Otherness. It is delight in otherness. It is pain in Otherness. It is joy in Otherness. It is suffering in Otherness. It is being and inter-being in Otherness.

Queerness is personal struggle. Queerness is political struggle.

Queerness is as queerness does.

Queerness is resistance to regimes of normalcy. Queerness is anti-heteronormative. Queerness is anti-cisnormative.

Queerness is Pride. Queerness is Shame.

Queerness is affect. It is emotion. It is hyperbole. It is unrepentant feeling.

Queerness is fierce, ferocious and fabulous.

Queernes is flaming, on fire and incendiary.

Queerness is loneliness, isolation, desolation. Queerness is being left in forgotten land.

Queerness is sadness, depression, melancholia.

Queerness is exhilaration, bedazzlement and spectacularity.

Queerness is the perfomative. Queerness is play-acting. Queerness is realness.

Queerness is being spell-bound.

Queerness is cutting through the mazes.

Queerness is rage, anger and hot temperedness.

Queerness is action, agency and revolution.

Queerness is love, always love.

 

Depression [Part II]

Good things about depression? The mere concept seems absurd. But the answer for me lies with the motif of this blog: queerness. In this entry, I want to talk about the “good” or “positive” facets of depression by talking about it through a queer lens.

For me, being queer means being an outsider and taking pride in being an outsider. It is being a pariah. It is being and living at the margins and making a home there. Being queer is different from being gay and different from being transgender. Those could well be part of it, but they do not define it. Queerness is more expansive and distinctly more political. In my view queer is radical and it is revolutionary. It takes pride in being different. Which is why all of the emphasis on normativity and status quo establishmentarianism is so annoying [military service, marriage, adopting children, etc.] and so thoroughly anti-queer.

If I revel in my queerness there is a way I can revel in my depression in that both confer outsider status. It is very important to state: being gay or trans does not cause one to be depressed. Being gay or trans in the context of a virulently homophobic and transphobic society may cause one to be depressed. Making society less homophobic and transphobic may make LGBT people less depressed. But in the interim, many queer folks deal with depression and search for ways to survive with it or even find “positive” aspects of it to make sense of their suffering. What are some possible “positive” things about depression for me [these may not resonate with other depressed folk]:

1. Having depression makes me more sensitive. I have to be. It makes me more sensitive to other people’s illnesses, disabilities and life adversity. Suffering can cause great compassion to develop. It can help manifest empathy in the depressed person’s life. Sensitivity is a good thing. There is far too much harshness in our society. Depression has caused me to develop greater empathy, compassion and sensitivity and that is indeed a gift.

2. We have to think about our health: mind, body and spirit. Depression means thinking about where you are in terms of your mind, body and spirit. It means taking action to work on mending yourself. We cannot ignore our depression. If we do so, we do it at our own peril.

3. Depression can be life-threatening, so it makes you reflect more carefully on the value of life. Life is so precarious. It can be gone in the blink of an eye. When you make it through the dark tunnel to the other side, you can have a new appreciation for the value of life. We have good coping skills. However hard it is, I now often think, very simply: I am alive. And what a miracle it is that I have had the ability to live my life for 44 years. I am thankful for life, even though it has been full of suffering.

4. We get stronger. One of the most obvious positive parts of depression is our strength, determination and resiliency. Many of us go through hell and back. But we make it, and we get stronger and we get smarter. I would not be who I am if I had not had depression. It has certainly made me more determined to fight and to take pride in my queerness, my fatness and my crip-ness. Depressed people are often cast as weak, as tragic and as victims. An opposite way to view it is: We are strong, we are epic and we are survivors. Meeting other depressed people is always a joy because I see the strength within them and the desire to persevere.

5. We experiment with self-care in ways that are innovative. Writing this blog is a form of self-care for me. So is coloring, playing my keyboard and drinking tea. Sometimes I bring a small stuffed animal with me for comfort when I am anxious or feel social anxiety. Often we may get in touch with our “inner child” and do child-like or playful things as a form of self-care. When you’re depressed, you have to get creative and improvise. We often don’t care about others viewing our actions as strange because we are willing to do whatever it takes to feel better and be more functional. This will enable others to be brave and unswerving in their commitment to unique/queer self-care.

There are surely more but this gives you a sense of my thinking of subverting depression away from hegemonic meanings and queering depression to see its potentiality. If I had the choice of having or not having depression, I would choose to not have it. But since that is not an option, there are ways to re-think and re-conceptualize life that are comforting and innovative. Step by step, I choose to live with depression by using my agency to fight for my own life and everyday mental wellness.

 

 

Asexuality

I am an asexual human being. To be honest, I wish I didn’t even need to say it. I wish I could just be it and live my life. But the reality is that we live in an acephobic world. And until we don’t live in an acephobic world, it will be necessary for the diversity of asexual folks to come out and declare ourselves so that we can be seen as part of the tapestry and broader fabric of humanity. I think this is true for all people under the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Agender and Pansexual [or LGBTQQIAAP+] umbrella. But it is especially true for aces because we have such low and limited visibility. True, visibility does certainly not equal liberation. But it does help to educate the populace and make us feel less isolated.

Even though I have been in the queer community for 25 years now, I have only truly understood myself as ace for under 10 years. This shows that the queer community either actively excludes aces or renders us invisible. Either way, we learn the lesson that ace folk are not welcome in queer spaces and movements. Thus, the two As in the acronym above [for asexual and agender] are not really included. Not all aces identify as queer, but I am someone that certainly does. I see my asexuality as very queer and also see my queer identity as an umbrella term linking me to the gamut of gender and sexual minorities, people who are not-het and not-cis.

Asexual is a term used to refer to people who do not experience sexual attraction. It could also mean people who are not interested in sexual activity, though the level of “sex repulsion” varies across the spectrum of the asexual population. If the definition hinges upon “does not experience” it begs the question: what does the ace person experience? For me, my ace experience is not a void. It is presence. It is impossible to answer my question because nothing is 100% generalizable. However, I can state what I personally experience, which some other aces may experiences but others definitely don’t.

I feel a sense of peace, harmony and calm in my own identity. I feel unpressured to date, have sex or form a long-lasting relationship [Many aces do wish to form relationships. Back to that “this is only me” clause 😉 ] since I am also aromantic or aro. People can invest a lot of time in dating, sex and long-term partnerships. My time is freed up to do other things. It is exciting to ignore cultural dictates and do your own thing. It is exhilarating to discover who you are and live the life you were meant to lead. Being ace/aro comes with its own set of rewards, rewards that others may or may not come by. Most of all as an ace I feel such a sense of relief. For the longest time we are made to feel that we are broken or that there is something physically, psychologically or emotionally “wrong” with us. Claiming an ace identities at long last can interrupt these cultural narratives of ace people as defective. We are not missing out on all the fun; we are actively finding our own fun.

There is much more to say about ace identities, both my own and that of others, and you will likely see my ace-ness seep into some of my other blog entries. But for right now, I would like to state that asexuality needs to be talked about way more. More people who are so called should feel safe to come out as ace, and queer communities need to be more responsive and welcoming to ace community. I hope that this little post spurs you to google “asexual” or check out websites like the Asexual Visibility & Education Network [AVEN] at www.asexuality.org . For allosexuals [people who are not asexual]: help to make ace folks less invisible, less isolated and less stereotyped by speaking up and being an ace ally. You can make a big difference in the lives of people who are on the asexual spectrum and spare us from always having to do the heavy lifting.

Spirituality 2: Queering the Spirit

What does it mean to be queer and spiritual? I think this has been a central question for me. The reality is that many religions are overtly or subtly homophobic or transphobic. This streak of bigotry throughout so many religions is something found in the U.S. and across the globe. And it is what has turned many LGBTQ+ people away from religion. Some have gone running and screaming. And who can blame them? Religion and spirituality should be all about acceptance, inclusion and diversity. Every church, mosque, synagogue and all other places of worship should be open and affirming. No one should be turned away at the door because of their sexual orientation of gender identity/expression.

I think this is one of the reasons that for so long I avoided religion. Way back in Sunday School, I remember one of my teachers saying that when she went to Boston and saw a “homosexual” she walked to the other side of the street. It was around junior high that I dropped out of church and went my own way. But as stated in my previous entry, this eventually did not work for me. I needed a place to ask the “big questions” that started to plague me as I felt increasing alienation from our culture. What I now know is that any religious or spiritual tradition or path that shuns LGBTQ people needs to acknowledge that their traditions are not acceptable. There have always been LGBTQ people in their faith and there always will be. It is not a question of whether LGBTQ people will be there or not; it is a question of whether LGBTQ people will be openly embraced, accepted and celebrated or not.

My religion’s official stance on LGBTQ people is not one of inclusion and acceptance. Despite this, there are many LGBTQ people in the church, both “out” and not out. Many wonder why I don’t simply walk away from my religion. I understand where these people are coming from. My response is that I am standing in my truth and demanding my place at the table. I fully sympathize with those who choose to walk away. But the church is never going to change unless some of us stay put and advocate for transformation from within. We deserve to fully be who we are within the faith traditions of our rearing or of our choice. It is going to take a tremendous amount of work to change these deeply ingrained attitudes and traditions but I know it can be done and in fact change is happening in big and small ways all around us.

Spirituality can help queer people. The reason I choose to embrace religion and spirituality is because I need something to give me gas for the car. I have faced so much adversity as a queer and trans person in this society. Because of this, I have a strong need for something that fuels my fire. I need determination, I need grace and I need perseverance. And I need something that makes life more than something to simply survive. I need something to make my life worth living and to make it meaningful. Spirituality gives the journey, the search for meaning, so much of its life and power. I am delighted that spirituality found me once again and I am determined to make a place for myself and for all queer people in religions. The good thing about spirituality is that it does not require religion. Being spiritual is an immensely personal journey and we can do it anywhere, anytime. As I continue this blog, expect issues of queer spirituality to bubble up many times. It sits at the very core of who I am.

 

 

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.

 

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.