I’ve had a good year in many ways, and so has the world generally. Transition has been scary, and confusing, but also wonderful and rewarding.
But over the last few months, I’ve watched my friends (and the Internet) cycle through denial, anger, depression, and a million other painful emotions — often turning on each other out of fear or misunderstanding. I’ve been through a similar cycle of my own — constantly distracted, making phone calls, updating my legal documentation, struggling to get work done, building little toy models to calm myself, sending donations, hugging friends, and breaking into tears reading article after article.
I’ve tried to write this post at least 20 different times, and I still can’t get it right. There is no right to get.
Like many of us, I live at an intersection of worlds — female, white, transgender, able-bodied, lesbian/pan-sexual, neurotypical, etc — not sure if I’m the primary problem or a primary target. Probably both. I’m tired, and I don’t know how to be useful. How effective is art? Am I in personal danger? How useful is my writing? How complicit am I in which problems, and how do I fight back? How can my experiences, my love, my donations, my company, phone-calls, or protests help anyone?
I want to be strong, but I’m not. I want to be effective, but I don’t know what that means, and I’m pretty sure it’s a myth of our culture.
Personal & Political
There are several tensions pulling me in different directions. Zooming in, I see individuals hurting — scared like me. I know how to be a friend. I can reach inward, and care for my community. I can listen to what’s needed day-to-day, and be there for the people around me. I see you, and I love you.
Zooming out, I get overwhelmed by the scale of our problems — the ways neoliberal capitalism, misogyny, ableism, and white-supremacy take physical form to destroy lives in the most mundane ways. Our representative democracy doesn’t represent us all, and never has. The best we can hope for is a few simple rights doled out selectively, or not taken away — rights we should have by default.
We don’t want better jobs, we want to stop selling our bodies and lives to corporations for their profit. We don’t want to hug police officers, we want to end the police state. We don’t want access to marriage on hetero terms, we want to redefine “family” for ourselves. We don’t want legal weed for white entrepreneurs, we want the prisons emptied and the war-on-drugs annulled. We don’t want the DAPL re-routed, we want full sovereignty and reparations for native tribes, and an end to environmental destruction.
The status quo was bad enough, how are we supposed to deal with Trump?
No one knows exactly what will happen next, but the threats against marginalized people (and the environment) are clear. We understand the direction, if not all the details.
We know our government is designed to resist change, and maybe that will work in our favor now. But we also know how easily our institutions are corrupted by money and fear. Who will fight beside us? How bad will things get?
The unknowns don’t make this transition less terrifying, and the fact that things were bad already is no consolation. There’s a lot to do, and a lot of people that need our help.
Queering the Revolution
I see a temptation to grasp for simple explanations, with simple sides, and even simpler solutions. But simplifications are what got us here — a distraction, not a plan for change. It’s time to embrace the complexity of human rights, human systems, and human identities. Not to be stopped by wishy-washy complacency, but to fight for all the people, no matter how messy that gets. We need movements for intersectional empowerment, when it would be easier to throw our fringes under the bus. We need to challenge all our assumptions about what is “normal” in this queer and unusual world.
Listening is radical, emotions are radical, silence can be radical, and efficiency is not the definition of your value. Speaking up can also be radical, along with rational thought, action, and visible results. Progress comes in cycles of action and reflection, mourning and anger, give and take, analysis and emotion. Don’t get stuck in one place. Keep cycling. Keep showing up.
There will always be arguments about what tactics are better, more effective, or enough. Change will require all of us doing what we can, finding new ways to define action, and new ways of acting. That will look different for different people. The bigger and more diverse the movement, the better.
I know it’s annoying, but we need anarchists and politicians.
We need to accept that no question is either or. Individuals are not either privileged or marginalized with a simple on/off switch, but shades of intersectional identity and experience. Resistance doesn’t have to be either violent or polite, when confrontational nonviolence has the only reliable track-record.
We must both acknowledge our collective and individual racism, while we more clearly distinguish between ignorance, complacency, prejudice, and active white supremacy. All bigotry is real, no matter the intentions, but different forms of bigotry call for different forms of resistance.
We can learn to dissect and identify all the subtle micro-aggressions of the kyriarchy, and identify where ideas become problematic, while also understanding that a barrage of facts and “callouts” will never bring about the change we need. We can recognize that personalized education on privilege and oppression is not our responsibility as minorities, but may be our primary responsibility as activists.
We can acknowledge that general education is essential in the abstract, but degrees and certifications are often an excuse for new hierarchies, moral requirements, money, power, and exclusion.
Our bubbles separate us, but also keep us safe. Self-care is essential, and a clever cover for complacency. Real America is rural and urban, and infinitely diverse. Action is essential, and a clever cover for insecurity. Incremental progress leaves people behind, while revolutions often kill the most vulnerable. We have to be political and empathetic, listening and fighting. Move fast and slow, think personal and systemic. Respect our feelings enough to act on them, and respect our actions enough to feel them. Soul-searching won’t end oppression, but it’s an important part of our work.
We have to be human, in systems that are larger than ourselves.
Alok Vaid-Menon sums it up well in their recent new years resolution:
- stop using politics to legitimize my feelings
- affirm people for being needy & vulnerable in public
- recognize everyone else’s complexity as much as i do my own
- admit when i operate from a place of hurt & loneliness
- believe in all of our infinite capacity for transformation
- provide care as much as i provide critique
- respect limitations & constraints
- honor silence as a form of presence
- feel & love, militantly
- refuse the dismissal of art & interdependence & magic
- find immensity in what they call insignificant
And a few of my own:
- accept that my experiences are not universal
- embrace a lack of answers and fear of uselessness
- show up with my entire self, broken and scared and opinionated
Notes on Showing Up
Some incomplete notes to myself, for being present in a time of struggle.
Find and join the efforts already under way. Find marginalized people already building movements, and support them. Don’t take over, or dictate the terms, or concern-troll and tone-police the movement. Find ways to stay involved over the long-haul — pace yourself but take risks, and keep showing up.
- Check in with people who are scared or in danger. Take care of each other. There’s emotional work to be done. This is difficult and important. Don’t let anyone downplay emotional experience and expression — listening, laughing, and having fun together.
- Focus on bringing new people into the movement, and creating a new culture. Let marginalized groups set the priorities, and help to amplify their voices. Do outreach.
- Understand and study privilege.
- Donate time and money to organizations focused on women, people of color, immigrants, queers, Muslims, disabled people, indigenous people and our global climate.
- Support the Movement For Black Lives and Campaign Zero. Get involved with SURJ.
- Donate to high-poverty schools, and establish long-term plans for charitable and political giving.
- Follow these helpful guides for calling your elected officials and learn how to affect political change.
Fight for diversity in your own industry, company, and organizations — in who you hire and what you build. Create a better training pipeline, improve your hiring funnel, write a code of conduct, address harassment and micro-aggressions in the workplace, and keep an eye on retention rates. There’s not one single problem, and it will never be fully resolved.
The long arc of the universe bends wherever we bend it.
Learn to bring family and friends into the movement. It’s a skill that takes practice — emotional labor that can’t be done by listing the facts. Outreach requires vulnerability, discomfort, and a lot of patience.
Build a practice of sustainable and ongoing action. Keep looking for new ways to show up, and leave your ego at home. Welcome to 2017.
Stay strong. Stay weak. Stay present. Keep dreaming, and get real. Keep crying, keep laughing, keep fighting.
Take care of each other.