Saturday, February 14, 2009

To grow up hypnotized / and then try to shake yourself awake / because you can sense what has been lost / you can sense what is at stake

"Unless one lives and loves in the trenches, it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless."
-- Audre Lorde

So, I've written about this before, but I want to say it again because I think it's really important. I've been thinking tonight about how easy it is to forget the truth if you don't hear it being consistently repeated to you. Even if it's something you know is true. Even if it's something that you discovered yourself. Even if it's something you've written about extensively. If it's not something that's reinforced by society, if it's not something you hear about all the time, if it's not something you make a conscious effort to remember, you'll forget about it. You'll have a vague feeling that something is wrong, something is not right, but you won't be able to remember why.

I remembered this today because I was trying to explain to my friend C that a person could be "unwilling to come out" even if they have supportive friends and family. And I knew that it was possible, I knew that "unwilling to come out" wasn't really the right words, I knew that I had experienced it for christsake, but I couldn't remember what was wrong with it. Fortunately I happened to be rereading my journal tonight and I figured out why. It's not because they don't want to come out, it's because sometimes they don't realize they're Queer. Because it's not been presented to them as an option, because they're still trying to reconcile themselves with what society is telling them

It's the same thing with not having your truth repeated to you on a daily basis. Our society can prattle on as much as it wants about tolerance and acceptance and live-and-let-live, but being Queer is still not presented as a viable option for children's future selves. If the social models you're presented with don't fit with your own identity, you're left walking around with this weird vertigo -- wasting your time trying to fit your identity into the models you've been given.

For example, I can't believe how much time I wasted feeling insecure and outsiderish because the idea of being attracted to women was never presented to me as a personal option. I knew people were gay. I knew gay people, but certainly that was never something that I would ever be. It's great to say that we're accepting of difference and that we support people in loving whoever they want -- but society gives zero models for how to live your life as a Queer person. So if you are Queer, you spend the first 20 or so years of your life wasting time trying to fit your understanding of society and your personal experiences together -- trying to squeeze yourself into a mold that you don't fit.

It doesn't mesh, so even if you don't have a big dramatic angsty personal crisis of feeling unfit to live, you still have this weird vertigo of being unable to understand and name the things you're going through and the way you feel. It's not like I was ever like "Oh my god, I'm attracted to a girl! I don't understand!" Nothing so overt or dramatic. Because for the longest time I didn't even realize that I was Queer. I just spent years berating myself for not being proactive about flirting with boys and not putting myself out there for dating them. I certainly wanted to date a boy, in the theoretical at least, because society presents it as the ultimate experience for women, and it seemed exciting and it was SO LAME not to. But at the same time I was terrified around boys that they would think I was attracted to them. But I didn't even realize that that was why I was so awkward and apprehensive and terrified -- thinking it was because I was stupid and too wrapped up in not wanting to do the stereotypical dating thing. Feeling CRAZY insecure for YEARS because I had never kissed anyone, even though there was never anyone I wanted to kiss.

What a waste of my time. I could have been having (or at least pursuing) relationships with people I was actually interested in. I feel quite certain that if I hadn't spent 4 years at a women's college where there were plenty of women who were repeating truths similar to my own, that I would still be wandering around trying to date men, wondering why I was so unhappy, and blaming myself for it. That's why it is SO important for Queer people and their friends to be visible and publicly Queer and present that as an option for other people. Not because of some stupid HRC-ish reason about trying to gain "tolerance" by showing that "we're just like you." We're not just like you. That's the point. We have to speak up about our own truths so that others can find their own way into their selves and stop trying to cram themselves into what society tells them.

It's scary to think that our selves are so mutable, so influenced by the messages we get from society, so easily erased by the company we keep and the things our friends say to us. I guess in some ways it's powerful because it means that one or two people can easily have a profoundly positive impact on another person, but it also means that a person's convictions, identity and self can be essentially erased simply by not having a community of similar people who will repeat their selves and their identities and truths to each other.

So SPEAK UP! Whether you're Queer or not. Tell the truth to children. Acknowledge in casual conversation that people have different identities and different experiences. Make sure that your words and actions don't unintentionally oppress others. Surround yourself with people who will embrace your identity instead of trying to ignore it or assimilate it or trample it down. Repeat the truth of your identity to everyone -- they need to hear it.

"As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-- Nelson Mandela.

"The power of resistance is to set an example: not necessarily to change the person with whom you disagree, but to empower the one who is watching and whose growth is not yet completed, whose path is not at all clear, whose direction is still very much up in the proverbial air."
--Tim Wise

**Title Lyrics from Reprieve by Ani DiFranco

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