Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Monday, January 30, 2012

survival: turning oppression into energy

       Survival is tough. We don’t give evolution enough credit. Out of all the creatures to have ever been, those that are present now made it through a lot. Those still around are the ones that had the strength to survive their environments; they adapted. I think this is a perfect trope for queer folk; it’s certainly how i see myself.

       Queer life can be tough. Our society is fiercely normalizing. Our culture works very hard, and is fairly successful, at rendering us invisible and irrelevant. We’re denied jobs, housing, healthcare, affirmation, etc. And we experience a very high degree of violence as a demographic. Despite all that, we’re still here.

       The fact that my queer body is still breathing means that i haven’t given in to all the pressures to conform or die. Despite how frequently each of those options seem easier than living the inherent difficulties of my life, i’ve refused to give up. i want to be proof that no matter how vicious our society, it is possible to both self-determine and survive.

       This sometimes means utilizing strategies that aren’t necessarily socially acceptable. Over the course of my life this has meant a lot of things. It’s meant adopting a punk-inspired, no fucks given, attitude. It’s meant accepting the fluidity of my own identity, because boxes seem to suffocate. It’s meant strategies of dissociation: drugs, alcohol, and melancholy music. Its meant damage control: smoking, and controlled self-harm. It’s meant limiting time in more dangerous places and rarely leaving urban areas. It’s meant finding strategies of self-care: reaching out for support, cultivating compassion, meditation, crafting, and writing.

       These strategies, and their varying degrees of health, are all responsible for the fact that i’m still here. Each one has meant that i’ve stayed on this earth. This is something i actively choose to believe has value. This is not out of any sense of arrogance, but i feel like there is still work to be done. This world still needs to be made more safe, more compassionate, more accepting of fluidity and variance. This is work that i’m driven to do; and i do this both actively and by simply existing as visibly queer.

       This realization has led to the need, and the capacity, to turn oppression into energy. To me, this means creating things to shift our society in the general direction of compassion and understanding. My most frequent method to do t
his is writing. This may sound obvious, but i believe that writing about experience, especially non-normative experience, carries a value in that it can open folks to broader levels of understanding.

       But it also means fighting to make spaces safer. Fighting may seem incongruent with compassion, but i’d operationalize the term in a very non-violent way. When i fight i seek to make spaces that i inhabit more inhabitable. Whether this means checking people’s assumptions in dynamic, and hopefully effective ways, or something more callous, there is a constancy of confrontation. i use this word despite its connotation. By confrontation, i mean looking a situation in its eyes, recognizing difficulty, and choosing to engage in a way that is positive.

       Each time i encounter something negative, i try to find a way to leave a trace or ripple of change. Frequently, for me, this means shouting at folks who harass. In these moments i hold no illusions that compassion will change minds, i simply hope to foster an environment where folks recognize that the things they say will not always go unheeded and unchallenged. Often though, this requires more tact and discipline.

       When assumptions or statements are more tacitly problematic (read: subtler forms of racism, trans-misogyny, ableism, body image standards, etc.) i coax from myself a more dynamic and gentle form of fierceness. In these moments i strive to not put folks on the defensive, allowing myself to take small steps of growth with someone. These processes are often more frustrating for me, especially in my longer term relationships with folk. i want them to instantly “get it,” but recognize that change and growth are inherently slow processes that require commitment and cultivation.

       This is something i’ve been consciously engaging with in my own life for longer than i’d like to admit, and lord knows i’m still not perfect. So i try to breathe, and do the patient work of consciousness raising, all the while treating every moment as an opportunity for both activism and personal growth.

       Turning my oppression into energy also means that i try to push the radical and queer circles i’m in as well. Our work and our interactions operate multi-laterally as a challenge to hegemony and power, and to be the most effective in that process need to be conscious and engaged. In this regard, i’m as committed to challenging folks who are on-point as much as i am folks who aren’t.

       It means taking in moments and using them to reveal gaps in our culture and coming up with creative ways to fill those gaps. Currently, for me, this means working with and challenging institutions that are semi-inclusive, or inclusive in name but not so much in practice. It also means slowly building longer term projects that will hopefully work to shift consciousness and foster openness on a more-than-individualized scale.

       This work seems valuable. i hope to look back on this strategy and feel that i haven’t wasted my time and my energy. i hope that transforming my oppression into energy is as fruitful as it feels. At the very least though, it helps me to survive the tougher moments in my life, and that, in itself, has immeasurable value.