What the outside world might sometimes see as expressions of pride, I experience as survival. All too often, queer people are left out because our differences are too specific, confusing, or “offensive” for institutions to include. We end up having to figure out for ourselves how to be accepted, supported, or even how to be seen. If I didn’t assert my identity, assert my pride, I would be crushed under the sheer tragedy of the lingering effects of the AIDS crisis, the Pulse Nightclub massacre, and the epidemic of suicides and murders of trans women of color. I could list countless more threats to our communities. But for each, there is an example of resilience — the Trans Day of Remembrance, ACT UP, The Trevor Project — to show that, in the face of erasure, indignity, and even violence, queer people always come together, innovate, resist, and survive. In the face of attempts to erase or control me, my own personal act of resistance, my way to feel powerful is to be seen.
And because we — queer people — exist in all marginalized populations, we have a mind-blowing opportunity to bring together disparate groups experiencing oppression to find innovative ways to resist, together.
My way to feel powerful is to be seen.
Every time I make a choice that feels authentically me — share with my parents that I’m queer, or poly, or otherwise different, experiment with that sensible starter heel, dance with loose wrists and elbows above my shoulders, tell him how I’ve really been feeling — these are the moments I’m proud of. Perhaps because they’re much more than isolated moments; these steps are always preceded by a long process, a struggle, a discovery. Deliberation. Soul-searching. Consultation with my counsel of experts (read: queer posse). Soooo much journaling. Because figuring out who I want to be takes work. But, y’all, the work leads to such a joyous payoff. Because in that moment — where I’m openly and unapologetically being the me that I want to be — I’m also connecting to the long, beautiful queer legacy of resistance and survival. And I love being part of that living history.
But it’s not easy. It takes work, because most of the time I’m at sea without a map. There aren’t scripts passed down from my parents and few elders that I can easily turn to when making my choices. I have to interpret the stars myself (Chani Nicholas helps) or else I’d drown.
Trust: there’s stumbling along the way. Sometimes doing the work of creating my authentic self feels like too much. Sometimes I get it wrong. Honestly, it might have been easier to write an essay about moments I’ve sought authenticity and failed; there are just so many. But, I’m proud of those times too. Because I tried.
Now, most of my own personal journey has played out in environments that allowed me to safely live out my authentic choices. But there were times in my life when I didn’t feel so safe, and for many in our queer community, that’s all the time.
Queer folk deserve celebration, not just inclusion. Until society catches up with our queer awesomeness, we’ll do it for ourselves — like we always do.
I see this play out in my day-to-day life. I work at The Trevor Project, which is the only national organization providing 24/7 suicide prevention and crisis intervention services to LGBTQ youth. I manage two exciting, growing programs — TrevorText and TrevorChat — which allow queer youth from across the country to connect anonymously with a trained counselor who is ready to listen, affirm who they are, and help. The stories we hear daily from these youth are a stark reminder that, for so many young people, particularly the ones who are at the most risk, living authentically is a daily, ongoing struggle — and sometimes the stakes are life or death. The necessity to create a crisis service that responded to the specific needs of queer youth started with the Trevor Lifeline in 1998, and the organization has continued to be responsive to the needs of our youth, eventually becoming leaders in the field of online crisis intervention. At The Trevor Project, we support queer people for whom it may be impossible to safely be authentic, because of where they live or who they live with — or they don’t yet know who they are, maybe because no one quite like them has ever come before. It’s inspiring work.
Queer folk deserve celebration, not just inclusion. Until society catches up with our queer awesomeness, we’ll do it for ourselves — like we always do. My pride is still about survival, but not just mine — it’s about the survival of our community, our young people, our most marginalized. This year, I tattooed a vampire-fighting stake on my arm. Because like Buffy and Willow, our queerness is a superpower, and it’s our responsibility to share our powers with our Potentials — that’s Buffy-speak for everybody else — to create spaces where they too can know the sparkling joy of being your most honest self. As queers, we can do that by being even louder. More visible. By reaching out across space. Hell, even time if we can. Becoming role models of the process of survival.
If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, the Trevor Lifeline crisis counselors are available 24/7 at (866) 488-7386. You can also chat with a crisis counselor via TrevorChat from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET seven days a week, or via text message Monday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET by texting “Trevor” to (202) 304-1200.
Image Source: Courtesy of Brock Hazen