When People Don’t Want You to Live, Existence Becomes a Revolutionary Act

People want to kill me.

Sorry, that was too deliciously melodramatic not to open with. Now that it’s out of my system, let me back up.

I’m currently conscious that people want to kill me. It’s probably the first time that it’s been a conscious, active awareness.

I’ve known that people think I should die for being under the Queer umbrella—that they might passively pray for it, preach about it, maybe even deign to say it to my face.

But the Orlando shooting was the first time I had the icy realization that there are people who would actively take measures to end my life.

Some say it’s my generation—that we Millennials have been spared the active, moving-beyond-dislike-into-murder kind of hatred that other LGBT faced several generations ago.

To some extent that is true. It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that law enforcement will help hold space for a Pride parade instead of hauling people out of bars and beating the shit out of them for being gay.

It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that many teens and young adults can attend safe spaces on school campuses.

It’s a testament to how far we’ve come that religious institutions have begun the slow paradigm shift towards acceptance.

Yet, we haven’t come so far that Orlando is the first time that Queer people (especially Queer people of color or Queer people raised in fundamentalist homes) of my generation or younger have faced life-threatening prejudice. People are still beaten up, kicked out on the street, or murdered for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Orlando is just the first time that many in my generation have seen that hatred directed at so many people in a single incident.

Then again, it’s the largest mass shooting for our nation in a long time, so millennials aren’t the only ones having a “first” in this sense (Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t the largest in the history of the nation as this article points out).

Being forced to confront how deep someone’s hatred of you runs is a daunting feeling, but once the initial shock of it wore off, it reminded me of an idea that took root reading Shiri Eisner’s book Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution.

My very existence is a revolutionary act that undermines a prejudicial society.

Simply by living and refusing to be erased or cowed into submission, my life becomes a big “fuck you” to everyone who would try to control me. People can do a lot of things, but they can’t take away my self-awareness or my pride. They can try to oppress me or destroy me, but they cannot change who I am.

Ultimately, it’s the fact they can’t prevent my existence that makes them truly angry and bound for failure no matter how they might want to end my existence.

There’s something powerful and elegant in that realization.

What’s my gay—ahem—bi agenda?

To live my life like a declaration of independence, not like an apology.

To not let fear dictate who I love—or who I hate.

To live my life authentically and do all I can to support others doing the same.

P.S. As a political side-note, right now people want my “agenda” to be trying to strip people of their fifth amendment rights, but I refuse to let my radical existence be hijacked so that others can be oppressed. We’ve come a long way as a Queer community. We’ve made a lot of progress. But we’re not done. The fight for recognition of civil rights (for everyone, not just ourselves) and the protection of rights already recognized is an ever-present struggle. 

 

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5 Important but Simple Ways of Practicing Self-Care Following a Crisis

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say this week. It seems like there are endless topics I could cover, but I’m not quite sure I’m ready to delve into those in the depth that they need. I realize there are probably dozens of others writing about very similar things, and right now very few people are able to read/hear and respond with open minds to anything they don’t already agree with.

According to Terror Management Theory, that’s part of the effects of being forcibly reminded of how fragile life is: we all cling to our worldviews all the more tenaciously because they give us a sense of order and meaning.

I get that. I see that happening. And I’m choosing to wait patiently for people (myself included) to return to a more open-minded place before asking anyone to engage in much discussion with me.

One thing that is relevant right now but isn’t being talked about nearly as much as I would like is self-care.

Whether it’s a national tragedy like the shooting in Orlando or your own personal crisis (or a combination of both as it is for many).

Whether you’re on the front lines as a first responder, among the wounded or ill, working publicly as an activist or quietly in the background caring for the wounded, weary, and discouraged.

Whether you’re out or closeted; gay or straight.

No matter who you are, self-care is important. It is essential. In fact, it’s so much so that it’s ethically mandated for those who work with crises professionally.

Yet it can be difficult to understand how to take care of yourself when your whole world seems to be falling down around you.

So I created a short list (distilled from what I was trained to do for myself) of some simple but very important things people can do during and following tragedy.

  1. Basics

Your body needs certain things to function well every day: liquids, food, sleep, bathroom breaks, probably showers and brushing teeth. If it’s possible to get those in the normal amount, do so. You function much better when you’re not depriving yourself of basic necessities.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember to drink water or grab lunch when chaos demands your attention, so set alarms or create a system with others to help look out for each other.

Sleep can be an elusive bastard following catastrophe.

Some people’s jobs might require less than ideal hours during times like this.

Others find it difficult to shut down the mind when it’s time to sleep. Our bodies release adrenaline and other hormones during emergencies that are designed to keep us alert—which is good when we need to stay up but can make it difficult to rest even when it’s possible. Those hormones don’t just disappear because the clock says it’s time to go to bed.

Still, get what you can. A lack of sleep impairs the ability to think clearly and make sound judgments. For ways to help your body prepare for sleep during stressful times, the following points will be helpful.

  1. Discharge the energy

Staying awake isn’t the sole purpose of the hormones mentioned above. Alertness is a side effect of the main purpose. Our bodies are designed for fight or flight when faced with threat, but in our modern world, neither of those may be a viable option. That doesn’t stop our bodies for preparing for it, and we have to find something to do with that energy to prevent it from stagnating.

Exercise is a good way to burn through those chemicals. I love running because it is such a literal way of working through the flight urge, but any kind of cardio that you feel drawn to and physically capable of is effective. Play sports if you like competition. Go for a bike ride if you have trouble running.

It’s summer, so swimming can be an excellent form of physical activity with low impact and high yield.

Dancing can have many of the benefits of movement and exercise while also tending to the emotional side of things with the music and expression, not to mention social connection, which can be a very important component to resilience.

The goal of discharging the energy is to do something that tires you out. It’s not the “lose weight” kind of exercise, so don’t worry as much about calorie burn as you do about whether it helps your body feel better.

  1. Ground

Don’t just discharge the energy. Ground it as well. Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help center and calm you.

Breathing can be especially helpful for trying to go to sleep. To still the roaring, circling thoughts, try counting during your breathing to occupy the mind’s focus. Presumably a count of four on the in-breath, holding for a count of seven, and exhaling for a count of eight is like a magic formula for sleep. I can only verify that it’s never failed for me.

In further grounding techniques, look for ways to engage the senses. Grab your emotional first aid box, if you have one. Or create one and get in some creative expression at the same time!

One of my favorite sensory engagements is drinking aromatic herbal tea. The warmth of the liquid feels comforting. The tea is nourishing to my body (and also addresses basic needs). And the aroma of the plants is so pleasant that I end up breathing more deeply as I take in the luxurious scent. My favorite heart-care blend is catnip, lemon balm, and rose petals.

  1. Take Breaks

No one can sustain any amount of strain indefinitely and maintain good functioning, so make sure you take breaks as necessary.

For those literally on the front lines (nurses, emergency workers, police, counselors in the immediate area), breaks might be shorter by demand, but even five minutes to half an hour can help (and let’s face it, first responders who may be reading this probably have been trained in how to balance the demands of the crisis with self-care, so you probably just need a reminder that it’s important. Yes, you can hate me for being that person).

For those who are active on long-term goals rather than short-term emergency response, breaks are necessary both for your own mental health as well as for the sustainability of your cause. There’s a lot of shame and guilt that gets placed on care-takers and activists for taking time for themselves, but as Audre Lorde pointed out, self-care is “self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” No social justice campaign is worth its salt if the activists involved cannot value their own sustained functioning.

So as hard as it can be, turn off the news, close out the social media feeds, and set aside the debates periodically. Balance out your work with a focus on other things in your life. Allow yourself to play, relax, read, watch a fun movie, and have pleasure.

Humor is also an important form of taking an emotional break. Look for ways to laugh. Laughter is one of the most important forms of coping. The more heavy the work, the more you need to laugh. I was once asked at an interview whether I had a dark sense of humor. It was a make-it-or-break-it question for the job because it was so important for the mental health of those doing it to be able to find humor while they were working with tragedy.

Nature is nurturing, helps to calm the mind and lift the mood, and provides a necessary respite from technology. Get out in it. Feel the earth. Commune with plants. Bathe in moving water. If you don’t have access to nature, visualize it or look up a guided meditation online…and then close your eyes or turn away from the screen if you can as you listen to the meditation.

Breaks are not a betrayal of your cause. It’s creating a sustainable model of work. Allowing yourself to have a break will allow your mind to be fresh when you return; breaks are healthy and essential for creative solutions and effective action.

  1. Process your feelings

The range of what people are feeling during crisis runs the whole spectrum: shame, guilt, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness, hopelessness, desperation, numbness.

It’s okay to feel all of that. Your feelings, no matter what they are, are legitimate.

And!

They may not be telling wholly accurate stories right now.

Sometimes it’s possible to take feelings as they come, but during a crisis, you often need to take some extra time to understand them.

It’s a tough task to be with your feelings, validate them, and hear them out while also questioning the story they are telling you. It’s tempting to want to either believe everything they say or push them away entirely.

Usually, feelings make sense, but sometimes you have to get underneath a few protective layers. They might be saying, “This person is your enemy because they don’t agree with you!” when what they really mean is “I’m really scared and confused, and people having a different opinion from me feels threatening because it reminds me of how uncertain everything is right now.”

Give yourself time to really feel the feeling in all its intensity. Maybe write about it in a journal that you can read through later…or talk over your feelings with trusted support, be they friends, family, or counselors.

Big decisions may not be avoidable with intense emotions following a crisis, but if you can’t put decisions off, make them carefully and have feedback. The higher your emotions are running, the higher the likelihood of making a decision that is out of character for you and the more likely you are to regret it later. Intense emotions don’t have to result in bad decisions if you are aware of that possibility and approach them with enough care to avoid obvious pitfalls.

Also allow yourself to experience other emotions like joy, love, and gratitude. They might have their own story—that you shouldn’t feel them because of the crisis or that it’s wrong to experience positive emotions. But that story is about as false as the one that says it’s wrong to engage in self-care. Positive emotions build resiliency and give us the capacity to work through the shadow emotions.

Bonus (You thought there were only five?!)

Remember when I said that people are clinging to their worldviews right now?

One important but often overlooked aspect of post-crisis care is identity affirmation.

You (and everyone else) are unconsciously searching to affirm identity and regain a sense of safety and control following a tragedy anyway (hence the frenzy to defend the “rightness” of a worldview and the extreme sense of threat that might come when someone disagrees with it).

So bring that motivation to the forefront and consciously choose activities that affirm who you are in constructive ways. Create art or music, get together with people in your community, do something you find meaningful to contribute to the world, engage in spirituality, work towards a goal, or…write a blog post. 😉

I’m Here. I’m Queer. And I Just Want To Grieve.

I wish there were a moratorium on political discussion following tragedies like Orlando so that for one fucking, goddamn moment we would all just have to be with our grief and sadness together.

Yes, the things that contribute to this will need to be addressed: the hypermasculinity and homophobia, the cults that, regardless of religious or political faces, convince people to do horrendous things, the access to weapons and how we screen people seeking them or screen what people can obtain, and most importantly, the continued struggle for basic civil rights of oppressed people.

We cannot sit idly by, unresponsive to the rising mass violence or to the targeting of minorities, but we shouldn’t use our response to distance ourselves from our pain, to bury our wounds under a body-guard of anger, because they will only fester.

One thing I’ve learned about grief is that it makes it SOOOOOO hard to think rationally and make good decisions while it is still fresh. There’s so much anger at…literally everything in grief, and it doesn’t make sense and is so hard to control. Little annoyances, daily tasks, they just become daunting.

The LGBT community needs the safety and space to rage and cry and curse without having to be on guard for people exploiting us either financially or politically and without having to worry about whether our expression of that rage and grief is rational enough for a serious conversation.

Yet we are called on, by each other and the rest of the world with all their varying pet agendas, to set aside the purity of our emotions and enter into an immediate chaotic search for “solutions”–anything that will give a false sense of safety.

People want to use our own fear to divide us, inhibiting our ability to hear each other and see each other.

I wish we understood that first we need to mourn and come together as a community and as human beings. And the rest of the world needs to hold space for that. Mourn with us, sure, but more importantly guard our right to mourn. This should be a sacred time for us, separate from what is to come.

Then, after we’ve had time to let the rawness of our grief settle, that’s when we need to come together as activists, politicians, voters, and citizens to figure out what our next steps are.

I’m not saying don’t politicize what happened because that would be impossible. But I am saying to stop trying to exploit and co-opt the emotional process. We can all argue over the political meaning of this massacre later. Right now, let me fucking grieve for what has happened to my community.

 

An Election of Fear and the Fear that Got Us Here

I have to admit that I’m a bit scared about this coming election.

I try to remind myself that everyone gets hotheaded about politics and acts like it’s the end of the world partially because we Americans don’t do well with having our worldview threatened and are easily swayed into feeling annihilated whenever someone dares to disagree with us.

But then there’s Trump: a racist, egotistical, misogynistic, power-hungry despot-wannabe.

I want to believe that he’s a joke, that he won’t be effective even if he gets into office, but I also don’t want to allow myself to be blind to the fact that he is deliberately trying to whip people up into an emotional frenzy at his rallies, that he’s espousing rhetoric and tactics that look very reminiscent of things we fought wars against a few generations ago.

I’ve been wondering how we got here. I see people say they support him because “at least he’s different” or because “Hilary would be worse.”

I hear liberals screaming that we need to unite behind Hilary and vote for her to keep Trump out of office, even acknowledging that maybe she’s not the best candidate but that she’s “better than Trump.”

Granted, I heard the “vote for the lesser of two evils” argument last election, back when I was falling in love with Jill Stein’s campaign. People told me that voting third party would be wasting my vote. At the time, I shrugged it off because, while I might dislike the alternative candidates, I didn’t see them as particularly fear-inducing.

We all have to live through presidencies that we don’t like, but that’s no reason to destroy the voting process by convincing people they don’t have a choice.

Now, this election, I actually feel a deeper pressure. On the one hand, I find Hilary as distrustful as I did Obama. I agree more on certain social issues but despise the dishonesty, the willingness to go to war, the violation of basic privacy, the support of fracking, etc.

But Trump! Good God that man wants to be Hitler if ever anyone did!

I want Bernie to win the nomination.

Or if he doesn’t, I want to vote for Jill Stein again.

I want to vote for the person that I think would be the best leader, the person who would be the least corrupt, and the person who would respect human rights both at home and internationally.

Basically, I want to use my vote to do the thing it’s supposed to do.

But I actually fear what might happen in this election. The “lesser of two evils” feels like a legitimate pull for once.

Unfortunately, as I am writing this, I’m aware that it’s the “lesser of two evils” choice that has fueled Donald Trump’s rise. The two parties have been hiding behind that line, scaring people into voting against an opposing candidate rather than for a candidate for years now. People are clearly frustrated with the status quo and want it to change, which is why crazy, angry, antagonizing men who tap into their frustration seem appealing to some.

This election is a hard choice. If I vote for the candidate I like, I fear the candidate who might win. If I vote to prevent the candidate I fear from winning, I might stave off this presidency but I feed into the cycle that led to this choice in the first place.

In a recent interview, Jill Stein actually outlines how the voting process can be removed from fear with tiered-voting that allows a person’s vote to be cast to their second choice if their first choice candidate doesn’t make it. However, she also talks about how the two main parties have stonewalled her efforts in getting that established because they rely on people’s fear to maintain loyalty.

My question is, do we really want to be a nation of fear?

In his farewell address, the first President of the United States foresaw and warned against the problems we are currently facing. Washington said:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Is that not what we are seeing? The Democrats and Republicans have campaigned against each other’s party for ages, convincing voters that working together is both impossible and unwise, that stepping outside of those parties was obfuscating and giving the victory to the “enemy,” which has led to this very moment where the majority of voters don’t like the options and want a third party but still feel coerced into rallying behind one or the other.

The best thing I can hope to come out of this election season is that the American people realize how fucked up a two-party system is and take active steps to ensure that there are more choices next election.

 

 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A Metaphor of Patriarchy

I recently read The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.

Two things: It’s a ridiculously long book. I confess I skipped a few pages…er chapters with unnecessarily detailed descriptions of buildings and scenery. (Like he literally had whole chapters of nothing but description!)

And it’s fucking dark and depressing.

It’s nothing like the Disney movie. I found none of the characters to be decent human beings, except Esmerelda.

Spoiler alert: she dies.

In the afterword of my edition, it talks about how Victor Hugo was trying to show the process of fate and how inescapable it is.

I didn’t see that.

I did see some interesting feminist themes though.

I was struck by how sensual yet virginal Esmerelda is. She belongs to no man. She chooses to marry a somewhat important character to save him from being “executed” by the court of fools, but she basically tells him to fuck off when he wants to consummate the marriage.

But her virginity isn’t one of chastity in the Christian sense.

She’s a dancer and seems very in touch with her body. She acknowledges having desires. She isn’t afraid to own her sexiness. In a way, her virginity seems more about her being in charge of her sexuality. She is in search of her mother (perhaps a symbol for the sacred feminine or crone) and doesn’t want to have sex until she has found her.

Therefore, I dubbed her the “wild feminine spirit.”

And in a patriarchal world, of course the wild feminine would be besieged from all sides.

There are two characters who want Esmerelda sexually. Phoebus, a playboy soldier, is one. Esmerelda develops a crush on him after he rescues her. Phoebus is named after a sun god, and in a way, I believe that Esmerelda is in love with what he should be rather than who he actually is. She is obsessed with his name but never really knows him.

Phoebus, the non-god, is a pretty douchey guy. He has a fiancée, but is bored with her. He finds sport in seducing women. When he sees Esmerelda, he decides he wants to have sex with her and sets about trying to seduce her with promises of love that he doesn’t mean.

He is a perfect example of objectification within patriarchy. He has no concern for her as an actual person and merely wants to possess her sexually. He tries to guilt her for not wanting to have sex. He promises her things that he never intends on following through on. Sound familiar?

Frollo, the priest mentioned above, is the other. He hates Esmerelda’s sexuality and craves her at the same time. He has spent his life in celibacy. When he becomes aroused by Esmerelda’s independent spirit, he blames her for his own arousal.

In other words, he’s purity culture incarnate.

Interestingly, he’s probably far worse than Phoebus. Phoebus doesn’t care about Esmerelda, but he also doesn’t see her as responsible for his own desires. Frollo, on the other hand, thinks she is the devil for the way he thinks about her.

He blames her and abdicates his own responsibility for his sexual desires. In doing so, he justifies stalking her, trying to kidnap her, trying to rape her, and ultimately murdering her.

Phoebus embodies the “boys will be boys” mentality of patriarchy.

Frollo embodies the “I can’t help it; she was asking for it” mentality of rape culture.

He even tries to convince Esmerelda, as she is languishing in a dungeon without food, warmth, or basic necessities of any kind, that he is suffering more than she.

He gets off on images of her being tortured until she confesses to being a witch.

Ultimately, when he cannot force her to love him, he abandons her to the gallows, allowing her to be executed as a witch.

In the end, Frollo acts the way his own god acts, demanding the submission and love of someone while threatening to punish them if they will not comply.

And the namesake of the book? Well, he’s definitely not as nice as Disney portrays him. Probably for good reason, he hates everyone in Paris except the man who raised him. Quasimodo attempts to help Frollo the first time he tries to capture Esmerelda. He gets caught and punished for the attempted kidnapping. When Frollo turns his back on him while he is in the stocks, Esmerelda shows him kindness by bringing him some water.

At that moment, he falls in love with her, in a different way from the others. He doesn’t want to own her or force her sexually. He longs to be loved by her but sees her as a person. Even then, he is pretty despicable. He protects her from rape one night, but when he realizes he’s fighting off his master, he cowers down, basically saying, “Go ahead and rape her, but please kill me first so I don’t have to feel bad about it (my paraphrase).”

So Quasimodo has glimmers of being able to be a good character, but ultimately cannot stand up to patriarchy and power enough to be good.

I went back and forth as to whether I saw Quasimodo as a symbol for the deformity of healthy masculinity, which cannot fully develop in a patriarchal, misogynist culture or whether I saw him as the alienated and tortured “good” potential of Frollo, twisted by the church, suppression of his own sexuality, and his lust for power.

Probably Quasimodo is both.

Eventually he redeems himself slightly by killing Frollo, but only after he has been rudely awakened to Frollo’s evil when he sees Esmerelda hanging and Frollo laughing in delight.

Frollo certainly spouted off plenty about fate, so I can see where readers might think he is speaking for the author, but I was struck by how fate was often the name he gave his own inability to take responsibility for his desires, needs, and vices. Externalizing his desire and viewing his sexuality as evil set the stage for his dehumanizing Esmerelda and blaming her for the abuse he carried out.

Throughout the story, for all of the men who bemoaned “fate,” the only person who was literally powerless, imprisoned, and at the mercy of other people’s choices was Esmerelda. (Well, the only main character). The others who felt “powerless” to fate were only powerless insofar as they refused to own their choices and actions in the events.

And Frollo, in feeling the most powerless, was the one with his hand on all the strings.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is probably one of the most depressing books I have ever read, but I can’t say that it was a terrible book. There was so much there symbolically to analyze, and I was mesmerized by the way that it seemed to map out how patriarchy crushes a woman’s attempt to own her own body and sexuality. While I might have been happier with a different ending, I can see how no other ending would have carried the impact. In the end, it’s a story of the feminine being betrayed and murdered for refusing to submit.