A New Queer Year
It probably says something that I’m doing a New Year’s post two weeks into the year, but as John and Sherlock would tell you on the BBC, it is what it is.
This post isn’t about the clusterfuck that was 2016 in the world, or the Trump presidency, but rather a short collection of personal thoughts about what 2017 might mean for me and what 2016 did. Some of you may have noticed that I’ve been quieter in public in recent months. A large part of this has to do with wrestling with what actual accountability means as a white person trying to be involved in countering white supremacy. I’m less comfortable with public activism than I used to be, because I don’t want my voice to be one of the loudest. But I expect that I’ll continue to write, albeit at this slow pace I’ve settled into, for many years to come.
While I do less public speaking and writing about general queerness, wanting to make space for QTPOC voices, I have been still thinking about areas where my contribution might be more appropriate. So I’ve done a few talks on trans-inclusivity in data, melding my day job with my side hustle, and I’m excited that B Cordelia Yu and I will be presenting together at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March on that topic. I’ve also toyed with a podcast idea, but it burned bright for a few weeks and then energy drained away, much as it’s been with wanting to learn to draw comics, designing games, etc. And that brings me to the real point of this post, which is figuring out how to make contributions when your mental health just doesn’t want to let you.
I don’t have any severe mental health conditions, but I do struggle with anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and ADD. This cocktail of fun has really been poking at me when it comes to project-based work. Last year, I was proud of myself for being able to actually take a lot of things off my to-do list and just accept that my value system doesn’t have to be all about achievement and completing projects. I’m trying to keep that frame of mind for work and accept that outside of work, I don’t need to achieve big things. To some extent it worked. I spent much of 2016 cultivating a really really exciting new relationship, and also made some big grown-up strides in developing my existing relationships. I managed to (knock on a hell of a lot of wood) get out of a destructive eating pattern that was causing digestive health problems and pre-diabetes and be gentle with myself in doing so.
But there’s still part of me that keeps feeling like I need a big, new (public) accomplishment. External praise is highly addictive, whether it’s feedback on a blog post or obsessively checking for comments on a recently-posted piece of fanfiction. I’ve learned that survival alone isn’t rewarded around here, and one of my biggest 2017 challenges is trying to keep breaking down years of guilt. That gets tougher when there are, of course, things that I should legitimately be embarrassed about, ashamed of, or disappointed in myself for, both systemically as a member of dominant groups and personally. I’m trying to learn how to weed out the useful guilt that motivates me to do better from the feeling that I’m a failure when I’m sitting around in my apartment with a buzzing brain and just can’t calm down to do a single task. It’s a tension between the self-care messages of “you’re okay just as you are” and the activist messages of “we’re living in a crisis mode, get your ass off the couch and help your neighbors!”
Even talking about it is challenging, because I do think there’s an element of whiny white guilt that always comes up around this topic, and ain’t nobody got time for that, but I think there’s also a serious core question of how we juggle mental health and (activist, productivity, other) responsibilities.