As organizers, sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in law, policy, and discrimination and forget about the importance of culture. As I follow the #cc13 hashtag today, I’m reminded of how powerful diasporas can be and how strong my sense of Southern self is.
I grew up in North Carolina, and a big part of my identity formation as a queer teenager rested in opposition to my location as a Southerner. It was easy to dislike the South while imagining the big queer meccas awaiting me over the Yankee rainbow. But as a trans queer adult, I’ve learned that Southern culture has a profound and often positive effect on who I am.
Being a Southerner means instant nostalgic connection as you wax rhapsodic with others in the Southern diaspora about grits and sweet tea, biscuits and cream gravy, even those awful “salad molds” of Jello and pineapple and whipped cream. It means a shared language of “bless her heart” and “come to Jesus meetings.” It means ingrained traditions around generosity and creating family wherever you go. Being a queer Southerner means forging tighter bonds with members of this diasporic niche, and examining the relationship between queer and Southern identity.
As I read the Tweets from North Carolinians in Atlanta this weekend I feel a sort of hometown tug, and look forward to visiting my high school in a few weeks, where I’ll be doing a trans 101 program. Though I often feel envy for those who grew up in liberal areas with many resources, and thus learned how to describe their own genders and sexualities long before I did, I also often think about the surprising openness of conservative straight white parents who approached me after graduation and said they’d learned something from my speech on how discrimination forms and leads to anti-gay bullying. That moment is a touchstone that reminds me something very important: every group on this planet is made up of individual people. The power of a diaspora is both to spread culture outward and to return with new perspectives that might change individual minds. Queer Southerners are living examples of our region’s diversity and potential, as are those conservative parents who cast aside prejudice and upbringing for a moment and were willing to listen to a 17 year old who had something to say.
I’ve been thinking about activism since a number of you commented to my last post expressing your interest in queer-movement building. One of the ideas I have actually comes from my reading about pregnancy and childbirth in preparation for possibly one day becoming a doula (childbirth support person/advocate). I was thinking about some of the functions of a doula as caretaker–providing massage, food, tea, helping the pregnant woman move around and bathe, etc. It occurred to me that not only pregnant women need this kind of support!
When is the last time someone held your hand, prepared you a meal, or gave you a hug? This question may sound kind of hokey, but I think a lot of us who are involved in activism tend to be very go-go-go, without ever slowing down and considering how to best support ourselves or ask for help. Activism can be draining work, particularly when it runs parallel to our own self-discovery or processing.
Those of us who are interested in building a queer movement may encounter questions about our own gender and sexuality in our work. Online community can be a great way to do this processing–through blogging, supporting others in forums, etc.–but it’s also good to have an in-person support system and think about how activists can blend social and emotional support with activist work.
I’ve been resistant to suggestions like this is in the past because they tend to come up in a gender-essentialized framework. For example, when feminists encourage other feminists “not to deny your feminine side” or to “accept the natural desire for nurturing and care,” I tend to shut down. This doesn’t fit into my concept of myself as genderqueer, which is separate from the gender binary. My self doesn’t have “masculine” and “feminine” “sides.” But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need support.
I’ve talked about conscious-raising before when blogging about third-wave feminism, but I think that it’s worth bringing up again in this context. Part of queer movement-building can be coming together in small groups for a potluck or game night, getting to know fellow activists, and talking about our own processes. Many of us (myself very much included) could use some development of our listening skills if we want to meet the ten points I proposed for a queer movement. Sitting down and just sharing our stories can be a valuable way to do this–without interrupting or analogizing to our own experience, or thinking about what we’re going to say next.
I also think that one way to encourage a more body-positive and sex-positive approach to activism and to life is to start in small groups. Being aware of other perspectives and open to them is a crucial skill for activism. Talking about our own bodies, sexuality, and queer experiences can be one way to open ourselves up to the diversity of the queer movement and to begin to flush shame and guilt about our genders and sexualities out of our lives.
If anyone in the Baltimore/DC area would be interested in some sort of potluck group or queer games night, feel free to get in touch with me at judithavory [at] gmail [dot] com. Or if you want to propose such a circle in your area, leave a comment!
One thing that was really interesting for me about the Women + Power Conference was all the discussion about blogging and other Internet technology and how it shapes our activism, our news-reading habits, etc. From the stage, there were some really interesting stories about, for example, how a woman in rural Africa was able to connect to other women in a way she never would have been able to pre-Internet through the site Pulse Wire. In our intergenerational lunch conversation, we talked more about how the Internet affects us generally, in terms of relating and developing friendships, both positive and negative.
When I got home, I started thinking about just how I do use the Internet both for information gathering and for community building. Of course, I’m very conscious of things that the Internet helps me with in terms of getting information about the weather, restaurant menus, contact info, all that stuff that I find myself without when I’m away from the computer. But what I don’t pay as much attention to is the social element. I also wonder how my Internet use differs from others my generation and a little bit older, or a little bit younger. So I’ll describe a typical day of Internet usage for me, and I’d be interested to hear how this differs from your experience in the comments. Also, coincidentally I came across a blog post today that discusses relationships and Facebook. Though Facebook isn’t a big social medium for me, I thought you might be interested to check out what this blogger has to say.
A Day in the Online Life of Me
Keep in mind, of course, that I’m not working right now, so I can spend a lot more time online.
Right after waking up: Read through Twitter Feed and Tweet once. Check e-mail. Read my Google Reader (a few traditional newspapers, feminist websites and blogs, queer blogs, sexuality blogs, law and other academic blogs, foodblogs, Daily Beast, friends’ blogs, NPR, the New Yorker).
During the day: Watch a few TV shows online (Rachel Maddow Show, Daily Show, Colbert Report). Post to one or two of my blogs. Spend a good 4-6 hours intermittently chatting with friends online. I met many of my closest friends online initially, and some I have never met in person, which was a particular surprise to the older women at the intergenerational lunch.
Night: Settle into a chat room with a group of my friends. Chat till around 11 pm – 1 am until my eyes absolutely won’t stay open. Rinse and repeat.
Some observations: One thing I don’t use a lot is Facebook, though it’s a great tool for invitations and organizing contact information. I don’t read Twitter more than once a day, which means that I miss a lot. I was surprised to hear presenters this weekend talk about meeting people on Twitter. Meet? But it’s 140 characters! I met most of my friends through blog and online journal comments, communities specific to a particular interest, or OKCupid, an online dating site that I use to meet other queer friends and sometimes make dates. After making a connection, our primary contact is through IM. I also don’t use Skype or videochat, so my contacts are almost all textual. Sometimes when I do meet someone in person I’m surprised by how their personality is different, how they look, how they interact. I don’t know if it’s good or bad – just different.