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Emotional & Social Support in Activism

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!

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Johnny Weir Comes Out: Why We Need a Queer Movement

“We’re here, we’re queer, get over it!”

This used to be a rallying cry for the gay and lesbian liberation movement, but I think it’s high time we appropriate it for something different.  “Liberation” is supposed to be a lofty goal, a formative moment in the life cycle, but in fact it’s become a prison cell.  The more I hear from the gay and lesbian movement, the more disillusioned with it I become.  It’s time for something new.

Johnny Weir Comes Out, Gay Media Pitches Fit

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.  For years, the gay media has been annoyed with American figure skater Johnny Weir for refusing to self-define as gay, while mainstream journalists can’t say one sentence about Weir without a cutesy comment about fashion or mannerisms–all code for “wink wink, he’s a big ole homo.”  In fact, I’m looking over my shoulder right now, waiting for the Associated Press to issue me a fine for not including the adjective “flamboyant” in front of Weir’s name in this blog post.

Yesterday, Weir finally “came out” when selections from an upcoming issue of People magazine were leaked.  What did said gay media, waiting all this time for Weir to finally stand up and be counted, feel about this revelation?  Well, relief, of course, because Johnny Weir coming out means that the gay media can  finally “write about [and] appreciate” him.  After all, without making a public statement about his sexuality, “[h]ow could he be considered a role model?”

Talk about damning with feint praise.  What I find so insidious about that After Elton article, and others like it, is that any closet around Johnny Weir is entirely constructed around Weir by the same gay media that criticizes him for not coming out of it–as well, of course, as the mainstream media that describes his competitors’ talents and masculine strength in an Olympic report while only mentioning Weir’s love for Lady Gaga or his hairdo.

It’s important to note that Johnny Weir never said he was in a closet.  He never said that he was straight or gay.  He consistently uses quotation marks around the word closet, and in response to the leak he Tweeted the following:

I don’t remember ever pretending to be something other than I am, nor do I remember living with my coats inside a wardrobe. I just live.

In a world where heterosexual is normal, queer celebrities are necessarily “in the closet” if they don’t discuss their sexuality in public.  When a celebrity says nothing, the assumption is that he or she is trying to imply straightness. What I find such a shame is what Weir said in the People article about how he was talking about his sexuality now in part because he wants to be a role model to the queer adolescents that are considering suicide.  I find it devastating that someone would have to use the word “gay” to be a role model, but I also see exactly where he’s coming from.  Kids are raised in this black and white, homosexual/heterosexual world.  Even bisexuality is misunderstood, not to mention pansexuality, queerness, and differing gender expressions.  Weir is out there being himself, doing what he wants to do, being a role model for kids–but society’s blinders say that he’s closeted, send a message to adolescents that I doubt Weir himself would ever approve.

Johnny Weir has become one of my role models because he does blur lines of gender and sexuality.  As a genderqueer person coming to terms with my own gender, it’s wonderfully refreshing to see a public figure being so defiant, refusing to let others put a box around his neck.  I love the way he demands that the focus be put on his interests, his projects, his creativity, and not his identity labels.  Even in the People article that tries so hard to fit him into a typical coming out narrative, he stirs that up a bit by talking about different aspects of himself, the things he loves, the traits that transcend a simple gendered picture.

Again: we’re here, we’re queer, get over it.  It’s time for those of us who don’t fit in boxes to start our own movement.

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Why Is Same-Sex Marriage a Priority?

I know I’ve mentioned here before that I get frustrated by the emphasis on marriage and the military in the gay rights movement, two issues that don’t really matter to me personally and in some ways seem less important than other issues (like decriminalization of sodomy around the world, like HIV prevention, like hate crimes prevention, like non-discrimination laws). But aside from that, I was just wondering, why marriage? Obviously it’s an important institution in our society, but I find it interesting that it happens to be the marker of how the gay rights movement is progressing around the world. A lot of countries in Latin America, for example, have really impressive laws about hate crimes and non-discrimination, but that doesn’t get emphasized in the news at all, while a new country getting same-sex marriage is automatically a big deal.