In activisty Pinterest-land, I keep seeing memes about how queer identity is “not just a phase.” I get that impulse, and I do think there are places for the argument–when people assume that queerness is a phase, especially in the condescending way adults often do with young queer women, it’s just obnoxious. But also, I’d like to question why we’re so negative about phases in the queer community. In other words–what if an identity is a phase?
I think it can be really scary to claim one identity and then change your mind. Particularly if the change is towards an identity perceived as “less queer” (which, for the record, is not a thing) you might get written off and excluded from communities that meant a lot to you. Lesbians can be pretty cruel when one of their own decides she’s bisexual or pansexual, and trans folks aren’t always the nicest to someone who decides that transition isn’t for them, or who first comes out as a trans man or woman and then realizes non-binary is more correct. I used to be terrified that this might happen to me, but then I started thinking, so what if it does?
Fun fact: people change. And our access to rights, or community services, or recognition, shouldn’t require that we have a bone-deep permanent understanding of our sexuality or gender identity. You can identify as something for right now. You can try something out and see how it feels. You can even be pretty sure about an identity for ten years and then watch as it shifts and surprises the hell out of you. Some of my favorite things have phases–project management, the moon, human lifespans. So while it’s not “just a phase,” it might be a phase, and that’s okay too!
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!