Do I have to be an activist?
First, a meditation.
A Litany For Survival
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive
– Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn
In the fall of 2006, I had been out for two and a half years. Though my university has six LGBT groups, I had not participated in a single event with them. Not the Back-to-School BBQueer, not the Second Chance Prom, not the Lambda tailgate, not the speaker series. Not a single thing.
My gayness was limited to dating men and frequenting gay clubs.
That all changed when I joined the whirlwind cross-country faith-based LGBTQ activism program Equality Ride, sponsored by Soulforce. For four months, I lived and breathed gay activism full-time. Today, I conspire with visionary individuals and organizations to change the world through web and media. Many of them are LGBT focused or intentionally LGBT-inclusive in their justice work. I “do” activism every day.
One of the concerns I hear in my work with people in various stages of the coming out process, is “I don’t want to be an activist or in-your-face, I just want to be me.” I feel that too: I want to just be.
There are certainly activists. Folks, myself included, who intentionally work in specific, public ways to change the world.
I am realizing each day that activism is bigger than that though. Bigger than the non-profit professionals and the union organizers and Wall Street occupiers.
I don’t have the luxury of choosing activism, it chose me. I have activism thrust upon me every day as I live in a society that relegates me to Less Than. Every time I present in a gender non-conforming way—whether that’s crossing my legs while sitting on the subway or gesticulating too wildly while speaking—I open myself up danger. Every time I embrace a romantic partner or reference a relationship, I take a risk: my friend might abandon me, a stranger might attack me, an employer or client might terminate me.
And at the same time, every time I live and act openly and proudly, I occupy that piece of life and society, and state: I am here. Every time I talk about my relationships, and my gay friends; every time I embrace a spectrum of gender presentations and roles; I am engaging in activism.
In coming out to my pastor and in risking arrest to speak with students at Wisconsin Lutheran… in both of the places, I am activist.
The practice for me (and for you, if you choose it) is to find alignment. Find the spot that feels right. That spot might change from time to time, or moment to moment. And that is OK, that is to be expected.
Find the ways to be true and authentic and proud and bold.
This is part of December’s series on Tough Questions on the path to affirmation. You can subscribe to receive the daily prompts. Would you consider responding to this prompt (publicly, on your blog or social network; or privately in a journal, 750words.com, or in an email to me [or someone else]).