re-entering the chaos of radical love and belonging

[Photo description: a red and white sticker, young woman's face in profile surrounded by a red circle and the words "Don't give up the fight - Queer up your life"]Good morning, good morning. It’s not even seven here yet and already it looks like high noon outside, the sun making an enormously bright arc of the horizon. I close all the shades, trying to hold on to dark for a little bit longer. What do you do when you want to hold on to the dark?

I went too hard and too fast this weekend; the pendulum is swinging back from “constant engagement with others” to “go hide in a cave,” and I’m in Facebook withdrawal right now. Between following the organizing of a couple of outsider events during Gay Pride weekend (a Thursday Throwback “march” that ended up being a sweet gathering in Dolores Park of folks who all knew and loved one another in queer 90s San Francisco, and a Take Back the Dyke March march [note: that link’s NSFW] that was hastily and yet professionally thrown together when it was made known that the Dyke March was taking a new route and the community couldn’t get any answers as to why) and the Supreme Court ruling about marriage equality on Friday, I was on Facebook constantly. I get a little obsessive with it, refreshing my screen over and over, but not necessarily participating in any conversations as much as I’m just consuming, consuming, consuming. What’s happening? What did she say back to him? What do they think about this?

Yes, on Friday, it was powerful to watch everyone and their sister rainbow their Facebook profile pics in support of the newly-announced right of gay/queer folks to marry anywhere in the country, if they chose. All those rainbows felt like a virtual gay pride parade — and yet I kept reminding myself about the other side of the equation: “This isn’t in support of gay/queer folks generally — this is about marriage, about a particular and comfortable and romantic vision of togetherness. There’s lots about queer folks that mainstream America– and the mainstream gay community — still isn’t dealing with.”

Many of my friends posted reminders/invocations/exhortations that we as a community/communities not cease our advocacy work now that we had “achieved” the right in America for any two adults to enter into the contract of legal, civil marriage. Don’t forget, they said: Queer and trans folks across the country are still bashed, are still murdered, are still denied housing, are still denied employment. Gaining the right to marry doesn’t make us all equal or safe. Many folks posted about being completely equal now. Really, said the folks of color on my newsfeed. You think marriage equality is all it’s going to take to ensure that all of us are going to be treated equally in the eyes of the law? Folks managed to post these statements about full equality, with no apparent sense of irony, on the same morning that President Obama was offering the eulogy at the memorial service for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

I ‘liked’ all the rainbow faces, then ‘liked’ all the rants against the mainstream gay movement’s focus on marriage as the one and only goal for the last, what, decade? More? I swung back and forth, sharing articles and photos and comments, my emotions yanked around from joyful to grateful to outraged to deeply sad and back again.

I downloaded the Facebook app to my phone so that I could post from the different marches I attended this weekend, and so that I could stay “in touch.” But what kind of touch was I in? I had a shit-ton of FOMO this weekend, which I rarely experience: first, because I mostly keep off of Facebook, so I don’t even know what’s going on, and second, because I decided some time ago that I needed to devote the majority of my time and energy to writing, the workshops, the people I love, and a general downtime filled with reading and garden and walking and cooking: deep self care. Facebook — or rather, the way I use Facebook, because I use it addictively –does not contribute to my self care, so mostly I stay off of it.

The FOMO didn’t have to do with missing particular events, though — it had to do more with missing being in community. I missed the friends I’d hung out with back east, that casual queer (and queer-acting-and-appearing) community at school, the folks I’d come out with, the people I fell in with when I began volunteering with a queer youth group. Why don’t I have that sort of community here? I wondered, watching folks post joyful photos from the Thursday Throwback march, the Trans March, the Dyke March (and the Take Back the Dyke March march), and Pride. Why have I situated myself again to feel like such an outsider?

Why is it that I have to keep telling myself this story: no one really likes me, I don’t really belong — it’s a story that’s older than my stepfather’s abuse, but his decade of violence and isolation certainly didn’t help.

Part of this disconnect from folks is the trade off that I make in order to create space for my writing. Part of this is constitutional, being an introvert. Part of it is a side effect of living in the Bay Area, where most of the folks I know are doing too much all the time, and scheduling a coffee date means getting out the calendar and looking ahead many weeks. And part of it is trauma aftermath.

But another part — this experience of being an outsider — is a result of coming out in the early 90s as a sex-positive incest survivor queer bi girl, planting my flag in the radical queer community that had sprung up around the edges of AIDS panic and homophobic assaults. In this outsider culture, I found a place that welcomed my complications and messiness. We rallied and ranted, shouting, You can’t use AIDS scare us away from having sex, claiming pleasure. You can’t scare us into mainstream normalcy. We reject your conditional acceptance. 

It’s funny that I’ve been thinking about the quadratic equation recently (I was a math geek in high school, so sue me), because that “you” up there a couple of paragraphs ago had a couple of possible root meanings: we were yelling at both mainstream homophobic straight society and a gay rights movement (exemplified by Andrew Sullivan and his ilk) that was already beginning its lean to the right, the one that asked the faeries and queer femmes and butches and leather dykes and poly folks and bi folks to stay home on gay pride day, or at least wear a costume that hid our real selves, in order that the folks watching at home would be reassured that gays were “just like them.”

We said, fuck you. We’re not like you. We’re not like them. We’re different, and we deserve acceptance anyway. We wanted to queer family, queer togetherness, queer “marriage.” We wanted something messier. We wanted something more beautiful than what we had seen marriage wreak in our families.

It was enormously powerful for me, a newly-out, newly-freed-from-incest, 22-year-old queer girl to feel like I belonged in that we — in any “we,” really, but particularly in that site of passionate resistance. Maybe it didn’t feel like home — because nothing exactly felt like home, an unsafe space if ever there was one –but at least I got to gather with other weirdos like me, refugees from the land of trauma, and feel a little less alone. That chaotic outsiderness became my safe haven.

Since the 1950s, the pendulum of the visible gay rights movement has swung from:

– presenting a safe and clean-cut vision of a group of people who weren’t at fault for their feelings and asked to be accepted anyway, to

– exploding in radical rage during the worst of the AIDS crisis and demanding compassion and health care and the right to still be sexual beings, to

– asking if we couldn’t please be given the right to serve as ministers of churches, serve our military openly, and serve the community good by marrying.

With each swing, more and more of our communities lose their grip on the slippery stuff of conditional welcome, or they let go on purpose and go looking for other places to belong. The circle described by the identities Gay, Lesbian, even Queer, have shrunk rather than enlarged as our movements have been more mainstreamed. The sense of being an outsider as a queer person has slipped from my shoulders, mostly, and with it, that experience of being home-ish somewhere in community with others. I married — and divorced — twice. About the time the fight for marriage equality kicked into high gear, I had begun a business, the initial goal of which was to encourage sexual trauma survivors into their own messy, beautiful, erotic voices — and then I, too, got caught up in the desire to present a safe and acceptable front, trickling away from a focus on erotic writing and honing in on survivor writing (because, of course, we as a culture are much more comfortable with the language of violence than with the language of desire). Though I felt more and more bifurcated from my full voice, I held the pendulum to the side of a particular vision of “success” and “acceptance” as long as I could before burnout swung me out into confusion and loss, and began to pull me down.

When you graph a quadratic equation, you get an arc a (shallow) parabola, a word that arises from the same root as “parable.” We need all the pieces of the all of our stories in order to create a continuous flow. All of us, all of our authentic and complicated voices and selves, including the radical outsiders, are necessary to keep the universe in motion — shifting us away from stagnancy and conditional acceptance and into the intricate, life-affirming realm of beauty and chaos.

So, in the aftermath of a hectic and too-extroverted Pride weekend, I’m quieting down, recalibrating my sense of balance, and am slowly reaching out to the friends with whom I feel I can be my truest me. I deleted the Facebook app from my phone again, having (again) reminded myself how much psychic energy I will happily devote to reading the rest of the world’s status updates and shared articles rather than working on my own.

Here’s to chaos and beauty, my friends. Let’s keep singing our complicated and complicating songs, and sharing what magnificence we make with one another and the world. Thanks for all you contribute to this magical mess. Please keep writing and singing and shouting and longing and arguing and hoping and naming and weeping and dancing. And writing. Did I say writing? And writing, too. Definitely.

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