I recently finished Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman, a blistering account of the AIDS crisis and the failure of America to take it seriously. It describes the completely preventable deaths as a largely unacknowledged American tragedy. It gave me a feeling that’s similar to what my mom described after reading Susan Faludi’s Backlash: rage at what I learned. There is blood on the hands of the Reagans and the hands of their supporters. Blood is on the hands of the uncaring conservatives that trotted out their pet gay Andrew Sullivan to say that AIDS was over in 1996. This rush to declare it done, to declare it past, to put it behind us and forget when it was still taking lives in the ’90s was absurd. That usual American spinelessness when it comes to facing any measure of account or culpability. America will run from owning slavery and the systemic, fatal oppression that it built itself on and it will run too from owning the millions of deaths of people from a disease it could have treated. And now we see America abandoning responsibility again not from AIDS this time, but from trans people.
Just like with AIDS before, there’s a politically expedient reason to show this much senseless cruelty to a marginalized community: it’s killing people conservatives are OK with dying. As with AIDS before, we hear no end to moralizing against a community’s very existence with the goal of dehumanizing them. A dehumanized community makes a great scapegoat for the Republican Party. They can whisper it through their actions: all your agita, all your disaffection, all yours and anyone’s woes are the fault of the other. Why blame capitalism when you can blame the marginalized? Why fight your oppressor when you can kick the ribs of the person below you? We fight each other as we’re crushed.
This week, I learned about 303 Creative, Inc vs Elenis. As the ACLU’s website will tell you on the other side of that link, the case is about whether a public business can discriminate against its customers on the basis of sexual orientation. Depending on how the Supreme Court finds, public businesses across the United States could legally post a “STRAIGHTS ONLY” sign. Why is this not a huge story? Why is this op-ed from last year the only non-legal blog site Google gives me when I search for the case? It’s not as if the Roe-overturning, nazi-money accepting SCOTUS didn’t signal they’d be coming for queer people next. This undersung threat to human rights along with the 491 bills meant to restrict and punish LGBTQ+ folx might have you a little down about queerness. Sure, it might be nice on some level when corporations wear Pride colors, but it’s a hollow marketing exercise that amounts to pretty cold comfort. It’s challenging to stay strong in the face of it all. Staying proud of yourself and who you are can feel like trying to keep a match lit when you’re caught in a drenching storm.
When news media doesn’t deign to cover how the SCOTUS could revoke the LGBTQ+’s ability to patronize any public business of their choosing, it’s difficult to feel like we’ll see a threat coming. It feels as if all we have and was fought for by many brave queers before us can be taken away at the Republican’s whim. They’re always waiting to remind us that we’re less than them, beneath the respect they take for granted, and at the moment they need to distract from another corporate tax break, I’m certain they’ll come attacking again.
How do you take all of this in and keep going? How do you stay proud and how do you keep loving yourself when you’re confronted with violent ignorance and noise? Instead of allowing bigots with conservative platforms like Twitter or the House of Representatives to define queerness and its nature, define it for yourself. This interview with Ocean Vuong contains many gems, but one that I’ve taken to particular heart is this quote, “Queerness is, in many ways, vital to innovation because it operates as a space where permission is offered as change. That is a very rare and radical idea in American thinking and politics—people say, “Oh, you’re a flip-flopper,” but actually, this means that a person is thinking, corresponding, and changing—why would anyone want to stay in one place? And yet, we emphasize stability as progress, the unchanging form, and queerness rejects that and offers a wild, often chaotic yet expansive lesson in what is possible.” Reading this and Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous, I felt galvanized to reappraise my relationship with queerness. Having marinated in the same hetero-normative culture as the rest of America, I carried internalized homophobia as any other queer person does. I saw my sexuality as something to apologize for or disclaim. Vuong’s words pushed me to a new truth and one I use as an affirmation for myself: queerness is a gift.
I count the blessings queerness has brought me: it pushes me to think critically about my world, gives me a perspective outside the hetero-normative construct, makes me question what I really want, makes me value my voice, shows me the fluidity of sexuality, it shows me the value of found family, it teaches me about representation, it helps me love myself better, it helps me see the silliness of strict gender roles. “Queerness is a gift” has carried me through low moments and reminds me that no matter what terrible and monstrous bigotry is thrown at me, the gift of queerness is unassailable. I think too of the recursive power queerness holds in America; All Dylan Mulvaney had to do was some sponsored content for Budwiesser to ignite another culture war. Queerness is power and truth. Queerness is beautiful and vital.
Ask yourself: what gifts has queerness given you?
Chris Revelle shouts into the media void with his pals on Why Did We Watch This?