Central PA's LGBT News Source
It is a difficult time to be a queer or trans person in America. Not that there’s ever been an easy time, but right now our LGBTQ+ communities - particularly trans and non-binary folks, queer and trans people of color, LGBTQ+ immigrants - are under attack.
It is exhausting to check our social media feeds each morning, bracing ourselves for the bad news of the day. It is exhausting to see the repeated attacks against us and those we care about. Amidst the constant barrage, we can feel powerless. What’s the use of posting on social media, protesting in the streets, calling our legislators? Will anything ever actually change?
I remember feeling that acutely the Monday after the massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which came on the heels of a week with multiple attacks from the Trump Administration on transgender people, and two Black people being killed by a white supremacist in a grocery store. The collective weight of hate, violence, and oppression felt so heavy. I had no answers about how to make this better, because everything just felt so broken. But even in the midst of the sadness, the anger, the despair I had this strong sense that we had to keep trying. We had to keep speaking out, showing up, donating, volunteering, working, living, existing, and resisting - because what was the alternative? We couldn’t let the forces of hate, violence, and oppression win, even though they felt so strong.
That’s still how I feel today. Our LGBTQ+ movement - and every movement for liberation - has been built on resistance, since we know as Dr. King said that “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”. It is often one step forward and two steps back - because social change is not linear, and those in power will always be pushing back as we push forward. So in order to continue our resistance we need to build our resilience by caring for ourselves and caring for each other, because we are in this for the long haul.
As Audre Lorde famously said “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”. She was speaking from her lived experiences as a Black queer woman living under the daily oppression and violence from racist, sexist, and heterosexist systems - systems that still exist today. Unfortunately, “self-care” has too often become a buzzword, and is commodified by our capitalist society to try to sell us things or experiences. However, truly caring for ourselves in a society that does not value our identities or our lives IS revolutionary. So how can we seek to embody this concept of self-care in its truest form?
Part of it is being mindful of how and when we read the news or use social media. If we are connected to what’s going on in the world 24/7, it becomes both overwhelming and numbing. But by allowing ourselves to take breaks, we can both rejuvenate ourselves and be more mindful when we are connected. For me, this means that when I put on an episode of TV to unwind after work, I put my phone upside down next to me and don’t check it until that episode is over. It’s one hour of being focused on something else, and even being present during the commercials rather than scrolling through Facebook or checking my e-mail. There’s something about that one hour that makes me feel more able to engage with the world in meaningful ways after making that intentional space to take a break.
It’s also about creating space for the things that are life-giving for us. What are the things that you love to do, that make you feel most alive and connected to yourself? For some people it’s creating art, dancing, listening to music, reading, or writing poetry. For me, I love watching good television, listening to memoirs (right now: Michelle Obama!), playing Mary Lambert really loud and singing along, walking by the river, and writing about things that matter. It can be challenging for us to create space for these things, due to lack of time or resources, exhaustion or depression, or being in a place where we’re just trying to survive. In some ways, self-care is a luxury - but it shouldn’t be, because it is critical to our survival.
The other thing that is critical to our survival is caring for each other. One of the incredible strengths of our LGBTQ+ communities is the creation of chosen families. While we may or may not have close relationships (or any relationships) with our families of origin, we have created families of choice - people who we love and care for and who love and care for us through all of life’s ups and downs.
We see this throughout the history of our movement - the Ball Culture creating “houses” with parental figures providing tangible support and a place of belonging for queer and trans people of color; the Stonewall Inn offering a place of welcome for trans women of color, drag queens, and homeless LGBTQ+ youth; the LGBTQ+ communities who came around gay men and others who were stricken with HIV/AIDS to care for them when no one else would; and on and on. This creation of chosen families is an incredible legacy that we carry within our communities, and it is something that we continue today.
I have seen the very tangible ways that our chosen families function through the Center - people celebrating holidays and milestones together, helping each other move into new apartments or offering a place to stay, caring for each other after surgeries or during mental health crises, and helping raise money for gender-affirming surgeries. We support each other in tangible ways, and remind each other that we are loved, we are wanted, we belong, we are home. I am incredibly grateful for my chosen family, who celebrate with me on the good days, support me on the bad days, and share all of the ordinary moments in between. I know that when I am feeling exhausted or overwhelmed, spending time with them is always the balm that I need.
We don’t know what the next attacks on our communities will be, but as we continue to resist let us remember how vital it is that we care for ourselves and we care for each other. Practicing self-care and creating chosen families IS radical, and part of what makes us resilient.