My Feelings Do Not Determine My Activism

#homophobic & transphobic violence

The other thing I wanted to say about today’s Supreme Court ruling is that the emotions I happen to be having right now are not my final word on this whole question of queer rights and equality.

As I mentioned in my previous post, there are a lot of things that this ruling not only fails to solve, but fails to address. That means for some queer and trans people, today is not a day of celebration at all.

And that is okay.

I mean, it’s not okay that there is so much still undone. But it’s okay to not be happy about a victory that feels like it’s got nothing to do with you and what you need.

So I see all these posts from people that are like “Well I’m not celebrating today,” and I nod and I think to myself, “Okay.” But then I also see all these posts that are like, “If you’re happy/celebrating today then [a bunch of unfounded assumptions about your views, priorities, concerns, and attitudes].”

And that I’m just not down with, because I’m not down with telling people how to feel, or with claiming that people’s feelings are what makes them good people or bad people.

Often I see these things online about various causes: “If you’re not angry then you’re not paying attention,” “How can you even enjoy ____ when ____,” and so on. I’m deeply uncomfortable with framing anger as the only legitimate response to injustice, just as I’m uncomfortable with framing anger as an illegitimate response to injustice. Remember neurodiversity. Different people have a whole range of emotional responses to the same stimuli and that doesn’t make any of them necessarily wrong or broken. For instance, I almost never get angry, and when I do, it’s only when some specific individual has treated me badly. Does this mean I have no place in the fight for social justice?

We say all the time that you’re not a bad person if you feel sad when others think you shouldn’t be, so how could you be a bad person if you feel happy when others think you shouldn’t be? We don’t control our emotions. We control our actions.

But besides, you don’t want me to use negative emotions as the sole or main basis of my activism. You don’t want me to do that because it means that I will always be 1) prioritizing the issues most personal to me first, and 2) either struggling to force myself to have negative emotions about other things or, when I fail to do that, ignoring all those other issues. If anger is what makes injustice worth fighting, then I’m only going to fight those injustices which make me angry.

I understand that a lot of these posts are also based on the (legitimate) assumption that people are not going to act on all these other problems in the wake of this momentous ruling. And yes, unfortunately, that’s probably true of some people. Some people probably now believe that homophobia is over. But those people were never going to get their heads out of the marriage issue anyway. That was their issue. They cared about it. Now it’s over. I wish it weren’t so, but some people only care about what impacts them personally and directly.

Others of us who are celebrating today have known for a long time that this is just one battle of the war. I am not ready to declare the war a victory as long as queer and trans people (especially people of color) are losing jobs, failing to get jobs in the first place, being denied medical care, getting profiled and arrested on the streets, being brutalized by the police, getting deported, getting spat at and thrown bottles at, getting kicked out of their homes by their parents, being forced into conversion therapy, getting beaten and raped.

But feeling happy about what happened today doesn’t make my opinions (and my feelings) about that stuff any less real. There is nothing inconsistent in fighting those other battles while also crying of happiness because maybe one day I can actually marry someone I love, you know?

I want there to be more acknowledgment of the fact that people can have a lot of conflicting and contradictory feelings about the same things, that feelings do not necessarily determine political opinions (and shouldn’t), that activism can be motivated by something other than anger. It’s weird when we say that you shouldn’t judge people for having emotions in some contexts, but then turn around and judge them for it in others.

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I’m Not Gloating Today

I woke up today to a Facebook feed full of posts about the Supreme Court decision that came down today, 5-4: state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and marriage equality is now the law of the land (give or take a few states who’ll put up a pathetic fight for a while, of course).

One of my partners texted me “!!!!” and of course I knew exactly what she meant.

Especially considering some of the things I’ve been writing about recently (and many more that I haven’t mentioned), it affected me more than I expected. I teared up just reading the dry New York Times article, and then I cried at a YouTube ad that had just come out featuring queer folks coming out, and then I cried at Mary Lambert’s “She Keeps Me Warm.” And probably some other stuff.

Almost as quickly as the folks in my feed started sharing image macros and news stories (and, of course, the obligatory reminders that the fight isn’t over [which I understand but also frustrates me because when the fuck did I say I was done???]), I also saw a lot of gloating. “Can’t wait to see what the Republicans are gonna say about this!” “So about that pastor who threatened to set himself on fire if gay marriage happened…”

I’m not going to say that gloating is somehow wrong or bad. I’m just going to say that it puts a damper on what should be a gleefully happy day for me and I wish I could somehow avoid it.

First of all, honestly, the first thing I thought when I saw those posts wasn’t “LOL YOU SUCKERS HAHA,” but oh my god, I can get married. Right here, if I wanted to. I no longer have to choose where I live based on where I can have a family. My wife, if I have one someday, will never have to be alone in the hospital because I can’t come see her, or vice versa.

And I thought, they finally understand that this isn’t some pretend delusional version of a “real” love. This is a love as real as any other, not just two perverted adults playing house.

And I thought, now I don’t have to worry about writing up complicated legal contracts when I should be worrying about the color scheme and where to seat my best friend from high school.

And I had sadder thoughts, too, like “but my family still thinks it’s repulsive” and “but how are we going to fix all the other problems like transphobia and deportation and queer youth homelessness and violence and health disparities” and “but there are so few queer women out there I’ll probably never get married anyway.” So no, it’s not all rainbows.

But those sad thoughts didn’t bring me down the way the gloating did. Most of the gloating I saw was coming from straight cis people, and it really felt like they were just using this historic, incredible moment to take another shot at the Bad Out-Group and cement the status of the Good In-Group. “Haha, guess that pastor has to set himself on fire now!” I swear, you take one social psychology class and it turns you into an annoying cynic for life, but really.

It also felt extremely tone-deaf considering how much power churches, governments, and other institutions still have over queer/trans people despite this important ruling. Whatever laughable tantrums some of these conservative Christian leaders are going to have, guess what–they get to have the last laugh, because all around the country queer and trans people can still lose their jobs just because of who they are (and don’t kid yourself that anti-discrimination laws help much against this), and queer and trans youth still get sent to conversion therapy or kicked out of their homes, and trans people are still denied the healthcare they need, and queer women still face disgusting threats from men who want to “turn us straight,” and the President still gets to decide who he hears and who he doesn’t.

Unlike others (whose feelings are also valid), this doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate today. But it does mean that I’m very, very wary of the gloatings of straight people right now.

I feel differently when queer people gloat because I’m able to trust that they get all this. They live it too. For us, humor and ridicule can be a survival skill (though not one that generally feels all that good for me personally).

But straight people–of course your first thought wasn’t “finally finally finally I can have a family.” Y’all have had that right for millennia. (I acknowledge here that straight people with other marginalization have not always had that right, but I’m speaking generally.) You don’t even necessarily have to think about how close we might’ve been to an enormous setback.

So sure, gloat. I’ll stick with the things I personally find constructive: celebrating, and planning our next battles.