This post is a response to a recent blog entry titled “Who is Gender Queer?” on this site from Carol Christ. The post can be read by clicking here. I want to thank my friend, advocate, and upcoming scholar Martha Ovadia for reasons only she knows! Stay brave, speak up, be heard!
It is terrifying to know that something is wrong but not be able to speak truth to power.
It is even more terrifying to know something is wrong, be able to speak to it, and then silence those voices that do not have that same privilege, power, or position.
The struggle that many of us in positions of privilege and power face is not just that of being ostracizing and essentializing forces—it is that we, as allies, members of communities, or even those dedicated to a cause, can ourselves participate in the oppression we are fighting against and can do harm.
It’s taken me a long time to not only be comfortable with who I identify as, but also how I go about fighting and defining my life based on said identity and experience. However, the one thing that I have the ability to do is choose that identity more freely than others. Unlike Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, or Yaz’min Shancez pictured above, I did not have to face the types of oppressions they did, to which they sadly lost their lives, as a result of the fact that we exist in a society that can’t deal with the inability to leave things undefined or to allow people to define who they are on their own terms.
It is vital that although my lived experiences could never meet nor match the same types of oppression that these brave individuals had to face, I, as a white, cisgendered gay male, do not become part of their oppression through my own position and privilege.
As a man who exists in the world of feminism and within various women’s communities, I walk a daily tightrope of privilege and power to insure that I do not silence those that I consider allies, friends, mentors, or colleagues. As a man who exists in the world of the LGBTQ community, I walk an additional tightrope to additionally not take away from or diminish the experiences of those members of our community that do not have the same type of lived experiences as myself. Even within minority communities, there are positions of hierarchy and within these hierarchies of knowledge, identity, or power, comes a responsibility to insure that the oppressed do not become the oppressors.
We find our versions of home in these communities and it is within these spaces where our home not only begins to define who we are but we, as a reflection of that space, begin to outwardly redefine the spaces we exist in. If we slowly begin to shape our homes based on privilege and power without self-reflection and acknowledgment of others, then we are no better than those oppressive forces we say we’re against.
I can’t speak for what identity feels like –I can only speak for what essentializing does, and what it does is reflected in the deaths of Lelah, Ash, and the many others who die nameless. It is our responsibility, as allies, members of communities, and those fighting to end sexist, patriarchal, and, even now, homonormative oppression, to make sure that no more deaths occur on our watch or that truth is spoken to power even when power is masquerading around as truth.
John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. He is a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation and the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association. When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85