Remembering to Be Thankful by John Erickson

WEHO CA (June 7, 2015)©2015 Rebecca Dru Photography All Rights Reserved

WEHO CA (June 7, 2015)©2015 Rebecca Dru Photography All Rights Reserved

With the holidays just around the corner and the frazzled, crisp ping of anxiety, rush, and panic take over the air around us, it is easy to forget to stop and “smell the roses.”  In times where teaching positions continue to shrink and more universities switch to adjunct labor, fees and class costs continue to rise, or just simply life becomes a little more complicated, due to the nature of balancing life, activism, work, friendships, or relationships, remembering to remind myself to be thankful is another task, I find adding to the never-ending list of stuff I always seem I have to do.

However, remembering to be thankful, scheduling it into one’s daily schedule are vital to our success as new and emerging faculty or activists or just in general because being thankful reminds us that we have aspects of our lives that are worth being thankful for.  Remembering to be thankful proves that we are in some way, connected to a larger sense of life that, at times, grants our wishes, wants, or desires, brings us despair, and then allows us to get through it, or even makes us feel alive.

As I sit back and look at the personal and professional landscape around me I understand that I have a lot to be thankful for both consciously and unconsciously.  Most recently at AAR, I participated on a panel in response to Bernadette Barton’s Pray the Gay Away.  During the course of our panel, the conversation of chosen vs. biological families came up.   Most recently, my mentor and panel moderator, Dr. Marie Cartier, talked about the same topic here on FAR and the difficulties many of us experience in regards to our chosen families vs. our biological families.   With the holiday season all around us, and regardless of what or if, you celebrate it or not, it is quite hard to get away from it all without realizing who your “family” is and whether or not you’re close or connected with them can be traumatizing during these times where we’re taught or expected to be with them.

After our discussion on the panel and then at the hotel bar, people discussed the pains and traumas in relation to not having a biological family to go home to during the holidays.  Sitting there and listening to the conversations, I realized that, for once in my life, I had nothing to say.

Much of my Ph.D. work has been discussing and researching the ways that an individual or group’s spirituality can be in conflict with their sexual or gender identities.  Not matching what “normative” values their respective religious dogmas present, are tools that have not only ripped multiple families apart throughout the years but also it have created the chosen families that many of us take solace in during times where we’re told to go home.

That act of be able to go home is a liberating action and there is nothing like it in the world; wherever home is for you, it is the place where your family, whether biological, chosen, or animal, meet you at the social location your most vulnerable and most receptive to the love that home can represent.

I was able to go ‘home’ each month this fall starting in August and ending this coming December for various reasons.  Wisconsin to me still represents a place where both my biological and chosen families live, and it is a place I always love to go to.  However, I wouldn’t have been able to go home if it weren’t for the security that my job gives me.

In the act of reminding myself to be thankful, I have to step back and realize that for many of my friends or colleagues, this option is not doable. Many of my colleagues teach at 4 different universities, teach a course load that is beyond abusive to their professional or personal growth, and live on an income/debt ratio that proves that academia is in for a rude awakening.  This is becoming the new normal in academia, students and teachers who are overworked, overrun with debt,  or unable to finish or vocalize their own academic/activist interests without selling out once they get those desired tenure jobs that demand their silence for servitude based on university approved guidelines.  Being able to even be thankful seems, from afar, like a paradox.

Remembering to be thankful may just be a privileged illusion that individuals in positions of power get to write about in the December of each year to self-congratulate themselves about being actually able to be able to be thankful.  It may just seem like people who write about being thankful are complaining or pontificating that being thankful is in itself a chore.  However, while all this may be true, I wanted to write this blog because I am mad that although I come from a position of privilege, I too wonder, at times, what I need to be thankful for or, more importantly, that other individuals who may or may not have drawn the same metaphorical straw that I did, are forced to live in situations where they are outcast from their religious or family circle because they refuse to be silent anymore about who they really are or that individuals are forced into university servitude just to get by.

In remembering to be thankful, I realize now, that although I am thankful, I am thankful for more than just my biological or chosen families or my job security, I am thankful that I am able to be mad and that that madness gives me the drive to continue doing that work that needs to be done to create a world where others too, a simple as it sounds, will be able to write posts about remembering to be thankful because everything else has been achieved.

Remembering to be thankful, remembering to remain fervently queer, and finally remembering the importance of ‘home’ are vital in our overall fight not against ourselves but in the daily struggle we all face in remembering that we do have things to be thankful for, whether chosen or not.


John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds an 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 Permanent Contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, 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. He is currently the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s LGBTQA+ Alumni Association, the Vice- Chair of Public Relation and Social Media for the Stonewall Democratic Club, and the Non-Profit and Governmental Liaison for the Hollywood Chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women). 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

Categories: Academics, Academy, Activism, Christmas, Community, Education, Ethics, Faith, Family, Feminism, Friendship, Gender, Gender and Sexuality, General, Healing, holiday, Identity Construction, Justice, LGBTQ, Men and Feminism, OpEd, power, Pride, Scholarship, Seasons, Sexuality, Social Justice, Spirituality

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13 replies

  1. a very nice blog John Erickson!!!
    Remembering to be thankful may just be a privileged illusion that individuals in positions of power get to write about in the December of each year to self-congratulate themselves about being actually able to be able to be thankful.


    • Thanks, John. I’m up in the early morning hours, before dawn, doing the wash. A friend passed away this year and I have to do the holidays alone without her for the first time in a long time. Ironically and wonderfully, my friend once said: “Life is doing the wash while your heart is breaking.” So I’ll need to get through the holidays too with that thought in mind, and in fact somehow it gives me strength to face it, as she always faced into everything, so squarely.

      And I know that doesn’t sound like “smelling the roses,” but in its own way it is. The good things in life can sometimes be the most poignant.


      • I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Sarah. And that your coping mechanism connects you directly to your friend. That’s sweet, in its own way.

        One thing that has helped me to integrate the loss of my best friend last April is that I finally set up an “ancestor altar,” with her picture and the photos of my grandmother, father, close aunt and uncle, all of whom are my departed beloved. Seeing that picture everyday helps me smile in memory now that the deepest pain is gone.


      • I do little things each day to remind myself too; I think about my grandmother each day and always hear her words of wisdom in the back of my head. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss but her memory lives on in your daily gratefulness and I’m sure that is something you’re very thankful for :)


    • Thank you!


  2. Great post, John.

    I wouldn’t want to be in academia these days for the reasons you cite (and others).

    Every day is a gift; the most important things in life are not “things.”

    Many years ago there was an episode on “Two and a Half Men.”

    The two brothers were shocked to learn that their mother had embraced a gay couple and their Chinese son.

    She had walked away from their toxic family dynamics and found a new family for herself.

    I come from a great family.

    Like many, we have some dysfunction.

    We’ll still gather together Friday to celebrate Christmas.


    • It is a HORRIBLE world in academia right now; people cannot get jobs and those that do are forced into a closet of servitude and silence. I’ve known so many “radical” people who get a job and then totally comply to the standards in order to keep getting their paychecks!

      I’ve even seen people re-brand themselves and although I get it and they need to do what they need to do to survive, I’m glad I have a job that allows me to do both: say what I want and do what I want.

      Most importantly, I’m happy that I can go home to both my chosen and biological families. So many people do not have that privilege.


  3. The past few days I have been thinking a lot about families and choice. When I came across your line, “Remembering to be thankful may just be a privileged illusion that individuals in positions of power get to write about…” it got me thinking.

    1. Is there a component of thankfulness that is self-congratulatory, for making a good choice?
    2. Is thankfulness dependent on how many choices you are able to make? Corollary, people with fewer choices have a diminished capacity to demonstrate thankfulness. 2nd Corollary, people who consistently make bad choices have a diminished capacity to demonstrate thankfulness.
    3. How many of the ‘choices’ that are available to us are a result of our status (or lack thereof) in society?
    4. What are the other components of thankfulness that have nothing to do with choice making? Are these components influenced by our social status?


    • You say: “That act of be able to go home is a liberating action and there is nothing like it in the world; wherever home is for you.”

      I like that old expression, “home is where the heart is,” and I would agree with that. Also in Buddhism there is a teaching that says: “No mud, no Lotus.” Home can also be humility, not yearning for anything, and accomplishing everything.


  4. I say “Thank you, Goddess” every time something good happens, whether it’s buying a new computer (which I just did) and finding a dependable tech (ditto) or finding a parking place or finding the book I’m looking for on my bookshelves or breathing (I’m a chronic asthmatic–Breathing Is Good). I don’t think gratitude is an issue of privilege, but at the same time I can well see that many people have very little to be thankful for. Does anyone else think “thank you” are two of the most important words in any language?

    We’ve just passed the solstice and the light has been reborn and it’s raining in drought-stricken SoCal. More to be thankful for!


  5. I agree with Barbara that gratitude isn’t an issue of privilege, although obviously, some folks have more to be thankful for than others. My gratitude practice is to say thanks as I lie down to sleep for the usually small things that have happened during the day that gave me joy. They sometimes include a sunset, seeing my great-nephew or other family members, a good supper made by my spouse, etc. I have the feeling that in many cultures where there are many fewer material privileges that this sort of gratitude is more prevalent. We’re much more focused on “getting ahead” here in the US than almost anywhere else.


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