By Jen Harris
Forever a trigger warning re: sexual and physical assault
I need to write about how hard it has been for me to be Queer.
The trauma of my Midwest queer experience rattles in me, generational and cellular. I am devastated by the danger I placed myself in in order to feel safe. How many nights did I drive shitty cars and shitty people around, trying to find an exit or a safe parking lot or enough change for a motel room? How many cigarettes have I smoked and how many lies have I told? How much survival sex did I have with women who wouldn’t acknowledge me during the day, but filled me full of food and drugs at night? How many scraps did I accept in place of true meaning and connection? At what point did I lose touch with my worth? Did I ever know it to begin with? Is it something you nurture or is it inherent? Is it something you believe in? Is it annual or perennial? How much sunlight and water does it need? How long can it live in the tundra before damaged, irreparable?
It didn’t have to be like this.
The ignorance and prejudice of the world made it so.
People made it like this.
Well-intentioned people made it like this.
Religious people made it like this.
These people abused their power and they abused me. They harmed me. They took advantage of me. They came for my soul, and then my life, and when they couldn’t take either from me, when they couldn’t scare me straight, they shamed me silent and small for existing truthfully in my own skin. I watched them lift their chins a little higher on Sunday morning believing they were doing God’s work, performing some sort of exorcism-by-judgement in efforts to prevent me from dissecting my sex from my gender from my sexual orientation.
Queer is not default.
Queer is a fault.
Queer is my fault.
Queer is evil, predatory, sissy, unemployable, unredeemable, unacceptable, unwell, mentally-ill.
To tell you I can feel the suffering of my people, that I have heard the screams in the dark every night of my life, is not an exaggeration. While I have plenty of mental health diagnoses to keep me company, schizophrenia is not one of them.
I am an empath, haunted by the institutionalized inhumanity with which we queers have been received. I am disgusted by the rejection, erasure, torture, brutality, and murder of my people, the queer people.
When it hurts as much as it does today, I turn to Warsan Shire’s poem, Home.
“no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
and even then you carried the anthem under
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilet
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.”
Every single time I read it, this poem cuts out my tongue and hands me my heart.
Shire, a British poet, born to Somali parents in Kenya, wrote it to and for refugees. Advocates cling to it for its sprawling humanity. I hold it close because I know.
I know no one leave home unless home chases you…
For as long as I can remember, the world has been a wrecking ball and I have been scrambling to repair the damage. This is my home, this skin. These are my hands. This is my mind. This is my body. No matter how I rearrange them, no matter what I stitch my wounds with, this landscape is still queer, still evolving, still mine, still me.
How do you make a home when home is a closed-fist, split lip, slammed door, glass ceiling? When home is a leather belt and ancient scripture, heavy as the hand that feeds it to the hopeless masses? My experience with queerness has been one of devastation, and you need to know that because my queer experience is NOTHING compared to that endured by BIPOC transgender people, specifically BIPOC trans women.
You need to know the truth.
You need to know that this year, in 2020, documentation exists of the murders of 37 transgender and gender non-conforming people, solely for their existence. Meanwhile, white queers such as myself continue to hog every spotlight in existence, perpetuating the systemic racism that silences these facts, these horrible truths. Our silence does not erase the death or life of our brethren, our silence is much more insidious. Our silence pretends away the loss of life as if causalities are to be expected in the fight for equality, so long as they’re not anyone who looks like “us.”
You must choose. You choose to either acclimate, assimilate, and disappear into the protection white supremacy offers, or you choose to be in a constant state of risk. To advocate is to risk. Advocacy isn’t the polite, policed politics of white boardrooms. It’s getting in people’s faces and telling them their ignorance will not be tolerated nor ignored. It’s holding people accountable. It’s not accepting funding from donors whose contributions hinge on policing BIPOC voices and bodies for white comfort. It’s demanding representation and all sides of the story be told. It’s deconstructing the homogeny of what is deemed acceptable, beautiful, comfortable, safe. It’s knowing you could lose everything you hold dear and you do so because it is your responsibility. Our ancestors poisoned the human consciousness with horrifying atrocities and lecherous philosophies, and we must work to undo it.
I know it’s so much more insidious than you ever imagined.
We caused this. We must fix this.
I tell you my story because I know my readership. I know you probably, statistically, look like me. This is a very open attempt, a call to action, you have been led to water and you have a choice to make. You can either contribute to the justice due to our BIPOC LGBTQIA+ comrades, or you choose to uphold the oppressive system that operate and profit on the lives of the innocent.
My pain, our pain, is nothing.
We still have our lives.
Poet Jen Harris (she/her) is a creative entrepreneur & performance artist. Her ongoing community projects include The Writing Workshop KC & Kansas City Poetry Slam. Featured on NPR, TEDx, Button Poetry, Write About Now Poetry & Netflix Queer Eye, Harris is the author of 3 books of poetry, confessional assortments of her queer life in America.