Pride Day 11: Imagine

What Would True Equality Be Like?

This post will be a little more pensive than many of my Pride posts. The queer community speaks about the future, a time when we’ve achieved equality, ad nauseam. We imagine a world where none of us is murdered, all of us are housed and fed and clothed, where we all have jobs and money, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia are things of the past. But what does this imagined future really look like? The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not represent the thoughts, feelings, and views of any other individuals or organizations.

I am vehemently anti-assimilationist in any of its forms. I do not support heteronormativity, I do not support homonormativity, I do not support gender binarism, and I seek to disrupt their hold on society in my own life as often as I can. I don’t want to be married, to adopt a child from Africa, to pass as male, to live in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a dog named Spot, and 2.5 kids.

For me, a future of true equality is one devoid of a so-called moral majority. It is a place where the voice of reason spoke softly but rang truer in the hearts of humanity than the screams of the radical religious minorities. Where scientific inquiry seeks after Truth rather than the confirmation or disproval of bias, stereotypes, and religious myth. Where those privileged with access to gene sequencing technology searches for cures for diseases rather than the elusive gay gene.

A true equal future has dismantled segregation of all varities. There is no functional difference in the equal future between people of any gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class. There are no ghettos. There is no homelessness. Everyone has a roof over their head, everyone with a disease of the mind or body has access to treatment, everyone who has needs can have those needs met.

I dream of a future where healthcare is paid for and education doesn’t come with a second course of crippling debt. I dream of a future where family planning can be done without threats of violence, and poor decisions are met with understanding instead of judgement.

I dream of a world where queer spaces are protected, not against violence from the outside world, but because the old Vulcan mantra rings true: the ultimate goal of this life is infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

(Belated) Pride Day 10: Way to Go, Ireland!

On May 22nd, the small island nation of Ireland passed an unexpected Constitutional amendment in a truly novel way. The fight for same-sex marriage has been raging in the United States since Massachusetts legalized it in 2004. Today, only thirty-seven U.S. states allow for legal gay marriage, and almost all of those states legalized marriage equality either by a vote of their state legislatures or by having their marriage bans struck down by the federal courts. Only two states, Maine and Washington, passed their same-sex marriage laws by popular vote. Before May 22nd, referendum had never been used to pass same-sex marriage on a national level.

Irish citizens, not parliamentarians or judges, went to the polls on the twenty-second day of May and made their own choice. A whopping sixty-two percent voted to legalize marriage equality. The world was stunned in the most positive of ways. Ireland has always been known as a very deeply Catholic country, and it was expected to side with dogma.

The Irish referendum, a beacon of hope in the world, is actually more groundbreaking than it looks prima fascia. The media has been referring to it as a “referendum to legalize gay marriage,” but it does so much more than that. The wording of the referendum refers to the legalization of marriage “regardless of sex.” Regardless of sex and same-sex are very different things. Not only does this referendum open the door for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be free to marry whomever they choose, but it also provides some legal safeguards for the marriages of transgender and intersex individuals, which is absolutely incredible.

Ireland doesn’t seem to be stopping the LGBTQ rights train anytime soon. The Emerald Island is currently poised to pass one of the most progressive gender identity laws in the world. In many countries, legal gender is assigned at birth and is difficult to change. Many states in the US require proof of surgical transition, a major roadblock for many in the trans community. Ireland is poised to be the fourth country on Earth to allow individuals to self-identify their gender for legal documents. The burden of proof would cease to exist. As per US policy, we as transgender individuals have to “prove” our transness to the state in order to have our documents changed. Ireland will take away the need to prove a damn thing. The only other countries with a self-designation policy are Malta, Argentina, and Denmark.

Ireland is an intensely Catholic nation. As someone was raised Catholic and left the church partially because of its queerphobic nature, this gives me hope for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. It is my hope that Ireland’s audacity brings out the courage of the other Catholic nations around Europe and the world to find their strength to shrug off dogma that is hateful, prideful, and unnecessary. Perhaps the current Pope will follow the lead of the brave Irish people to modify dogma and bring Catholics back to the fold–without trying to rely on the love the sinner excuse.

As someone of Irish descent, I have never been more proud of my heritage. I am so proud of ancestral homeland for being so overt about supporting people like me. I can only hope that the rest of Europe, the rest of the United States, and the whole world follow suit in due time.

Day 9 of Pride: What is Intersex?

Intersex is the ‘I’ in LGBTQIA. Historically, intersex conditions were referred to as ‘hermaphroditism,’ after the mythological child of Hermes and Aphrodite who was born with two sets of functional genitalia. This is a misnomer, comparing Hermaphroditos and those with intersex conditions. Being born with two fully functional sets of genitals is incredibly rare. This fact adds to the common misconception that intersex conditions are also incredibly rare. This is untrue.

One of the ways in which our society attempts to reinforce the gender binary is by relying extremely heavily on the bio-social construct of dyadic biological sex. Biological sex, contrary to popular belief, is not a black-and-white, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt matter of XX and XY as we have long been taught. Biological sex is inherently ambiguous, the two-sex paradigm having been created by the medical establishment as a way of simplifying care for the two most prevalent groups.

Designation into one of the two prevalent dyadic sex groups relies on five distinct factors: chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, hormones, internal gonads, and external genitalia. I’ll explain each in commonly understood dyadic terms before describing how intersex conditions can manifest.

Chromosomes refers to the forty-sixth base pair of chromosomes. The female-classified chromosomal pattern is XX. The male-classified is XY. Secondary sex characteristics are those features that come to mind when thinking of puberty. For the female-assigned person, these things will include the growth of pubic hair, widening of hips, a higher pitched voice, and breasts. For a male-assigned person, secondary sex characteristics include the growth of hair all over the body, the growth of facial hair, broadening of the shoulders and jaw, a deeper voice, and accelerated muscle development. Hormones refers to the level of estrogen/progesterone and testosterone in the body. The female-assigned person will have more estrogen, the male-assigned will have more testosterone. Internal gonads refer to those reproductive organs that exist inside the body. For female-assignment, these include the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. For male-assigned, these include testes and prostate. External genitalia is pretty simple: penises and vaginas.

In order to conform to one of the two dyadic sexes, all five of these factors must be in alignment. In one out of every two thousand people, they aren’t. One out of every two thousand people is born intersex. The deviation from the dyadic sex can occur on any of the five levels. Many born intersex never know of their condition.

At the chromosomal level, some intersex conditions are overt. XXY, XXX, and X are all other variations of the forty-sixth pair, which result in varying physical manifestations. However, X does not always produce estrogen and vaginas, nor does Y produce penises. Those with four out of five factors lining up for a female-designation can be born with XY chromosomes. The same is true of XX. Hormones, external sex organs, and internal reproductive organs can come in many variations as well.

Until the last few years, OB/GYN doctors were allowed to perform medical procedures upon newborn infants without parental consent. The medical establishment’s dedication to the proposition of a two-sex species borne a set of guidelines about the external genitals of infants. If an organ was below a set measurement, the organ was classified a clitoris and the infant a girl. If the organ was above a different measurement, the organ was classified a penis and the infant a boy. There was a fairly significant margin between the two—I am avoiding any specific measurements as they did/do vary by location. Those with “ambiguous” genitalia that fell in between the two sets of measurements were at the hands of their doctors. On the shorter end of the gap, the organ was filed down into correct clitoral parameters. If on the longer end, it was classified a penis.

Intersex individuals are not trans. These two existences are not synonymous. Intersex individuals face a series of life challenges that are unique to them. Their struggles have gone on unnoticed for far too long, and it’s time that we welcome them more warmly into the fold and fight alongside them.

Pride Day 8: On Caitlyn Jenner

Caitlyn Jenner very boldly came out on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine this week. The response from the world has been, well, extraordinary. No matter what the level of knowledge regarding gender, sexuality, or queer theory, everyone has an opinion regarding Ms. Jenner. Very few of these opinions are positive, even from within the trans community, which points to a grave miscalculation in our priorities.

The cis, largely straight, mainstream reacted to the emergence of Caitlyn in a very intense way. There were her detractors, as there were bound to be, but their numbers were more limited than I’ve ever seen regarding a public celebrity transition. The last very public transition was that of Chaz Bono’s 2009. Chaz was treated as a joke. He was either openly mocked or entirely ignored. This country was not yet ready for transgender issues. Caitlyn’s emergence has allowed for real trans discourse to come to the mainstream. Typical transphobia has been attacked. The reaction to Caitlyn has been much more positive, as well as more numerous. Even the President of the United States commented on Caitlyn’s coming out. This has all been very surprising. Overwhelming, in fact.

The trans community has, in my view, behaved badly. Instead of congratulating Caitlyn on her courage, instead of sharing in her triumph and bravery, our community has been complaining. Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is white. She’s rich. She’s famous. She is able to avoid the pitfalls trans people commonly face. She is able to transition and pass as female, something very few trans women have the capacity to do. She is still trans, and as such, we have a responsibility to support her as a transgender sister. We don’t get to choose what other individuals who happen to be transgender. We must only support them. Some have even gone as far as to complain about her choice of name. Many have suggested that “Caitlyn” is too childish. Can we not just get along?

Caitlyn’s coming out will help trans people for years to come. The country may now be finally ready for cisnormative trans people, which is a (small) step in the right direction. She has begun the dialogue in the media, in government, and in kitchens and living rooms around the country. We have a long way to go, of course. Transwomen are, for some reason, more easily understood by cisnormative society than are transmen. Transmen have a significant head up on nonbinary individuals.

We cannot stop with Caitlyn Jenner. We cannot allow ourselves to be too bogged down with demographics and “the perfect trans.” We must be happy for and support Caitlyn as well as advocate for the needs for all trans people. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Pride Day 5: Navigating Gendered Spaces While Trans

Gendered spaces are very prickly for those who are transgender or gender nonconforming. Even though the United States has evolved to become a much more co-ed society, gender equality is alive and well, and single-gendered spaces are more numerous than the average cisgender person realizes. These spaces range in magnitude from dressing and restrooms to clubs and organizations, all the way to schools and single-gender universities.

The Seven Sisters, the collection of all-women’s colleges which once broke glass ceilings for being the first universities to provide exceptional, world-class educations for women, have been in the news a lot recently regarding admissions policies and trans students. Yesterday, Barnard College in New York City, became the latest women’s college to allow trans women. The decision has been hotly debated for many years, and I applaud Barnard’s emergence into the twenty-first century.

One the flip side, a New York Times article that was widely popular last year documented the surge of trans men coming out while attending the all-women Wellesley College. The article describes scores of trans men who pushed to make the college’s rhetoric more gender neutral, a shift from sisterhood to siblinghood. The article revealed trans men seeking positions of power in student government and being hesitant to support the admission of trans women into these traditionally women’s spaces.

As a trans-masculine person, I find stories like this extremely troubling. Women’s spaces are sacrosanct, meant to protect and foster academic and social discourse surrounding women’s rights, healthcare, and role in society among worlds of other things. Trans men, regardless of socialization and first-hand experience with the crippling effects of misogyny, have no inherent right to these spaces. We certainly have no right to shift the discourse away from women and coopt their space for our own use. We should, of course, participate in the fight for feminism and lend our voices to discourse when appropriate. The rights of women—including trans women—are just as important as our own, and we have no right to step on them in our reach for acceptance and equality. In fact, I don’t believe trans men should attend women’s colleges for these reasons.

Fraternities and sororities are also incredibly contentious spaces. Many national Greek organizations bar trans people from joining. Personally, I avoided contact with these groups, preferring the safety of queer spaces, but I certainly understand the appeal. Greek organizations that allow trans members are, at present, few and far between, but I’ve signed four separate Change.org petitions just in the past week attempting to change those policies. Progress in this area is likely to be slow and painful, but it will eventually come.

Possibly the most uncomfortable and unavoidable gendered spaces are public restrooms. Conservatives and transphobes have used this issue to demonize trans people for years, stating that trans people want to use cross-sex bathrooms so that they can prey on and sexually molest unsuspecting individuals, primarily children. Such rhetoric has intensified since Caitlyn Jenner came out. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee joked that he wished he could have been able to use transgenderism as an excuse to shower with girls in high school. Reality TV scumbag Michelle Duggar has, in the wake of childhood sexual abuse allegations against her son, doubled down on her previous comments that paint trans women as child molesters, apparently blind to the overwhelming irony. Several states have considered laws to prevent trans people from using proper restrooms. Many of them failed, but that does not mean that trans people do not regularly face harassment and violence in restrooms.

This violence, along with the recognition of genders beyond the binary make gender neutral restrooms so vital. Many are single-use, which ensures safety and privacy. I personally use gender neutral restrooms wherever they are available. I have dedicated a substantial amount of time in ensuring their existence and expansion at my undergrad alma mater, as well as lobbying to increase their presence in governmental buildings.

Our society plays by some very wacky gender rules. When it comes to navigating heavily gendered spaces, it’s good to be very alert. At the first whiff of danger, get out. If being threatened with physical or sexual violence, it is not worth sacrificing yourself to make a political point. If I’m in a public place, I may only use the men’s restroom if it’s a single-use or I’m in a gay bar. I don’t pass, not even a little. Passing comes very much in handy in existing in gendered spaces, but for those of us who don’t, can’t, or don’t want to, things are always much more ambiguous. My threshold of feeling safe does not have to be yours, I can only speak for myself.

The way we collectively experience gender is bizarre, and it could very well be limiting to our society. However, it is a fact of life. Stay safe out there, stay in your lane, and don’t give up the fight.

(Almost Belated) Day 4: Trans Liberation

Trans visibility has skyrocketed since Monday’s unveiling of the new and absolutely fabulous Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Trans bodybuilder, entrepreneur, and advocate Aydian Dowling is vying for a chance to grace the cover of Men’s Health. Laverne Cox is a critically acclaimed actress. Janet Mock is a bestselling author, as is Chaz Bono. Pro-trans legislation has been passed in various places around the country. Now that marriage equality is an inevitability, perhaps it is our turn.

The reaction to this newfound mainstream interest in the trans community that I find most amusing is that of utter shock. Some behave as if this is some type of brand new phenomenon, that transgenderism is obviously the result of homosexuality being allowed to “run amok.” Contrary to collective amnesia, none of the great trans pioneers mentioned above was the first to gain mainstream publicity. None of them were the first to be placed in the public eye, both as an object of disdain and a fetishistic idol. That credit, in modern memory, lies largely with Christine Jorgenson. Jorgenson, a World War II veteran, fell into the spotlight after becoming the first known American to undergo a “sex-change,” hormonal and surgical transition, in 1952.

Long before Christine Jorgenson or the development of any type of medical interventions, thousands of people from generations spanning the entire history of humanity have been transgender.

Transgender individuals have long been given positions of great respect and prominence in indigenous cultures. A wide variety of Native American tribes gave and still give so-called Two-Spirit people great respect. In India, hijras has fought for their socio-political rights in the wake of colonial imposition of Western morality. In Thailand, gender and sexual identities are diverse and numerous. Even in the conservative, socially repressive theocracy of Iran, the government will fully pay for the transition of heterosexual trans women.

Late nineteenth century sexologists like Hirschfeld, Krafft-Ebing, and Ellis documented the existence and “treatment” of transgenderism. An unknown number of transgender individuals during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ran away from repressive families, and, without the assistance of medical intervention to alter their appearance, blended into the role of their gender identity in a new city, living in constant fear of discovery. Notable examples of this include jazz musician Billy Tipton and the thousands of trans men who took up arms for their country during the Civil War.

We have come a long way. It is incredibly rare, though I cannot say with certainty unheard of, that transgender individuals are arrested for failing to wear three articles of clothing assigned to their birth sex, a practice which was common only forty years ago. Legal transgender nondiscrimination laws are active in nineteen states and the District of Columbia. More people than ever before are becoming educated, willingly or not, on the existence and nuances involved with transgender people. We have moved mountains, but it is not enough. Where do we go from here? What does true trans liberation look like? To find those answers, we must delineate the practical from the theoretical.

Practically speaking, what’s next for the transgender community is for widespread protections against violence and discrimination. Nineteen of fifty states is, while something of an accomplishment, entirely abysmal. Legal protections for the lives and livelihoods of transgender individuals should be protected with the same legal gusto as any other minority group. Insurance companies, including government insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid, and governmental employee insurance, should be required to cover transitional medical care. Hormones, surgery, and therapy should be considered essential instead of elective, and they should be covered as such. Transgenderism should be something that is freely spoken of and for which educational materials are easily accessible. The more the cis world understands the transgender community, the less likely (hopefully) they will be to perpetrate acts of violence, especially against their own children. Issues of trans poverty, underemployment, and homelessness should be addressed. Brutality against trans people—specifically women—at the hands of family, sexual partners, strangers, and the police should be held to as heinous a level as brutality against anyone else. The first steps to solving the practical problems facing trans people is to recognize our shared humanity.

In the realm of the theoretical, there are many dangers. Gender binaries and trans master narratives seek only to reinforce the power of the patriarchy. Perfect stories about perfect trans people who have never once struggled with identity or gender in the face of impossible obstacles are not only too good to be true, they’re harmful both within and outside the community. If cis people believe in these master narratives, it becomes more difficult for those of us who cannot fit that mold to be accepted and understood. Trans lives, just as cis ones, are infinite diversity in infinite combinations. That infinite diversity cannot exist, however, without the recognition of nonbinary gender identities and presentations. Trans is not a bar held so far above everyone as to be impossible to reach. Trans is a simple matter of a misaligned mind and body. Master narratives force us into delegitimizing genders outside the binary, and this is both limiting and repressive. We cannot stand for repression coming from our own community, or we will never pull through.

I have to believe that a future of true trans liberation is possible. I fight for it every day. One day, this world will allow every person of any gender identity to exist freely, without question or harassment. Transgender people will occupy all levels of government and media; no one will bat an eyelash. Gender will cease to be a matter of this or that. Will this be achievable in my lifetime? I’m not sure, but you can bet I’ll fight for it.

What does trans liberation look like to you?

Day 3 of Pride: Queer Corporations?

Some of the most ubiquitous images in the LGBT space are the products of LGBT-centric non-profit organizations. The yellow equal sign in the center of a dark blue background, for example, is arguably the most easily recognizable logo of the movement. It belongs to the giant and not-particularly-queer named Human Rights Campaign or HRC. Other megalithic LGBT organizations include The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

It’s very easy to see the names and easily recognizable logos of these nonprofits and open your checkbook and assume that an organization as one of the above has to be doing incredibly good work for the queer community. As lovely a sentiment as that is, it isn’t always entirely true.

It is easy to mistake the mission statement of a large LGBT nonprofit as doing work to help needy queer individuals in a direct, meaningful way. Before donating to any LGBT organization, it is extremely important to do your research. Go to the organization’s website; read the organization’s press releases and informational pages. See where their priorities are. Do they focus on the fight for marriage equality or do they spread their resources more equally between marriage equality, nondiscrimination, HIV-care, trans issues, homelessness, etc.? Are the priorities of the organization in line with your own? Are they primarily lobbyists or do they provide services to actual humans? Is that something you’re interested in?

In the United States, nonprofit organizations are required by law to publish their tax returns on their websites. This is important to know and investigate before donating money to any nonprofit organization. Tax returns are a vital part of being an informed donor, as they lay out exactly how much executives and employees are paid, as well as how many resources the organization dedicated to each type of action and programs the organization carried out in that year. It can be very jarring to see how much money some very large and well-known “advocacy” groups spend on galas and dinners for the rich and famous and how little spent on issues of actual interest to real LGBT individuals in need. Use caution when reading these forms; avoid destroying any breakable objects in your vicinity.

I’m writing about this early in Pride month because I know how adamant these organizations will be in their fundraising drives. Some of these organizations do very good work. Others do less than they say. As queer people, we are under no obligation to donate to any organization, but if we choose to donate to organizations that center on the LGBT community, we should be the best informed as to what our money will do.

Day 2 of Pride: What Does it Mean to be Queer?

When I tell my father I’m pursuing a Master’s Degree in queer theory, he cringes. He prefers the term LGBT theory. My father is a member of the Baby Boomer generation, and his experiences with the word queer have ben connoted extremely negatively. Queer was once a term considered more vulgar and more verbally violent than words like faggot and dyke. He often tells me it feels like I am insulting myself when I label myself ‘queer,’ but I am attached to it. I feel empowered reclaiming a word so often meant to wound me.

The word queer, for most of its history, has been a benign word meaning odd, strange, and eccentric. As mentioned in my previous post, the word queer was given its one-two punch of negative connotation and connection to the LGBT community during Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality trial during the nineteenth century. The father of the man Wilde was accused of sleeping with—who believed Wilde was a predator who had taken advantage of his son—called his “predilections” queer. Thus, a slur for the ages was born!

The radical queer liberation movement that began in the late 1980s in response to failed gay identity politics and the AIDS pandemic first reclaimed “queer.” Identity politics as an organization strategy relies on stable, cohesive sameness that easily alienates even the slightest of difference. Radical queers wanted to capitalize on difference, that regardless of sexuality, gender, race, or class, freedom could and should be won. They chose the slur hurled at the community that best encapsulated that difference, a proverbial battle cry. They chose “queer.”

To call yourself queer in the 90s was to be making a very bold statement. To be queer was to be more than merely gay. It was to be gay, bi, trans, etc. in a way that did not seek to emulate heteronormative society. It was to be very political and very leftist. It was to be a force of nature.

Over the years, the word, as well as those she describes, have become normalized. Millennials often use it as a catchall term like “alphabet soup.” Gen Xers often draw sharp distinctions between those whom are gay and those whom are queer. Boomers, regardless of their political views and affiliations, get a little uncomfortable. The word, used either as a source of pride or benign description, has united us in ways we can’t fathom if we are ignorant of our history.

There are those—mostly those like me who wander the asscrack of the internet, Tumblr—who have begun to call for an un-reclaiming of queer as a source of unity and pride. For reasons I cannot figure out, they believe that a word once thrown in malice can never be embraced. If you, dear reader, understand this, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

For me, queer means that I am beyond comprehension. I am beyond labels. I am beyond man or woman, gay or straight; socially constructed binaries cannot hold me. I am political, but queer does not force to me to be so. One can be queer and be apolitical, anarchist, socialist, communist, Democrat, libertarian. I am queer because I identify as a man and want to carry a baby one day. I am queer because the type of genitals someone has does not dictate my attraction to them. I am queer because I am free. That’s what being queer means, above all, to me: freedom.

(Belated) Day 1 of Pride: Alphabet Soup and the Need For Pride

June is LGBT Pride Month in the United States. In honor of this month of appreciation to the achievements and beauty of the queer community, I will be posting (hopefully, but as you can see I’m already behind) every day of the month to commemorate and discuss the important queer issues of the day. As a bisexual trans-masculine genderqueer individual, queerness is one of the most essential and pride-inducing aspects of my identity, and the topics I will be covering are extremely important to me, but I would really love for discussion to ensue. Disclaimer: my experiences and analysis of queer history and theory are born from a very American perspective. I am also white, which undoubtedly informs my perception of queerness, as I am exempt from many intersectionalities of queerness and race; please correct me if I misinterpret these issues.

The alphabet soup is a colloquial term describing the wide variety of minority sexual and gender identities that exist. It is a more inclusive term than any of the “full” acronyms, as every group uses their own. My working acronym is: LGBTQQIAAHP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Ally, HIV-Infected/Affected, and Poly/Pansexual). As you can probably see, this acronym is impossible to work with from a political perspective, and referring to the community by “the alphabet soup” or “LGBT” or “queer” is obviously faster and—usually—allows for no one to be left out.

While the queer community did not really begin taking its current shape until the mid-twentieth century, the behaviors and identities encompassed by the alphabet soup have always, in some form or another, existed. Sexual and gender-nonconforming identities began coalescing into discrete identities rather than mere behaviors in a very public way around the middle of the nineteenth century. In fact, the term “queer” used in the context of sexual and gender minorities was first used during Oscar Wilde’s homosexuality trial.

During the rest of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, most forms of non-heterosexual sex and gender-nonconforming behavior were both punishable by prison and considered pathological mental illnesses. Many credit the so-called sexual revolution of the 1960s with wedging open the door for the radical queer liberation movement. This is not technically true. Non-radical, assimilationist, gay organizations began springing up in the United States during the latter half of the nineteen forties, shortly after the end of the Second World War. The heteronormative powers that be were very unhappy about the birth of queer liberation movements. We were subjected to discrimination, violence, incarceration, HIV/AIDS, medicalization, homelessness, and joblessness. We have come a long way.

It is important to remember the history of our collective group, to memorialize those who fought, suffered, and often died so that queer people who came after them would have a better shot at life. I will be writing several pieces on queer history later in the month.

Today, we’ve normalized fair swaths of the queer community. Where being gay or lesbian was once considered to be something incredibly shameful and radical, we see gay and lesbian individuals at all levels of government, media, and business. The alphabet soup has not, however, achieved full equality, as much as the fight for marriage equality would have us believe we have.

It is essential, given how far we’ve come, that we don’t lose sight of where we’ve been. Pride is a wonderful time to remember and strive to continue the work of the brave humans who have come before us fighting for the right to be who we all are. Keep that in mind as we move through this month. We must be proud of who we are. We must be proud of what our forebears have done. We must be proud of what we can do.

Fear

Fear is such an overwhelming emotion. Fear is something that affects us at not only an emotional and psychological level, but also a physiological one. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about fear is how it’s evolved along with us.

Common things to be afraid of are things that threaten our survival. Humans, like any animal, place paramount importance on their own survival, at a subconscious, biological level. Fear of things like heights, predatory or poisonous animals, pain, or death are extremely common and fairly well understood fears, as they speak to our basest instinct to, y’know, not die.

As we’ve evolved into a civilization, and through technology become relatively safe from most of our own fears—relatively—our fears have shifted to things that are somewhat more ethereal, more abstract. I’ve read that the most common fear among people is public speaking. We’ve become more afraid of each other, of ourselves, of how people perceive us.

Perhaps that speaks to another base instinct in humanity, our need to be social. As much as we are snowflakes or tongue prints, individuals with perceptions colored by our unique life circumstances, we invariably seek to be part of some form of collective. We feel we must interact with other humans, to accomplish things together as part of a greater cause to help others and improve things for posterity.

It is possibly this social drive that generates the vast majority of humanity’s current fears: public speaking, inadequacy, failure, being outcast, loneliness, etc. We are taught from infancy that our worth is to be determined by others: our peers, our teachers, our parents, our employers, etc.

This paradigm is extremely dangerous. What may be en vogue right now will not always be. This culture of unrealistic beauty, staunch—albeit thinly masked—gender roles, racism, classism, and the like are destroying the self-esteem of many people, queer and not. However, queer people are at a particular disadvantage in this climate as there are so many societal expectations that we transgress, ranging from beauty to procreation to our consumer habits. We reject expectations and seek to approach our personal truths.

We are not, of course, impervious to the effects of social conditioning. They are as pervasive and insidious in our lives than in anyone else’s. We may intellectually know that we have the freedom to not adhere to them, but that does not mean we are immune to the intense fears of the social. 

Personally, I struggle with this internalized social conditioning as it pertains to strict gender roles and how men and women are expected to behave. I feel as if because I am often perceived as female—not having begun medical transition yet—I am somehow less of a man. I know intellectually that this is untrue, but the struggle and fear crops up every now and again, sometimes due to chronic misgendering or a particularly dysphoric day. 

I have yet to come up with a conclusion to bring my rational mind and emotional mind together on the issues of social fear, and I have very few coping mechanisms to combat their emergence. Often, I will write down what I’m feeling and the logical reason why I shouldn’t. Sometimes it helps, other times it does not. 

We must always be true to ourselves, and seek to dismantle the hold of social conditioning in our lives. We fear social repercussions for acting outside of the norm, but this is an irrational fear. There are many of us struggling to live outside of the norm, all flailing in certain areas like fish out of water and succeeding in others. We must support each other, and create a social paradigm of our own. If we conquer our fears, we will no longer impede ourselves in living a self-actualizing life, and we’ll all be happier for it.