This post is part of my 2019 Pride Month series “Proudly Reaffirming Identity, Diversity, and Equity,” exploring present-day issues facing the LGBTQ+ and allied communities.
It’s a logical dilemma, I told my friend Cole. We’ve been friends for over a decade–we met in an online writers forum and though we’ve never met in person, I consider Cole one of my closest friends. When you share your writing with someone, an intimacy develops that rivals romance, and Cole has not only shared but inspired my stories.
Cole is also trans, and while I was investigating transgender issues more deeply and hitting mental blocks of my own to better understand trans experiences, Cole was kind enough to let me lean into the discomfort and talk about the hard things.
Cole has also given me permission to share some of the words we exchanged, for which I’m especially grateful: Not only did their words help me understand things more deeply, they also said them far more eloquently than I ever could.
This last week in class we covered sequences and series. This is a strange unit: It looks little like anything else students have seen, yet mathematically it resonates not only with many things we’ve learned, but with many things we could only dream of ever teaching in a high school class bounded by deadlines and curricular standards.
If you’ve ever counted or made a to-do list or put things in order, you know innately what a sequence is: it is merely a list of numbers, with a specific order: 1 2 3 is a different sequence than 1 3 2. Some sequences seem patternless (sunshine Monday, snowstorm Wednesday, downpours Thursday, a blizzard today) while others are so set in stone we hardly take notice: Sunday always precedes Monday, and April follows March.
Now suppose you look at that to-do list you made and count all the things you’ve got to do (that infinite list that seems to always grow two more items when you knock off the first–how hydraen life tends to be!) then you know, too, how a series differs from a sequence: simply take all the things and add them together. No more complex than that.
But what does any of this have to do with identity or politics?
Last week President Trump visited Milwaukee. In class that morning, one student said, “He’s not my president.” The timing wasn’t right to go into the nuances of that statement, to correct the fallacy that blindly believes saying “He’s not my president” excuses us of his wrongdoings (when we, the collective voting citizenry, put him there) but merely excuses his ignoring us, so my response to her was subtler.
“Whether we like him or not, he’s our president, and we should respect that.”
I refused to get religious. In fact, “refuse” is the wrong word: I keep my faith wrapped around my neck but not gurgling through my vocal cords, so I never genuinely talk about religion with my students. Perhaps, this time, I should have.
I have a backlog of posts waiting to be published. Many of them talk about race, and maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to share them. I’ve fallen under fear–the fear of losing social capital, the fear of saying the wrong thing, the fear of looking ignorant, the fear of admitting my own faults, the fear of alienating the people I can learn from.
Friends, I said in a weekend Facebook post, I need your help.
I’ve learned a lot about systems of (dis)advantages over the past few years, and newsflash, I have a lot of privilege. In fact, it’s hard for me to find much in my life that isn’t a result of somewhere someone giving me me something that someone else was denied–whether it’s my assumed intelligence because I’m white or my assumed leadership skills because I’m male or so many other things.
So how do I hold onto any sort of self-worth when everything I thought I had fought so hard to achieve was really just handed to me?
I think I’ve been seeing fireworks on the Fourth of the July for as long as I’ve been alive–that’s 26 years. Like most children, they startled me when I was younger, but I’ve come to love the dancing lights and the thrashing thunder that follows every burst. As I watched the fireworks this year, behind a hotel in Cookeville, Tennessee, on my way home from my brother’s wedding in Texas, I began thinking of the daily freedoms I have because I’m a U.S. citizen: I can travel freely almost anywhere in the world, I can go to school and get a job doing anything I want, and for the past week and onward, I can marry anyone I please and have our marriage recognized throughout the entire country.
I don’t watch the news–the news is depressing. It’s one bad story after another, and the points of importance are pushed aside for the next sensational headline.
Instead I follow stories. I try to understand the exposition, the unwritten prologue, the implications of chapter three, the critical reviews of the page-turning epilogue. And lately, I’ve been reading from a new library–rather than merely perusing the shelves of LGBT identity, Jewish / American intersectionality, and the occasional op-ed on immigration, redistricting, and presidential campaigns, lately I’ve been reading about race.
Here I’ve found more stories, maybe, than I bargained for (and as I write this, I’m reminded of some good advice to beware of the danger of a single story): there are tragedies with names like Travon Martin, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice; settings as varied as McKinney and Ferguson and Baltimore; and narratives simple and complex, like Black Lives Matter.
But the story today that’s swimming through my newsfeed is none of these.
I just finished reading a time-management article that reminded its readers that “You have just as many hours in the day as Beyoncé.” While this is scientifically true and simple enough to entertain mild minds, it neglects the fact that Beyoncé (in fact, most celebrities) have a few extra things going for them that the average person doesn’t.
So here’s five reasons why I’m not as productive as Beyoncé (and neither are you).
I have a confession: I am bound in chains and sometimes I like it. My flesh is tethered by bands of leather and holy boxes inscribed with the word of God. The numbness under the straps speaks to me of security, reminds me of an invisible, all powerful touch.
The truth is metaphor’s a nasty animal that rears its head and paws at the dirt and runs off chasing wild game the moment you think it’s majesty might actually be your own.
But the bigger truth is this: Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom, about what it means to be free, about liberation, and all the chains we carry.
Have you ever heard a joke that’s great until the punchline, and then it falls apart?
I feel opposite that: I know where I’m headed, but not how to get there–not even where to start. You see, I just spent a week in San Francisco, and seeing what the world could look like–what a more inclusive and queer-friendly world can look like–has made me realize a world where sexual orientation doesn’t matter can exist. But after seeing such high levels of inclusion, coming home feels a lot like walking back into the closet.
It’s not as funny as a joke, is it? But it does have a better punchline.