Of all the feminist actions I might take in a day, none is more invisible – to me – than being out.
Mostly, I just live my life. I live the better in ‘it gets better.’ Although the process of coming out wasn’t easy, my family, my employer, and my nation all settled this business long ago, leaving me to ponder big questions like, did I reply to that email yet? or, is this skirt tighter than it was last time I wore it? or, should I have stuck with Plan A, long haul trucking, instead of going to graduate school? As you can imagine, that kind of deep thinking doesn’t really allow ‘oh yeah, and I’m a lesbian’ to come to the surface very often.
But this fall’s horrific rash of stories about queer students taking their own lives has brought me back, powerfully, to the perilous fragility of these lives we lead in the midst of such reckless everdayness.
For many people, these stories are visceral reminders of how harrowing it can be to come out to your family and friends. For some, they bring back hideous memories of being bullied. The stories are almost certainly about mental illness or, less clinically, the dark pull of a high bridge: I’ve been there too, and it does get better.
For me, though, these stories are primarily about students. They remind me of how fundamentally hard it can be to be a student, how difficult it is to succeed in a game you don’t necessarily understand, how tough it can be to feel overwhelmed, and anxious, and uncertain, and exposed, and shamed, how hard it is to be away from home, to be out of context, out of your depth, out of touch, out of solutions.
But these stories also call me to the dream I hold for university life as a place where you can be yourself and remake yourself, a place where you can think new thoughts and try new things, a place to start over, if you want, and over and over. A place to figure things out. A place to be creative. A place to be.
And so here in this blog post I want to give a shout-out to the amazing queer students I’ve taught over the years. Yeah, Kristy, I mean you – and the other Christie, and the Four Corners Press gang, and the brilliant RB, and Cynthia (I still miss you), and M. Almodova, who was in the first class I ever TA’ed for and who came out to me by confessing he was into erasure (and he didn’t mean Derrida). I’m thinking about Kim who left grad school to take care of her girlfriend’s kids, I’m thinking about HK the public intellectual, slippery A, and all the queer kids in the Edmonton course a couple years back who just up and outed themselves on day one: do you have any idea how thoroughly that blew my mind? I’m thinking about you in the back row with your ball cap: you don’t fool me for a second, but don’t worry, we can play it that way. I’m thinking about the ridiculously talented Trevor, who understands the couture call of white designer jeans and the siren call of suicide and just recently made a brilliant film about it. And I’m thinking of a whole bunch of other people who might not be comfortable being named.
To all the sissy boys and the gay men, the lesbian feminists, the brave transgenders and the sex-positive grrls, the womyn-identified-womyn, the high femmes and the bears, the gossipy queens, the Real Lesbians, the pretty boys, the hard butches and the soft butches and the baby butches (especially the baby butches):
I’m wearing this kicking purple dress today for you.
Peace, Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, Cody J. Barker, Harrison Chase Brown, Billy Lucas, Jeanine Blanchette, and Chantal Dube.
The rest of you: be careful out there.