I never saw myself as an activist. Nor did I expect that half the words I’ve written or thoughts that have tumbled from my head would be considered activism.
For most of us, Activism was never an intention. There was no master plan, or class you can take during evening hours for a PhD to figure out how to execute the tireless task of raising your voice while a majority is competing with yours, telling you to quiet down.
I don’t imagine Marsha P. Johnson realized that her legacy would be one of a pioneer LGBT rights activist when she threw that brick during the fateful first night of the Stonewall riots. Neither did Rosa Parks when she refused to comply with bus driver’s demands to sit at the back of the bus because of the pigment of her skin. Presumably, Susan B. Anthony probably envisioned a very different life for herself than fighting against slavery and shaping the future of women’s rights. More recently, the young teenagers who survived the Parkland High School shooting- They likely had plans the day following the shooting that had nothing to do with the massacre that derailed them; Things like sporting events, college essays, finding a date for the prom. Now they’re spearheading an gun regulation movement while coming under continued fire from conservatives and republicans in the current administration and around the country.
Few people walk over the threshold of their door one day and think, “Today, I’ll be an activist.” It doesn’t work like that. Indisputably, most individuals will never find themselves in the role of an activist solely because they don’t have to be. No one will tell them they can’t get married because of their sexual preference, or that they’re more likely to be harassed by authorities because their skin is dark. Men don’t have to consider what the consequences of a rape induced pregnancy mean. There isn’t a President banning them from serving in the military because of their gender identity or demanding that government officials exclude them from discussions vital to their healthcare. These people have the privilege of blissful ignorance, not required to think beyond what they want on their sub at lunchtime. That must be really nice. I doubt you’d meet an activist who would rather spend their lifetime fighting against an oppressive regime than enjoying the scenery on the path of least resistance.
For me, activism was never a something I casually opted into. I wasn’t given a choice. I was literally drafted into this role, and early on, I resented it. I longed for an ordinary, expected life. I knew, however, silence was not an alternative I could live with.
I don’t think it’s a terrible reach to state that the younger version of myself naively presumed that everyone knew the difference between right and wrong, good and bad, fair and unfair or safe and dangerous. Is it tremendously far fetched to believe that racism is unacceptable, women should have the right to make their own choices, and sexual orientation, gender- or gender identity, should never be an indicator of someones potential or determine the degree of equality they’re entitled to? The concept of picking apart what makes people unique; Those whose very presence diversifies and demonstrates the limitless spectrum of the human condition should be celebrated instead of challenged.
Sometimes, I feel like I must have been swept away in the middle of the night as I slept and dropped onto another Earth. A backward Earth. Like something out of a Dr. Suess book, everything that was once upright, is now upside down. I have no ability to comprehend the words that are slung like rocks from slingshot demeaning women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, immigrants, transgender individuals, people of color. It makes no sense to me. It feels like a black hole, existing solely to sap the souls of anyone deemed an “other” and leave them a hallow shell of a human, manipulated into hating themselves because they’re told by the masses “It’s the right thing to do.”
I must admit, it feels so unlike home. I feel so alien from the majority whose world views dehumanize, isolate and persecute smaller sects of society. You’d think we would have learned from Americas young, but terrifying history- from the genocide of the Native Americans whose land we spilled out upon like them like a new plague, murdering them in numbers to profound to count, to the burning of women by the hundreds up and down the east coast of New England by declaring them witches; And the brutal kidnapping and cattle-herding of black human beings who were sold in town squares as property. Government sanctioned rape, torture and murder of anyone unlike the religious, self righteous, white Christians who used their bible as justification for their actions in every bloody scenario.
Times have changed, progress has been made, I agree, but what did we learn as a Nation when all we do is turn our sword to the next most vulnerable in the food chain. The gay community were beaten and arrested in streets across the country, many thrown in prison. Now it’s the immigrants- the tearing apart of families who’ve only ever known this country and forcibly sending them back to a strange land… for no other reason than those in power can. It achieves nothing but the infliction of unnecessary pain.
And then there’s me. A Transgender woman. Lawmakers want to incite hysteria, create a narrative that paints me as a pedophile; a threat to their virginal daughters and fragile wives. I’m banned from serving in any branch of military, and in some states, from using a public bathroom simply because of who I am. Trans women of color are being murdered at alarming rates. One of them, JoJo Striker, right in my hometown… she was shot in a garage. At least that’s where they found her on that cold February day in 2017. She was just 23. As far as I know, there has been no effort to solve her murder. Since then, dozens of hate motivated murders targeting primarily Trans women of color have occurred. We’re being killed for being Trans.
It’s always by the people in power. The Police are killing young, unarmed black men, The government is erasing LGBT people, refusing to include us on the upcoming census record. The wealthy evangelists are funding politicians who will carry out their orders to control the decisions women are allowed to make regarding their own reproductive health. It has taken on a good versus evil theme, a pantomime, and it’s divided the nation.
The white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, Christians of our species always have a target. It’s almost as if they cannot justify their existence without someone to bully. They’re not content unless they have someone under their boot. There is this irrational but insatiable hunger for superiority. There is no basis for the cruel attacks on minorities. None. Just an embedded desire to be regarded as better than us, more deserving of the things they have that we cannot- with no good reason aside from an endless quest to dictate the lives of those they deem as second class citizens.
What a joyous life it must be to experience no social resistance. No pangs of confusion or fear to distract you from picking up your organic pizza to bake for the kids when they get home from private school. I realize I’m casting a wide net and to some that may seem unfair in itself. It sounds radical. It sounds illogical. It sounds pessimistic and nonsensical.
I know how it sounds. I’ve felt that way for a long time, thinking; “How can they say that? What grounds have they to feel like this about us? Where is the evidence or foundation to make such ridiculous assertions? Why are they poising us to be under a relentless barrage of insults and accusations? Not one of us, but all of us who fall outside the white, male, heterosexual cisgender, christian brand?” You can’t miss one box while ticking them off without finding yourself on the fray, vulnerable to persecution. Does the net get much wider than that? Pointing that out, however, results in you being written off as a radical.
We have no choice but to fight back.
We haven’t luxury of being an observer standing on the outside of the arena. We’re put on the ground, in the cages, waiting for the next wave of condemnation.
This is how an Activist is created. A willingness to stand when told to be seated, a demand to be counted when they insist on ignoring us. We hold closely to our values. We’re the few who still possess a conscience, and from that, a self motivated movement to push back against those who lack it. It’s more than a difference of opinion, but our refusal compromise the things we know to be true of ourselves, despite their ignorance. And, as human beings, reclaim ownership of the rights we are entitled to.
We have partners, families, people we love, people who love us. We had plans, and for most of us, fighting for equality and our right to prosper was not on the calendar of our lives. We just expected to be like everyone else, not better than, not superior to, but not lesser than or inferior, either. It’s not about taking anything away. Equality isn’t a limited in quantity. One must not go without it for another to have it. It’s a commodity they’re clinging to in order to maintain a sense of supremacy.
In response, some pick up placards or sign petitions. Some march down Pennsylvania Avenue to demonstrate in front of the White House. Some of us share our experiences online to educate and inspire those who will come after us, because ultimately, we know it’s not just about us. It is for every child like us that is born in a million tomorrows that should never have to be an activist. They should be living their lives, not fighting for the right to exist on the same plateau as everyone else. That’s why those before us fought… hoping we wouldn’t have to.
When you live in a state of mind that we activists are thrust into, knowing that if we don’t take up the gauntlet, we risk everything- especially our quality of life while we’re here. And none of us are here forever. We don’t have all the time in the world to influence the changes necessary to achieve balance where there is none. So we develop a gnawing urgency to do what we can now. The stalwarts of activism have turned it into a career, having been carrying a torch for decades. My friend, Lily, runs an emergency shelter for LGBT youth who are ejected, often violently from their homes. She is determined to give every child a good start. Other friends make films, documentaries as testaments to the injustices committed against us- and by us- I mean the under-represented. Women, Transgender Americans, Black communities, Immigrants- those of us on the fringes, none of us any better off than the next. We’re all the prey of elitists with lawmaking privileges.
Politics try to turn us against one another, a common tactic to preserve the status quo of a chosen few. Divide us so that we never organize, and conquer us one by one. They convince the middle class that the impoverished are to blame for their high taxes because they have their hands in their pockets in the form of government benefits. Not true, but serves their purpose. They convince the religious that the homosexuals are contributing to the downfall of a moral society…. so they’ll waive compassion and declare war instead.
In their arena, the elites lift the gates and set the matches. The athiests against the christians. The blacks against the whites, the middle class against the poor, the republicans against the democrats. The able bodied against the disabled. It’s all for their entertainment. While everyone is battling, the elites assume absolute control and determine our future, uncontested.
That is or harsh reality.
For those of you who’ve never had to pick up a sign, or tell your story before the world hoping to change one mind, I envy you. I never expected this would be something I had to do.
But, I won’t stop. Not today, not tomorrow or the next day.
Maybe not in my lifetime.
Not when there are so many disturbing parallels to our tragic past that will potentially cost us everything the activists a century before us fought and died for.
The torch of purpose burns with uncertainty as long as there are those intent on dousing it, leaving most of us in darkness like modern day exiles. Unity is more important than ever before. If we turn a blind eye simply because it’s not our rights on the ballot this year, when they finally succeed in whittling everyone else to nothingness, their focus will fall on you unless you can tick off every box of their accessibility quiz… and who will be left to stand with you?