Last Saturday was the 1st Trans March in Philadelphia. To be clear, it was not the first time trans folks and their allies have come together to be visible, to stand up for their own, and to gather in the streets of Philadelphia. As a co-facilitator of a group for trans teens, a therapist for trans adults, a sexuality educator, and an organizer involved with the Philadelphia Trans-health Conference I have had the opportunity to see the trans community from several perspectives. Since I moved to Philly 6 years ago I’ve schooled myself in the history of racism and how it intersects with feminism, the LGBT movement, and the transgender movement. Every time I sit in a room with trans people I feel like I learn more and more about our community and about myself. As a white genderqueer transman from a middle class background I work hard to remain aware of my own biases, weaknesses, and prejudices and to find ways to provide inclusive services. I’m incredibly grateful to the numerous people who have had hard conversations with me, suggested books I should read, and continue to hash it out together. Last Saturday all of this filled my head and my heart as I participated in the Philadelphia Trans March and watched the intersections with Occupy Philly, anarchist politics, anti-racist activism, and trans rights activism collide on Broad Street amid chanting, laughing, and a sharing of experiences and communities. It felt magical.
It is in this spirit that I want to share Michelle O’Brien’s piece “Stayin’ Alive: Trans Survival and Struggle on the Streets of Philadelphia” from That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation. Michelle shares some of the history of the transgender rights movement in Philadelphia. The 1st Philadelphia Trans March didn’t spring from one moment or idea, but is built on years and years of activist organizing on multiple levels and in many transgender communities. It also rests on a foundation that recognizes that the struggles in Philadelphia are the struggles that are directly connected to organizing against capitalism, racism, classism, and sexism. O’Brien writes,”By linking these issues in our analyses and work, we can all begin to do what mainstream gay movements won’t: build movements committed to justice for all people, movements committed to challenging capitalism and white supremacy, alongside fighting homophobia. The survival of trans-people, poor queers, and many others across the globe urgently depends on these movements. (p. 311)”
Read Michelle O’Brien’s piece here: Stayin’ Alive: Trans Survival and Struggle on the Streets of Philadelphia
For the second time this year the queer community in Philly has lost someone. Both deaths were people that I knew from “around”, but not close friends of mine. However, it still totally sucks. Last night, talking with a friend, he mentioned feeling like we need to talk more about both mental health and grieving in our communities. And he said, “This is kind of your thing.” And it is my thing. Many consuming years of school gave me a great opportunity to distance myself from others as I dealt with my own feelings and issues and helped me to learn how to be a healer in my own communities. I’ve been on committees, done organizing, ran groups, worked with people individually – and it still can all feel so hopeless when I mourn the loss of life of people who were suffering. I’m not so conceited that I feel like it’s my job to “save” people – I don’t really feel like that’s how the world works and I don’t want that job. I know there are some things in life I’m really good at (writing blogs at a picnic table) and other things I’m not so good at (meeting strangers) and I try to use the things I’m good at to help folks who are having a hard time because I know what that feels like.
My friend was right, we do need to have more conversations about mental health and about grieving in our queer communities. But what does that look like? How do we acknowledge the diversity of experience and feelings that people feel without judging and pathologizing? Where is the line between brilliance and mood swings? What if someone doesn’t want help? What do you do when everybody already knows that living in a homphobic and transphobic world fucks us up, but that doesn’t really stop it from happening?
I often write and talk to people about finding the parts of the world that are brilliant and magical and finding ways for those parts of the world to be the ones we turn to when feeling low. And just to really be as gay as possible, I have this Indigo Girls lyric running through my head, “Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable, And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.” And so in these moments of sadness I can talk all I want about hope, but I believe that first we need to look at the darkness, sit with it, and acknowledge it. Because it’s sad when someone we love dies. And it’s sad when we no longer see the face of someone we recognize in the crowd like we once always depended on in a way we didn’t even understand.
And so I write this, thinking of my friends words last night, and making a visible space for us to think about and acknowledge our loss and our grief. I’ve seen people come together to support each other in amazing ways, so I know that this is happening over and over again. And it’s gonna need to happen over and over again. And I’m going to write about it and talk about it and make art about it over and over again so that it stays visible and we keep supporting each other even when life flows like a dream. Because anyone who’s been there knows, that even when you’re surrounded by love, you can still feel alone. And I don’t want to “save” anyone, but I do want to be a voice that speaks up and says that it’s ok to ask for help, and it’s good to need other people, and we’re all doing the best that we can. Take care of each other.