WTF is queer in bold pink hand lettering outlined in black & white set against a pink and yellow background.

WTF Is Queer? Exploring #30 of the Tao Te Ching

I am on a journey to figure out exactly "WTF is queer?" It's been a sticky question for me my entire life, and even after living for 46 years on this tiny little planet in this extremely large cosmos, I feel even more uncertain about what it exactly means. I have a feeling I know what it is, but how best do I articulate it in a way that also connects to and reveals deeper truths? 

Do you know WTF is queer? Please share your response in the comments. 

***

I grabbed my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu off my bookshelves and held it tenderly in my hands. The cover is beat up, and it has a small pink sticky note with the word "seed" on it from an altar I created this past winter. I placed my thumb on the pages, closed my eyes, and listened to my being and the book. "WTF is queer," I asked it and let my right thumb find the right passage. It landed on #30.

The Tao Te Ching has been a great source of profound revelations over my adult life since the fall of 1997 after I picked Stephen Mitchell's translation from the shelves of Epic Book Shop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It has aided me in leaving toxic situations, helped me grieve the death of my father, and inspired my approach to creative development. The pages have so many notes, tears, highlights, bent corners that I am surprised the binding still holds.  

What drew me to this specific book is that Stephen Mitchell changes pronouns from passage to passage. I had very little money, and there were way too many books staring at me from among the stacks at Epic Book Shop. After coming out and rejecting the faith I grew up in, I needed something to help me ground myself. Scripture had been that something, so I turned to other sacred text. I looked at tarot decks, magical almanacs, books by the Dalai Lama and Thich Nat Han and Nietzsche, other forms of philosophy and divination. Almost everything centered  cisheteropatriarchy and what little wasn't was almost exclusively about the Divine Feminine. Neither polarities spoke to me, so when I opened Stephen Mitchell's translation I was ecstatic. It was revolutionary for me to see him use both he and she pronouns, and it was this nuance that spoke directly to me as a 21 year old genderqueer queer in 1997.

While my introduction to the Tao Te Ching is through a white male academic’s translation, it has become sacred to me for the very reason of its acknowledgement of the Tao being gender non-specific. For the last 25 years, this nuance continues to comfort me and has guided my deeper understanding of queerness while having almost nothing to do with being Queer. The Tao has become a portal through which I make meaning of queer and Queer. It has expanded and complicated my sense of being.

With all that is happening politically and spiritually, I am finding myself with a deep desire to see Queer and queer, the words specifically, in more scripture. Stephen Mitchell's poetics feel familiar to me and thus offer me a pathway for exploration. My aim is not to queer the Tao because to Queer it is outside of my experience or expertise as a white, male-bodied, (now) anti-binary queer, who was born in the United States and who was raised Catholic. I can, however, use the text to write about and reveal what makes Queer sacred to me.

And maybe through this process, I might be able to offer a way for others to explore what is (or is not) queer or Queer to them. 

So please share your response to "WTF is queer?" in the comments below. Let's figure this out together. 

I am holding my 25 year old copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell, with a pink post it note reading "Seed" on it. I am smiling, and I am wearing a black hoodie with short salt and pepper hair and a long, bushy salt and pepper beard.

#30

Whoever trusts Queer as relative
sits as peer among all relations
turning all into comrades.
For gathering as both one and many transforms both.
Change, especially when collective,
always amplifies possibilities.

Queers simply be
now and forever.
They are chaos
existing outside control,
witnessing all unfold,
and revealing that which is Queer.
Because Queers know queer,
there is no need for definition.
Because Queers love all that is queer,
they affirm all that be Queer.
Because Queers have always been,
Queer will always & forever BE.


***
READ STEPHEN MITCHELL'S TRANSLATION OF LAO TZU'S #30 FROM THE TAO TE CHING HERE.

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