This was originally written on October 2, 2010, and was published on my blog, Queerly Complex. In 2018, it was included in a collection of essays, A Manifestation Jason, Writings on art & healing & education & politics & economics & youth work & sadness from October 2010 to December 2012, which was published for my installation Be Jason at Black & White Projects.
I am posting it on this new website & blog in celebration of Pride month, and reading it again I am proud of who I am and who I was and who I will be. Happy Queer Pride to all y'all queerdos!
I have skirted the borders ever since childhood. I was always the queer. In fact, I was so queer I got my tailbone broken in a game of “Smear the Queer” in the sixth grade.
Needless to say, Queer and queer matter in my life. They are an essential component of my being as vital as blood and oxygen, as rejuvenating as my daily morning coffee, as fundamental as religion. I was queer because others called me that. I am Queer because I be.
I wasn’t popular. Hell, I was called “faggot”, “weird”, “queer”, “funny”, “different”, “odd”, “freak, “fruit” almost every day. No one wanted my friendship. Everyone wanted my attention. They wanted me to see them, their pain, their cries for visibility.
These peers were scared, hurt, reactive creatures running on instinct and urge. They lashed out because they knew no differently or had experienced the abuse themselves or because they just needed someone to be lower than themselves. I was an easy scapegoat because I was loud, flamboyant, theatrical, pushy, and poor. I was the kid in the 1980s K-mart clothing that took musical theater. I stood out in a suburb of white. And if I could be seen, even with all of my queerness, others wanted to be seen. Jealousy is a strong force.
I am/was privileged as an outsider and Q/queer. I get/got to see people not as they project/ed themselves to the masses but as they are/were. This space in shadows, borders, edges, and alleys is powerful: I am honored with people’s truths. It also bears an incredible responsibility: to be a compassionate mirror.
I haven’t always been a compassionate mirror, and the weight of this responsibility has grown over time. In fact, this responsibility started only as a mirror regardless of form. Sometimes that meant only reflecting that which I heard, paraphrasing it word for word until recognition washed across faces or confusion compelled them to leave. Other times, I was like that fun house mirror completely distorting the image often in unflattering and violent manners. Compassion came only as a result of seeing so many truths; often truths that conflict and harm.
Everyone is messy, disjointed, searching, and conflicted. Everyone has capacity for transformation. I have worked with white folks unpacking their privilege and watched them completely break down—guilt flooding over faces—as they finally, bodily realize the impact of racism. I’ve witnessed a seventh grade African-American young man move from throwing around “That’s so gay,” daily to checking his peers saying, “Don’t say that. You can’t say that here.” My mother went from trying to ban the Halloween books in my Catholic elementary school library to coordinating volunteers for an HIV/AIDS affordable housing developer.
These transformations have and continue to transform/ed me. I never expected empathy for the white woman weeping over the loss of her reality or the young man yelling “faggot” at me or for my mother who sent me to a shrink to become straight. Yet in each of these reflections I see my self: a terrified white man fearful of his loss of power; a young man wanting to hurt others because I hurt; a caregiver fiercely protecting their stead against the corruption of the outside world. Time and reflection grew compassion.
Compassion at its basest level is queer: strange, odd, unusual. It is weird to respond to epithets with an open ear. Instinct urges fight or flight. Letting that instinct run its course silently in the background while remaining in the moment conflicts with our nature. Everything pushes a reaction, a movement, a decision. The queer thing to do is the thing no one expects: to love utterly, completely, wholly, openly, unreservedly. It is also the hardest thing to do. Living queerly is work.
I began writing this piece in response to OutLook Theater Project’s, a queer ensemble theater company for which I worked, need to define queer. We were in the process of figuring out strategic directions and next steps as to how we would show up in the world.
I started the task by reading loads of articles on queer theory and the essentialization of sexuality in identity. Most of what I read was from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Almost all of them grappled with the evolution of identity, politics, community, economics, social change. There is a tension between the historical use of the word as an epithet and the reclamation of it by younger generations who view it as an open, fluid, and inclusive term for sexuality and gender. There is a difference between queer—a particular way of being that unsettles assumptions and preconceptions of sexuality and gender—and Queer—a reference to a diverse and broad LGBT... community. Queer theory grew out of feminist theory and gay and lesbian studies as well as any other studies that construct, deconstruct, and reconstruct identities and aesthetics. These are helpful in my understanding of queer and Queer in relation to community and identity. They are not very useful in my understanding being.
To find being, I had to mine my life. I had to put a mirror in front of my self and study its features peeling back the layers, looking deeply and inquisitively at the muscles, joints, organs, values, valves, passageways contained within this body. I had to listen quietly as my mind spun tales of faggotry, otherness, and pain. There I stood raw and naked yet fully clothed a hint of make-up from a party the night before. I am all of these people I was. I am every age I used to be. I am all of my lessons yet to learn. There staring back at me is queer, and it has absolutely nothing and everything to do with sexuality and gender.
These are the essences of Q/queer to me: loving fearlessly, transforming radically, and compassionately mirroring.
I am honored I was asked for my definition. It forced me in front of this mirror, and I love utterly what I see: flaws, scars, tears, and all.
Note (from 2018): All of this. All of it. ♥