Apologies for the months of absence. Finishing my course and personal health have been factors, but the main thing has been that I experienced bad burnout in relation to queer activism.
As some of you may know, I was involved in projects aiming to educate young people about the issues faced by young LGBTQ+ people, particularly surrounding mental health, transphobia and domestic violence. However, it quickly turned into “for allies”. Which is all well and good to educate but it started to feel more like things were aimed to support allies rather than support young LGBTQ+ people. Trying to bring this up was like hitting a dead end; “educating” seemed to simply be “talking to allies” rather than empowering the young people we were focusing on.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that the organisation had included an ignorant “ally” in a position of power. This person used slurs (homophobic, transphobic, ableist) and complained constantly about “heterophobia”. The idea that this cisgender, heterosexual person was experiencing the same opression and discrimination as queer people do was infuriating but we were told to deal with it. Any reporting resulted in me being chasitised for trying to make our space queer-exclusive, despite the fact that this person was also hitting out with ableist slurs and garbage about “Catholic persecution”. The heads of the organisation wanted nothing to do with it- they ticked all the boxes and wouldn’t argue back because they had no understanding of what it was like to be queer. I stood by and listened to comments about how trans* people getting en suite bathrooms at events was preferential treatment, as well as erasure about their sexualities. Really, I should’ve quit when workers failed to do anything after I complained about being kept up until 3am at one event being questioned as to how I could be queer, and proved wrong. Another issue was them reccuringly allowing a transphobic cisgender gay man to repeatedly take part and ignored how uncomfortable the trans* people were made to feel. I felt like this was me making a big deal out of nothing and I should just get over it. It was difficult.
In the end I left. I shied away from any kind of queer-related things save from one Pride event, which felt more like a day out with friends instead of anything else. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to take part in anything because I wasn’t abiding by the rules set out by an organisation, and it made me feel like a “bad queer”. I’m used to a world of organised, funded, safe-for-work activism that doesn’t cause any real conflict. Feeling that I’d done something wrong by standing up for myself made me feel awful, and in turn made me keep away from something that I had been previously heavily involved in. It wasn’t a good time.
The realisation hit me that I was having what kind of queer activism is socially appropriate, and what to do for others rather than for myself. It made me angry; my passion, my talent and my skills used to forward an organisation rather than help me. It also made me angry at myself; “building a network” meant running around after politicians and people in power trying to please them on their terms, rather than making them listen, and “activism” meant nodding in agreement while someone spoke for me and occassionally being trotted out as an example. I let myself become stuck in a world of branding and begging.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking with people about the situation. Many of them have been shocked, and most have commented on how they think I’ve been treated poorly. I hate to admit it, but sometimes that’s a confidence boost I need. Furthermore, I also had them tell me that they’d learned from what I write and blog; that I had successfully managed to educate people without bending what I was writing to fit someone else’s guidelines or agenda. Realising this has made me think over things. I don’t want to stop participating in queer activism, but I need to actually do it for what it is. Not be in a situation where I get awards for how many signatures I collect, how many people I kiss up to, or for how well I nod along. I want to help create awareness of queer issues, not downplay them and let myself be walked over because it seems like the right way about it. I don’t want to be part of this branded pride culture.
What has this taught me? I need to keep going. I need to accept that not everybody will agree with my opinions all the time, but I need to try my hardest to present all the evidence and maybe I can change minds. Maybe I can help. I don’t have to do this with the approval of an organisation or a brand. I can do this for myself.