Role models are something I think about a lot, especially when I’m thinking or talking about leadership. I’ve been in various positions of leadership throughout my life (including on various sports teams, within student governments, as a mentor, etc.), and as I’ve grown older and more reflexive I’ve started to feel more responsible as a leader to the people that I am supposed to be leading. This is why I have always striven (strove? this word is so awkward in past tense) to be a good role model to those people I am fortunate enough to be leading, especially if they are younger than me.
I have seen too many people who are looked up to betray the trust that has been given to them, either by simply being lazy/apathetic, or by behaving irresponsibly. These attitudes show both a lack of understanding about the trust and responsibility they have been given and a lack of compassion about caring for that trust and influencing others in a positive manner.
This is why I try to do a lot of self-inquiry about how I am caring for the space that I inhabit (most frequently this space being the Q Center or someplace that I would like to have the Q Center’s values) and about how I am caring for the people around me. I think of this less as self-policing, although there is some internal censorship involved when something that is definitely not ok tries to escape out my mouth anyway, and more as caring for others, and through that caring for myself. Because, for me at least, there is a lot of self-care involved in how I think about/try to change how I affect others. How can I love myself if I am unconsciously or through ignorance (or, with the same effect but worse to my thinking, consciously) contributing to someone else’s oppression and marginalization? Too few people, in my opinion, have this internal responsibility.
Which brings me back to role models. I had a lack of role models growing up who were like me (read: queer). Even before I was consciously queer I sort of had the feeling that no one who I knew who was grown up was very much like me. This isn’t to say that I had no role models (shout out to my very awesome mom!), but that I didn’t see myself in many of my relationships with adults. I think this is why I latched onto one of the first adults that I found who I related to and saw a little bit of myself in, as a role model. She started teaching at my high school during my junior year, and I got to know her a bit although she was never one of my teachers. Looking back, she is not someone who I want to model myself after partly due to the fact that I know something she did that very few other people know, and which I consider to be a very serious breach of professional ethics (though she’s a great teacher and very nice, just to be clear, but that doesn’t excuse her behavior). But I latched onto the idea of her as a role model for a long time because she was pretty much all I had.
Not so anymore! I’ve been fortunate enough to meet/learn of lots and lots of amazing peeps who not only are “like” me (a category that I have now extended beyond the basic qualification of being queer to include people who are strong allies to me) but who also do some awesome work! The idea for this post, by the way, was inspired by this article from Colorlines called People I Love: South Asian Women Who Make Change, which features Pramila Jayapal, local Seattle activist and founder/director of OneAmerica, where I currently am an intern.
So in the spirit of celebrating rad role models, here are some of mine! Some of them I’ve met, some I haven’t, but they’re all real people* and they’re all super awesome.
Jen Self. Because she’s the raddest of them all.
Rachel Maddow. Because I not-so-secretly want to be her. Also, to be her friend.
Estefanía Yanci, Julie Severson, Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Haunani-Kay Trask, Leslie Feinberg, Ellis, Audre Lorde, Hannah Volkman, Hala Dillsi, Tyson Johnson, Sabrina Fields, Archita Taylor, Teo Popescu, Cassie Hoeprich, Barbie-Danielle DeCarlo.
Of course there are many more, but seeing as it’s nearly finals week they’re going to have to go unnamed (but not unloved) for now.
In love and solidarity,
*although I realize having an asterisk next to ‘they’re all real people’ seems kind of silly, what I mean to say here by ‘real people’ is that they’re not superstar athletes or famous rock stars or huge celebrities of some kind (I exempt Rachel Maddow from this statement, since I wouldn’t call her a huge celebrity) who are famous for being famous. They’re real people who do real things and who you can (or could, if they’ve died) really talk to or see evidence of their work. Thinking back, I’d modify my original statement about lacking role models when I was younger to say that I was lacking role models who were ‘real people’ – everyday people with real, tangible relationships.
I just read this Feministe post about Georgian state Representative Bobby Franklin’s new bill that would require Georgian women to report instances of miscarriage (since, in the words of Jill from Feministe “fetuses are Georgian citizens and their deaths are potential crimes”).
Jill issues this challenge:
“I think we should help Georgia out. Since life begins at conception, and a fertilized egg is a human being with all of the rights of any other citizen of the great state of Georgia, we need to make sure that all egg-deaths are properly accounted for, and that all zygote-Americans receive a proper burial and an investigation into whether their deaths were caused by foul play.
“Devery Doleman, an Actual Woman, writes a letter to Rep. Franklin requesting that he investigate the potential murders going on in her pants. I think she’s on to something. I suggest, based on Devery’s idea, that we send Rep. Franklin the evidence of the potential murders committed in our uteri. Now, we can’t actually send used tampons through the mail — sending bio-hazardous material to an elected official can get you in BAD TROUBLE, so don’t do it — but we can certainly send photos. So! Next time you’re on the rag, photo-document the results. Why? Because somewhere around 50% of fertilized eggs naturally don’t implant, and are flushed out of the body. It’s an act of God, sure, but still — that’s a 50% prenatal death rate for Georgia’s smallest citizens. Your womb, basically, is a serial killer. And Rep. Franklin is very, very interested in using the Georgia state police to investigate any possible death of a Georgia citizen.
“So! I recommend you photograph your period paraphernalia, and attach it to a letter thanking Rep. Franklin for his good work in standing up for human life. Here’s a form letter you are welcome to use.”
While this is a great idea, it leaves me with unanswered questions. How do I, as a “Gay” “Lady” fit in to this picture? I wrote my own letter to Rep. Franklin urging him to also take on the Georgian Gay Lady population, because they are potential zygote-American killers too! Here’s what I wrote:
In love, solidarity, and snarkiness,
I don’t mean to come off super pessimistic about this, so first of all I want to unequivocally state that I think Obama’s reversing the administration’s position on defending DOMA is awesome, and a great step in the right direction for gay rights.* Among other things, it states their legal opinion that “‘classifications based on sexual orientation’ should be subjected to a strict legal test intended to block unfair discrimination.” (NYT article, quoting Attorney General Eric Holder)
This is a big step because it expresses the idea that people of non-hetero sexual orientations should be considered a marginalized group that needs extra special legal protections against discrimination (such as hate crimes, getting arbitrarily fired, getting arbitrarily evicted, etc). The reason why this argument is being made now is because of two recent lawsuits against DOMA that were brought in districts with different rules than districts where previous lawsuits had been filed. If it sticks, this precedent could potentially lead to lots of changes in laws and policies that benefit queer people.
However, I don’t really share in all the excitement and hype that this move has gotten in the past day or so, for the following reasons -
1. The president doesn’t have the authority to repeal DOMA because it’s an act of congress, so the administration saying that it doesn’t support DOMA won’t have any immediate practical outcome.
2. Any repeal of DOMA that tries to go through congress right now would likely fail to get through the republican-controlled House.
3. Even if the federal government were to completely repeal DOMA and begin recognizing same-sex marriages, that still wouldn’t mean that the country has same-sex marriage all over. It would still be up to the individual states to decide what rights to marriage, if any, queer couples receive.
4. If this goes to the Supreme Court in its current iteration (5 conservatives, 4 liberals) they will probably uphold DOMA. The Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on legal issues in this country with little oversight of any kind, and if they don’t want to take the Administration’s opinion on this then they don’t have to.
5. A pessimist could see this as Obama throwing a bone to the mainstream liberal gay organizations, since it doesn’t change anything and might make them back down from criticizing him as much as they have been.
6. The president’s views on same-sex marriage are “still evolving” – meaning that he either doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage should be allowed or that he can’t say that for political reasons (cough, 2012, cough). Also, even though this change in position won’t lead to any immediate change it could be a rallying point for conservatives in the next election, putting his chances at reelection in more jeopardy than they already are.
7. I’m tired of seeing the gay/queer movement as singularly defined by the issue of marriage. There are so many more issues, so many more important issues, that are desperately in need of attention and advocacy that this tunnel-vision focus on marriage seems sadly inefficient. I could go on and on about this, but I’ve done that in other forums before so I won’t get into it here.
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear others’ opinions.
In love and solidarity,
*I’m consciously using the word ‘gay’ here instead of queer.
My parents never forget to remind of their good intentions: “We say this because we love you.” But with so much of my life hidden from their peripheries, I wonder if they can fathom the thought of their little girl standing up on her own two feet and taking charge of her own life. When did the hand holding and spoon feeding stop and the independent social justice queer superhero persona begin? When did I make the transition from their daughter to my self? Somewhere between my gender and sexuality, I started fighting for myself rather than fighting against them. Nonetheless, it is always a fight to be who I am because it’s hard for them to understand the butch behind the babe.
They have yet to be acquainted with the world I have come to call my own. How could I expect them to know what I, as a gay genderqueer individual, need? They grew up in irony. Post-colonial India, the mysterious subcontinent, the womb of the karma sutra, shies away from its roots and boasts a hush-hush attitude toward any thought of sex, sexuality, and gender nonconformity, as if somehow it makes them more chaste. What is morally pure about perpetuating the cycle of oppression? How is it that a culture that worships an androgynous god, who is represented by an abstract sculpture of a lingam and yoni (male and female sex organs, respectively), can’t talk about sexuality?! This symbolism for oneness is not a promotion of heteronormativity but a union of male and female energies, an embrace of sexual dualism. The true nature of this culture, based on the idea of natural balance and fluidity, has been drowned out by colonialism, insecurity, and ignorance. I can still feel the effects, generations later, continents apart. These human experiences, sexuality and gender, were never discussed in my house, as I was growing up and even now. And I never dared to ask. I only dared to learn.
Imprisoned within their mental models, they remind me: “We’ve been through it, we were your age once, and we know what it’s like,” without realizing that they are not me. Do they really know what I’m going through? Have they really gone through the questioning, acknowledging, and coming out process? Do they really know what it is like to live in dissonance trying to balance who you know you are and who you know they want you to be? They live life from their perspective, like everyone else, but they can’t seem to see beyond it. They are the “experts” of their lives, but without being me, how could they be the experts of mine? I don’t doubt their intentions but I certainly doubt their knowledge.
At first, I didn’t know what I needed as a queer person. Since knowledge is power, I turned to the knower of all knowledge: google. Researching myself was beautiful, but things got tricky when I went for the “giant leap for queer kind;” from the inter-webs to the real world. I can still remember the fear I experienced the first time I visited the Q Center. I hardly felt like I could walk in the building, let alone the center, I was so afraid of being seen by someone I knew. What would I say about where I was going and why? Do they know what the Q Center is? Are they judging me for going there? At that point I had experience with avoiding the rapture, as many fresh-out-of-high-school students had, but this was bigger than “oh, I wasn’t smoking, my friends were, I just watched” or “yeah, their parents were home and no, we didn’t drink.” No amount of air freshener and no amount of spearmint gum can mask the fact that I am gay. Intimate and powerful, my sexuality and gender expression needed to be acknowledged, nurtured, and celebrated, even if it meant judgment. I had to remind myself that the truth is the truth, and the truth was that I needed to put myself out there in order to seek guidance, despite my paranoia. I am worth the fight. I deserve to find peace.
As a shy person, I was literally shaking as I walked in. I had never been in a room with more than one or two queer people, other than myself. But it felt right. My experiences were shared by many (even my experiences as queer Indian), and it wasn’t long before I found a community of people who don’t look at me funny for dressing like a lumberjack or performing drag or expressing my attraction to that grad student, who is WAY out of my league. They liked me for me, in all my queerness. And I liked them. Being gay was one less thing we judged each other on and one more thing we unified to celebrate. To say I am a different person, a better person, a happier person, after finding this community is an understatement. I am finally able to say “I am ok” and believe it. And for once, I have hope that I am to make it through to another day and love it. Having found my niche, I know that if I ever lost that hope, I have people holding it for me. My parents may not understand who I am yet, but with “Team Sasha” backing me up, I feel like I am where I should be: happy and whole.
My mom was recently (and is generally always) awesome and I’m really proud of her! So naturally I’m sharing the news. We were on the phone last night discussing a mutual friend who had recently made some weird comments/jokes to the effect of finding the idea of Queer 101, which I am helping to facilitate this quarter, amusing. Apparently this friend had speculated to my mom about what a “straight 101″ might look like.
And my mom went all anti-oppression on her! Even hearing my mom retell it to me nearly made me cry with pride. She raised some seriously awesome points about heterosexism and systems of oppression (not exactly in those words but those were the concepts she was getting at, and she was able to do it in a way that the friend would get). Evidently my mom was able to change the friend’s thinking about the need for something like Queer 101.
I’m super proud of this because I know that my mom’s anti-oppression views have a lot to do with me and how I have changed since coming to the UW. This whole event makes me extremely happy, and optimistic that I can create positive change on a personal level. Next up, I’m going to work on the friend
In love and solidarity,
True story: Waiting for the bus one morning, I overheard a mama talking to her 5 year old daughter:
“There are so many different kinds of people in the world, right baby?”
Chewing a mouthful of cold smore poptarts, she nods.
“There are big people, there are little people, there are mama people, and daddy people, and baby people. There are tall people, who play basketball, and small people… There are black people, and white people, and brown people… What kind of person are you baby?”
Still chewing that mouthful of cold smore poptarts, “A cute person!”
Smiling, mama affirms that baby is indeed a cute person.
I too am a cute person (or so I think), but I am also a short person, a chubby person, a silly person, a female bodied person, a gay person, a genderqueer person, a 19-year-old person, a middle class person, and a first generation Indian American person. It might have taken me a long to realize, but I’m definitely a cute person. In fact, it took me a long time to realize who I am. The more I discovered about myself, the more I felt like I was falling further into the minority rabbit hole. I felt more alien than anything. Did anyone else’s intersectionality, intersect with mine? Or was my unique being going to be isolated, alone, and unappreciated?
Intersectionality is a funny thing. It divides us, drawing lines in the sand of humanity, erecting chasms between you and me. And it unites us. And it leaves us solitary. And it creates solidarity. This double edged sword so integral to our being makes us who we are, as individuals and as a human race. There is pride in being the one and only you, celebration and beauty. But what is a celebration without others to share with?! Isn’t there a sense of excitement in meeting someone who shares an experience with you? In seeing someone like you? In realizing you are not alone in your struggles and achievements? This interpersonal connection, this sense of community, plays a pivotal role in self-appreciation and in self-love. In turn, this creates the foundation for the appreciation and celebration of others too.
The branches of our intersectionality all lead to the same trunk, our being. Each branch affects another and cannot exist alone. My race affects the filter with which I view my sexuality or gender expression or class or age or my physical appearance, abilities/disabilities, or the culture I want to create for myself. Finding a balance between the aspects our lives, the tidbits that makes us who we are, can be difficult without affirmation of our existence. It wasn’t until I met another queer, first generation, Indian American that I was able to see how the mosaic fit together. I was opened to a whole new dimension. Realizing that I wasn’t some kind of mistake or freak or monster let me adjust my filters. Apparently the Indian culture is chock full of instances of homosexuality! Gods that are half male and half female, sex positions for lovers of the same sex, even religiously accepted marriages between women! My culture wasn’t as suffocating as I thought, exploring the intersection of my race and sexuality has given me a new appreciation for my mother culture. I’m not a mythical creature, “queer woman of color”, but I am the child of millions, if not billions, of others just like me. There is so much peace in this enlightenment.
Dedicated to gita mehrotra