I had a moment recently where pieces of a puzzle that had been jumbled up in my mind finally turned and fit in just the right way. If you’d like to follow the same path I did, it starts with this tweet.
In the New York Times piece she links, Jo Chiang writes about how queer relationships are exploited for emotional effect in film and TV, often with tragic outcomes. The constant drumbeat of pain in the lives of fiction’s queer protagonists normalizes a narrative that’s reductive, pernicious, and untrue.
She states that these portrayals don’t match her experience, and argues that it behooves the queer community to bring positivity to the media narrative of their lives. Joy as resistance. Triumph over tragedy.
The specific battle that is personal for her isn’t personal for me in the same way, but what really strikes me about it — her point in the piece, or at least my takeaway from it — is that one can celebrate happiness as an act of social justice.
Ever since I was a kid growing up against a background of good old-fashioned Protestant guilt in a family with VERY high expectations for the quality of my moral fibre, I felt deficient. As my awareness of world affairs grew the guilt grew with it. I continue to be cisgender, male, able, educated… how can I relate to real problems in the world? What is my duty to participate in solutions?
I’ve felt that I abdicate my responsibility as a member of a privileged class because I don’t know how to meaningfully exert an influence for good in the face of a shitty, fucked-up world that seems to hurt everyone more than it hurts me. I’ve used that privilege to turn away and ignore it, thinking it’s just too enormous and awful to bear, building a feedback loop of self-recrimination, willful ignorance, and inaction that I imagine is all too common among those in my situation.
What I realized in reading this article, though, is that there can be nobility in the pursuit of things I already care a great deal for. Most importantly in this context — that by focusing on the positive aspects of things I love, I’m not ignoring or diminishing the real struggles and pain that exist. I’m providing a critical counterpoint to them.
I’m a rather timid person. I’m not good at getting angry, or at being angry. Anger can be a potent force for change, and my ineptitude at building and shaping that emotion has left me feeling unsuited to the task of speaking on issues of social justice. I AM upset about what I see, but not only am I bad at converting anger to positive action, I’m also held back by doubts about the authenticity of my perspective or the validity of my speech as someone who’s not directly under attack. As someone who considers themself to be an ally, silence is not an option. How can I speak out in a way that is authentic to me while honoring the experiences of those I claim to support?
This is how. Joy as resistance. Anger isn’t my strong suit — but I am good at being excited, and explaining why I like the things I like, and why I think they’re important and significant and useful and valuable. And the things I like? Sure there’s a bunch of fluff and chrome in there, but there’s also the righteous, impassioned speech of others. Radical, queer, authentic creations across the spectrum of human experience and emotion. Things that are just and good and true. And those are things I can talk about.
So, more cards on the table. The speech I’m talking about here is often literally about cards. Games. Pastimes and diversions. Things WAY up the hierarchy of needs, that those in far more dire straits would find a luxury to even contemplate. I grapple with that every day, and I acknowledge that the space I’m operating in is completely removed from the biggest, most fundamental problems facing humanity right now.
But I believe that in its own way, creating and fostering a space where everyone feels comfortable and represented and invited to imagine a better future through play is a valuable pursuit. A place where otherness can be explored in safety. Where conflict can be writ small and solutions can be found that don’t involve buying guns or building walls. Where empowerment comes from self-actualization through modes of fantasy that while escapist, also point us to better versions of ourselves.
The world needs women in reasonable armor and men in elegant dresses. It needs black Iron Man and Muslim Ms. Marvel. It needs fanfic where the Avengers have happy, stable relationships and go out for coffee together. It needs balance, nuance, and normalcy in depictions of queer lives. Joy doesn’t have to be blind or sanctimonious, but in a world where tragedy sells and violence against marginalized groups is the grim status quo it needs constant, active representation.
And that’s a battlefield where I can feel at home.