A couple dear friends of mine* have, for some time, been focusing their new years not around resolutions, but around words. These words almost act as themes for them, or mantras. They are words, notions, concepts, or ideas around which they have chosen to focus time, attention, and energy in the next twelve months as a way to stay centered and whole. Although my year is not new at this point (5776 is on its second season at this point), I think I, too, need to begin focusing on a word. My rationale for this is pretty simple on this one, too: I have felt a bit untethered lately. The particulars aren't really important, nor of interest really, but truth be told, I could use some centering in my life...so perhaps this will help.
In thinking about what word I wanted to use, I went back to the work and thinking of Audre Lorde. Lorde, for me, is an important part of a rich legacy of queer women of color who continue to provide strength, resolve, and comfort for me. And when I was thinking about Lorde, I kept thinking about the word deliberate.
Over the past semester, I have taken to walking to and from campus. I live about two miles from campus, so it helps get me active. It also provides me about 30-40 minutes where I can be by myself. Sometimes I will read (I haven't fallen yet...*knocks on wooden desk*), other times I will listen to music or talk with friends, but lately, I have just been thinking. Mostly, I have wondered why I have felt so out of sorts, so shaky and unsettled. Sure, it is my first semester in a new, tenure track job. Of course, I have had to acclimate to a new campus and work culture. And definitely, having to figure out friendships, maintain the connections I have, and think about big, adult things can be taxing. However, it there have been some things that have happened that have been extremes, both good and bad. For example, I was awarded a prize for the dissertation on which participants and I worked hard. That was pretty darn fun. However, I have also had my work plagiarized, and by someone who was close to me. I have also had some fairly difficult moments with people who I thought I was close to, but turned out not to be the case. Those things, as one may guess, have been not fun at all. I have also had to continually confront the ways in which I am (mis)read as (not) trans*, and how, because of genderism, I both benefit and am negatively impacted by these (mis)readings. For example, I was just talking with a friend about how I received good teaching evaluations, and how--although I think I am a good instructor--the marks I received may reflect masculine privilege based on students misreading me as a man despite my being open about my trans* identity. So yeah, it's been a semester with a lot of ups and downs. And that has me feeling a bit all over...a bit messy...a bit, as I said, untethered.
And then I remembered the participants alongside whom I worked, and with whom I am still close. Over the course of our now three years of friendship, they have shared with me so many different ways they cope with the genderism that is an everyday reality for trans* people. In our working together, I began to frame these as practices of resilience. In essence, I began to understand resilience not as a noun--or something one either has or doesn't have--but as a verb, or as a doing that one can practice, over and over again, in different places, contexts, and times. Thinking about resilience as a verb also shifts the responsibility for change away from participants. In other words, instead of "getting through" situations being all about one's individual resilience, grit, or determination, thinking about resilience as a practice, or as an active doing, recognizes that even if one is practicing resilience, one's environment may be so bad, and the genderism may be so deeply embedded that they are still negatively impacted. For example, four out of the nine participants alongside whom I worked ended up leaving City University during our work together.
Just take a moment and let that sink in: four out of nine stopped out from college. My math skills are crumby, but that's almost half. Furthermore, of those four, only two have come back to City to finish their degree...and a fifth has been trying to finish her degree without having to ever be on campus.
So even though these students moved away from City as a practice of resilience, their moving away had material effects that were negative for them. I mean, one need only check out the statistics of earning capacity by education level to realize there are some pretty positive material benefits to completing college, to say nothing of the spiritual, affective, or developmental benefits. So yeah, even practicing resilience doesn't in and of itself cancel out, change, or otherwise transform oppressive environments.
So on my walks to and from campus, I kept thinking about my friends, and how they would navigate City. I then drifted to thinking about Lorde, and about her work, life, and legacy. And then I realized that the practices of resilience that participants and I used were all themselves deliberate. Moreover, it was this deliberateness that I had been missing in my life. I was lacking a sense of deliberateness in my actions, in my responses to my environment, and in the ways I was (not) taking care of myself. I was reacting without a sense of why I was acting. In the words of Grace Lee Boggs, I had lost sight of my own agency in creating the world I wanted and needed.
No wonder I felt untethered.
And so now here I am, realizing yet again that whenever I am in doubt, all I need to do is head back to the words of those nine incredible people who continue to affirm my existence in ways I cannot even express. It is through these incredible people, who when situated alongside the teachings of Audre Lorde, remind me that I need to be deliberate, and that through being deliberate, I can regain my why.
And, in the words of Viktor Frankel, if one has a why, one can get through almost any how.
So here's to being deliberate. Here's to always remembering my why, and to bringing this to the fore when it is time for me to make decisions. I have test-driven this practice of resilience a bit over the past week, and so far, it seems to be working out. I also have had a friend help me by asking, "How is what you are thinking about doing deliberate?" This questioning, and these test-drives, have really helped. They have reminded me to slow down and to remember that thinking about myself alongside others is not selfish, but equitable. That thinking about what I need is a radical act of self-love and a reminder of my own worth as a trans* person; a reminder that is so very much needed in a world that sees me and my people as frauds, fakes, and deceptive people; a world that suggests my femme-of-center identity is worthy of derision and violence; a world that was literally not built for me and my trans* kin.
So yeah, Imma be a bit more deliberate these days...and that is gonna look different for me and lots of folks in and around my life. But I'm okay with that, because it's high time we as trans* people give back to ourselves in the same ways that we have (continued to) given so very much to others.
*My thanks to Dan and Jasper for sharing their tradition with me...I am so very fortunate to have you both in my life.
This blog is a space where I engage with ideas, concepts, and research that seeks to increase life chances for trans* people.