“If anything happens to me tomorrow, I just want you to know that I love you.”
My partner pushed his headphones aside. He says, “I love you too. I don’t think anything will happen. You shouldn’t be worried.”
It’s Friday as I’m writing. Tomorrow, Saturday, is Frederick Pride. This Maryland city (my city, I live here) expects around 5,000 people to attend Pride festivities, which include an ecumenical church service, a walk to commemorate victims of AIDS, and a day-long festival with food, activities for kids, drag queens performing, and local merchants offering discounts to anyone sporting a rainbow wristband. The weather will be perfect. Frederick Pride is one of my favorite days of the year. But I’m also a little scared. Last week, we held a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Pulse. I kept waiting for a bullet to enter the back of my skull. I hope I will be distracted enough tomorrow by my volunteer duties and my new flower crown to forget to worry about dying. I hope the kids who attend the local LGBTQ youth group and their families and the people attending Pride for the first time and my dad and my partner and my queer mentors and my coworkers will not feel afraid, either. I plan my outfit, my potential tattoos, my deadlines for the next month. I tell myself, gently, Everything is going to be okay.
When you read this on Sunday, you will read about the queer and trans people in the American prison system. You will learn about their relationships, their mistreatment and some of their needs. You will read about the exclusive language of sex education and healthcare, particularly menstruation. You’ll read the stories of contemporary playwrights, musicians, political commentators and others as they reminisce about their first gay clubs. You’ll see that queer communal spaces can be inefficacious, yet remain so, so important.
There is much to do. But we are alive. We get to do the work.
I. Beyond Orange Is the New Black, What LGBTQ People In Prison Need You To Know
“The Forgotten Ones: Queer and Trans Lives in the Prison System.” (Grace Dunham, The New Yorker, February 2016)
Activist-writer Grace Dunham has an illuminating book review at The New Yorker: “The majority of imprisoned queer and trans people navigate the system’s violence in isolation. ‘Captive Genders’ envisions a world in which their lives are not circumscribed by prison.”
“5 Things You Should Know About Solidarity With Incarcerated LGBT People: A Conversation With Black and Pink.” (Madeline Taterka, Autostraddle, June 2015)
Black and Pink fosters relationships of support between LGBTQ prisoners and free-world allies…coordinating pen-pal relationships, producing monthly newsletters that are distributed to over 8000 incarcerated people, and doing courtroom support and know your rights trainings…with the goal of liberation via an abolitionist framework that centers on the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC), but understands the many other systemic issues that impact and respond to the PIC.
Prison abolition is something I still have a lot to learn about, and I found this interview with Jason Lydon, National Director of Black and Pink, really helpful.
II. Sex, Blood and HRT
“Yes, Trans Women Can Get Period Symptoms.” (Sam Riedel, The Establishment, May 2016) and “Who Gets to Take Part in the Menstruation Conversation?” (Morgan Jenkins, BuzzFeed LGBT, January 2016) discuss the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming folks who experience periods and/or monthly period symptoms. At the very least, it’s an important reminder to use inclusive language when discussing menstruation, but both of these stories go even deeper than that.
“How Sex Education Fails Queer and Trans Kids.” (Jerusha Gray, The Establishment, March 2016)
The little baby queers coming behind me at least have access to the Internet, but in many ways they are similarly unprepared. They are vulnerable to infections and diseases because they don’t know better. They are ill-equipped to deal when there is an unequal power distribution in emotional and sexual relationships. They are left open for predators to prey upon their lack of experience and connection to community and resources. This, combined with the reality that LGBT youth are at far higher risk of homelessness and prostitution, makes for a deadly combination.
III. The Creation/Myth of Queer Safe Space
“My First Gay Bar: Rachel Maddow, Andy Cohen, and Others Share Their Coming-Out Stories.” (The New York Times, June 2016)
Today’s athletes, activists and artists reflect on the places they met friends, encountered danger and learned more about themselves.
“LGBTQ People Can’t Have Safe Spaces But We Still Need Community.” (Riese Bernard, Autostraddle, June 2016)
Riese Bernard, the founder and CEO of Autostraddle, reflects on the structural, systemic inequalities that make “it gets better” so hard to believe.
“There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Safe’ City for Queer People.” (Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed LGBT, May 2013)
This piece is from 2013 but it still holds true today. Hatred against LGBTQ people reigns in our legislative halls and in our nightclubs.