As Pride winds down, I have some thoughts about literature, especially following the Stonewall Rally in New York.
Will books save us right now? Probably not. At least, not by themselves. After all, the fascist right in our country has invested no small amount of their resources in dictating which art our culture produces is permissible and which is not, so a budding white supremacist on his way to full blown neo-Nazi can avoid ideas which might challenge the approved dogmas. This in and of itself suggests the potential power of the verboten art in question.
It also suggests two separate target audiences: those who oppose the authority the current administration and those who are somewhere in the middle ground—either because they are uninformed, unexposed, or simply too comfortable to push the curtain back too far (or are lazy or unbothered by what does not affect them—but they are likely beyond all help, anyway). Into this scenario, I introduce a book club.
Some context: I have a day job. It means I spend less time writing, but it also means I spend less time wondering if the bank is going to reclaim my house or wondering if I should go to the doctor when I feel ill. 2019 saw the launch of our Queer Business Resource Network—among a couple of others.
When it came time to define what kinds of programming we would have in accordance with our values as a BRN, I suggested a book club. I wanted to signal boost great Queer writers and amplify intersectional Queer voices. I wanted to allow my fellow Queers to be seen, and allies or potential allies to see.
We’re still fairly new out of the packaging, can in fact maybe still smell it’s lingering out-gassing on the product itself, but I’m hopeful that the future will provide an engaging voice to many different stories and experiences. But, I also worry. Am I investing work hours in a project that is ultimately only something for me. That doesn’t really boost anyone. It provides no spotlights, nor opportunities for recognition. Time will tell.
We have a significant population of Queer employees, covering an expansive range of identities. How many of us were exposed to ourselves through story? Found that we were not alone in our identity or our tastes, but were merely one individual part of a kaleidoscope of celestial Queer beings walking this earth? Can a book club for a corporate BRN crack open that kaleidoscope for others to see themselves and each other? Is that some very delusional idealism going on? Perhaps, it is.
If I am honest, I question every step I take these days. In an era of righteous injustice, with our government taking heinous, fascist, and incalculably immoral steps to torture, assault, and kill people who are expressly not white or wealthy, I question every single act I take or don’t take. If this isn’t the time for radical action, when is? I’d be lying if I said I was satisfied that I am doing enough to make a difference. I don’t believe I am, and I don’t know for certain what to do when the stakes are so high. (Though, I will say that if I have learned anything in my experiences in organizing against government injustice, it is that someone is already working on the problem you see, so tap into those resources and collaborate.)
At the same time, in this exact moment, publishers are desperate not to be seen on the wrong side of history, by their own admission, so this may just be something of a golden age of Queer publishing. Time will ultimately determine the fall out and legacy on that score. Given that so much of the attention seems to come down to appearances, we’ll see if the tokenism opened doors to us that we will keep open, wedged if necessary. (Or if a new age is coming that will render that metaphor an anachronism.)
So, while it really isn’t much, it is something to have a Queer book club for our company’s Queer and ally population. While it is nowhere near enough, maybe it opens eyes to necessary, living perspectives that shift the conversation or the thinking around who is made vulnerable despite your comfort. Maybe. Perhaps.
I don’t think it is enough for middle class, white Queer people to just exist. That may have been radical enough once upon a time, but we’re allowed to be too comfortable, despite the lingering risks we take to hold hands in public and march in Pride; because the fact is that our stories are normalizing in some areas of our larger mainstream culture and existing is no longer part of the Resistance for us. So existence is no longer enough. Not when transwomen, especially those of color, are being murdered; not when we are separating families at the border, torturing, abusing, and ultimately killing children; not when our kaleidoscope of Queer identities is disproportionately seen among the victims of gun violence.
But, it is a small thing that may drive the urgency of a vote, that may spare someone from the psychological aches that lead to suicide, that may give one more person the courage to come out and stand up. And more practically, in a capitalist society, it may just be what helps get another Queer artist paid, if nothing else.
In the meantime, enjoy (responsibly—adult content for sure) Roya Marsh dropping some gold that she shared at Stonewall 50 this past weekend. (This presentation, below, was obviously recorded for a separate event.)