Happy Halloween everyone! Stay safe this weekend. CUAV has some great tips for staying safe.
After the initial media attention and response to the gay youth who lost their lives to bullying and suicide in September, we continue to hear of young queer people taking their own lives. Soon, I’m sure, the media hype will die down and the majority will go back to ignoring the issue, but when that happens we should keep in mind that this hasn’t just been a phenomenal increase in suicides – this is a problem that’s always affecting us. What’s increased is the media attention, but it’s always happening, whether people are talking about it or not.
And I’m still searching for ways that the creative arts can be used to respond to these tragedies. Any suggestions? So far, music has been a big one – there are a lot of touching videos out there, many of them part of the “It Gets Better” campaign, of people singing classic and original songs to encourage struggling teens to keep living. Film has played a role, as of course we wouldn’t have all of these videos without the people behind the camera.
Of course, I’m partial to the use of writing as a tool to respond to and prevent both suicide and the bullying attitudes and behaviors that get people to that point. In my personal story, as a young person growing up identifying myself, at times, as queer, bisexual and/or some kind of perverted freak, writing was a hugely important outlet for me. I wasn’t “out” when I was younger, so I was never exactly bullied for my sexuality, but I dealt with knowing what the response would be, and keeping it to myself for that reason. If I wasn’t able to express myself through writing, I don’t know how I would’ve dealt with it.
One hope that I have for young LGBTQ folks today is that they have access to stories like theirs, of people who are queer and marginalized and who survive. If writing was my outlet to express myself, then reading was my way to escape, to go into another world when I couldn’t stand being in my own. I can’t say exactly that I read stories about people like me, though. Nope, certainly nothing about perverted freaks until I got to college. I think it would’ve helped. A lot. I think many young queer people feel completely alone in the world, and to open a book and find that there are others like themselves, who feel the same way they do, would make a big difference.
Yesterday, the Lambda Literary site posted this list of 10 LGBT Teen Novels that Tackle Teen Suicide and Bullying. If you get a chance, pass on the list, or one of the books, to a young person. It could make all the difference in their lives.
And if you know of anything, I'd love to hear about more arts projects dealing with these issues.
October is flying by, which means the November 2 elections are just next week. Election season is an important time to make our voices heard – though we may not always feel like our opinions can make a difference.
Prop 19 is the focus of a lot of attention, as California voters prepare to decide whether or not to legalize marijuana. To me, this issue isn’t only about recreational users like middle-class college students who want to enjoy their weed without harassment. It’s also about folks who are medically ill, as well as about people of color who are prosecuted for marijuana use and shackled with the consequences at way higher rates than users who are white. It’s about addressing a justice system that’s broken and creating peace for those who suffer as a result.
But don’t take it from me – here’s an opinion piece written by my dad, a medical doctor, after researching the subject.
I was going to try to make this all official, all “blogger Maisha Z. Johnson brings you the expert opinion of Dr. Ian R. Johnson,” but let’s be real – here’s your Editor’s Note, from the perspective of someone who was raised by the guy: When I was growing up, he sure wouldn’t say anything in support of marijuana. It’s only recently that he’s been doing some research, and has shifted his opinion based on his findings. Another note: word has it that the polls have shifted since this piece was written, with support for Prop 19 falling behind.
Click the "Read More" tab for the piece.
because i think i found god
after searching half my life
in churches and temples
found a woman who lives on market street
with two cats, one black and one white,
and i thought she was god
until i heard her spewing hate
like only the devil can
still, i thought, one of us has to be god,
so i figured it was her cat,
the black one with white paws.
i bet those white paws are holy, and
i bet his fleas are like
a million little Jesus Christs,
each with its own cross to bear.
Woohoo! I got another one of those non-rejection letters. Apparently the good people in charge of the Quiet Lightning reading series didn’t know what they were getting themselves into when they had me read at their Litquake event. I got the bug, of course, wanted to do it again right away, so I submitted again and my work was accepted!
I am, once again, floored. I’ll be reading in excellent company, including Hk Rainey, Chris Cole, and, I’m proud to say, my friend and fellow writing group member Matthew James DeCoster, in his debut as a published writer.
All of the readers’ work will be in the latest issue of sPARKLE and bLINK. Right now, I’m still left pretty speechless by the honor, so I’ll have more reflections later. But here are the show details (also check out links on my events page):
1644 Haight St
November 3, 2010
$3, free wine
i used to dream militant
dreams of taking
over america to show
these white folks how it should be
i used to dream radical dreams
of blowing everyone away with my perceptive powers
of correct analysis
i even used to think i'd be the one
to stop the riot and negotiate the peace
then i awoke and dug
that if i dreamed natural
dreams of being a natural
woman doing what a woman
does when she's natural
i would have a revolution
©Nikki Giovanni 2003, from The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni by HarperCollins.
There's more than one way to find hope
It’s interesting to see how the world is responding to the youth suicides in the media lately. Or rather, that the world is responding. Issues like violence, depression and suicide in the lives of young LGBTQ folks are nothing new; but rather than maintaining feigned ignorance or silence, people seem to be recognizing that it’s happening these days.
You’ve probably heard by now that columnist Dan Savage has started something called “It Gets Better,” a video campaign in which queer adults share their stories with troubled teens about how life can get better if they can get through these difficult years. The campaign has been getting a lot of attention, and recently it has also faced some criticism.
Critics say that the campaign is geared towards privileged youth who, like Savage, will someday have the option of fleeing to a place like San Francisco to achieve a life of acceptance and privilege only middle aged well-to-do white gay men can dream of. They call the message ageist, racist and classist in its short-sightedness, its failure to point out that it doesn’t get better for everyone, as many deal with the pain of oppression their entire lives. Some also argue that saying “It Gets Better” blames the victim, telling queer youth it’s up to them to be strong enough to tough it out and get through it.
I can definitely understand the criticism, and I’m especially sensitive to messages to queer youth that discount youth coming from backgrounds other than middle class white families. But, maybe because I’ve seen examples of folks saying “it gets better” and including those other voices, I don’t think the “It Gets Better Campaign” is so short-sighted. Perhaps Savage himself failed to see the full scope of who’s hurting, but the campaign has since expanded beyond him. And I don’t see the message as blaming the victim. I see quite the opposite, a message of empowerment for queer youth who can hear that they have the power to seek happiness, and that they have a chance of finding it, rather than that it’s in the bullies’ power to take their happiness away, and there is nothing they can do about it. We’re not promising that they’ll find wealth or fame (and why should that be the only source of hope for the future?), just that they will someday feel better than they do now. Assuming that “now” they are as low as they possibly could be, in a suicidal mode of thinking where there is no hope to be found, anywhere – the simple message that they can believe that life will, someday, get better than this, is not too far-fetched.
Of course, the message that teens should simply wait it out is not the most encouraging thing for a young person living in the moment. I certainly believe that young people struggling right now can grow up to thrive beyond their wildest dreams, but I also support the alternative “Make It Better” project that aims to give young folks the tools they need to become active and make things better now, rather than waiting for the world to change. I don’t think any over-arching message is perfect, because not every solution is right for everyone, but I think any message that can give some sense of hope is worth spreading right now.
This weekend I helped run a Bowl-a-thon for POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights). For a couple of months now I’ve been helping Aspen, POWER’s tireless fundraising director, get together the details for this fundraiser, so it was great to see all of our hard work paying off.
Here’s a question for you – which of the following activities can support low-income people of color, youth and immigrant communities?
More love for ColorLines Magazine today, for this story and video about Dyson, a 5 year old boy exercising his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of pretty. He loves playing dress-up, putting on what gender rules might deem “girl clothes,” including pink princess dresses and jewelry. It’s hardly unheard of, but it’s something that often causes alarm, as parents insist that their boys do “boy” things and their girls do “girl” things so we can all grow up to be happy heterosexual gender conformists (right).
Instead, Dyson’s parents have embraced the idea of letting him do what makes him happy. Imagine that! His mom, Cheryl Kilodavis, has even written a book, “My Princess Boy,” which is about acceptance and is now being used in schools as an anti-bullying tool (let me take a guess at what book will top next year’s banned books list).
It’s a really great story, everything from the parents’ acceptance to their counselor’s explanation that “there is more than one way to be a boy, and more than one way to be a girl” to Dyson’s adorable older brother, who says that Dyson should be able to wear whatever makes him happy, because “if he’s happy, I’m happy.” And there’s a lot to learn here. This isn’t necessarily a gay or transgender issue, as we won’t know until later what Dyson’s sexual orientation or gender will turn out to be. But it’s certainly a story about self-expression, acceptance and happiness. Clearly, Dyson still has that artistic flair many of us lose after childhood. And because his creativity is allowed to flourish, whether or not it steps beyond the boundaries of what boys are “supposed” to do, Dyson can be himself and know that he is loved for who he is.
And that’s a feeling we could all use a little more of, whether we’re gay or straight, male or female, or dancing beyond the boundaries of any of these labels.
Is it true that no major news outlet has picked up the story of Aiyisha Hassan, the young black lesbian who committed suicide late last week?
It's clear that something needs to shift, so everyone can know that they are loved in this world.
Why is losing this precious life any less important?
The link above includes this video, from New York City's Youth Pride Chorus. Spread these stories, spread this love.