Now is not a time for passing

With every new headline or “debate” about the latest wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation, I hear Audre Lorde: “My silence had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

In Florida, the literal intent of the law is silencing- to stop conversation and education that is anything other than cis and hetero. In Texas, the intent is both silencing, and threat. To make parents afraid of caring for their child, to make children afraid of listening to themselves, to make health care workers afraid of doing their jobs.

Florida and Texas are grabbing the most headlines, but there are a dozens other states making similar moves right now. All in an effort to make it scarier and more shameful to be a queer person, and especially a queer youth today.

And the reality is, it will work, is already working. Even if people don’t go literally back into (or remain in) the closet, they will work hard to pass, to seem “normal,” as in, conforming to hetero and cis gender norms, and ways of doing relationships, and ways of being in the world. We will double down on the “we’re just like you” strategy that brought us marriage equality and gay characters on network TV.

Or at least, those of us with the privilege to pass will.

For me, embracing being more femme has been both authentic, and also a fun way to subvert expectations of queer identity – which is not the same thing as being in the closet. I hardly remember what it means to be not out – I have two teenage children whose arrival meant the permanent end of the closet. Over and over children say without thinking, my moms. Or, my other mom. Over and over, with health care staff and school staff and friends’ parents and neighbors, we are a momentary confusion translated by kid clarity.

Now that my kids are older, they are more aware, and more intentional – and many moments pass by with us passing. Moments where just one mom is with them, and they let whomever imagine that dad is somewhere else. I think these moments must be a kind of relief for them, to just let their family be for a minute, an uncontested reality.

Like I said, it’s a privilege.

And, over these last few weeks, and months, and years, I have remembered, it’s a privilege that keeps us caught. The silence of passing does not protect us, and the quick relief of being unseen only perpetuates the notion that we have something to hide. Tamping down whatever weirdness we’ve got – in ourselves, in our families, in our communities – makes us all think weirdness is weird. That being queer is scary, unusual, threatening, something to legislate and control and shame.

When really, weirdness – by which I mean, particularity and singularity and creativity and eccentricity – is regular. We all have something. Something that makes us different, and freaky, and non-conforming to some universalized idea of human expression and love. Which is actually the weird thing. To imagine that difference is not the most universal truth. To imagine that difference is not the thing that makes us beautiful, and lovable, and capable, and free.

Behind all these legislative moves and school board fights there is fear. Fear of what we don’t know, fear of what we don’t understand, fear of our own freakiness. For some kids and even for some adults, the safest way to respond to these fear-based tactics is going to need to be getting as closeted as they can until another day comes. But for others of us – and I believe this is more of us than we think – the safest and freest response to this fear is to go the opposite direction. We need to get more visible. We need to get more gay. More queer. More surprising and non-conforming, and more particular.

Now is the time to shave your head, and get that tattoo, and get that extra piercing. Now is the time to fly that leather flag and wear that t-shirt that would make your parents blush. Now is the time to be yourself in the most particular ways you can, and to celebrate the ways that others are themselves in the most particular ways they are.

I know very well the sort of comments that this sort of free-flying freakishness might inspire – so we will need to bolster ourselves. Since cutting my hair a few weeks ago, I’ve already gotten a few choice responses. But for every attempt at policing and quieting, I think of the kids in Texas wondering if their very existence is an impossibility, if the world has no place for them, and I feel proud to have the chance to resist. To be a part of the alternative story that is in all of us, the alternative vision of this world that celebrates instead of silences, and instead of trying to stop us from saying gay, says let’s be more gay.

So whatever queer you’ve got today, bring it all. Especially if you have the privilege to pass, choose not to. Not just for the sake of those kids in Texas, or for those families in Florida, but for us all.

Don’t Say BE MORE GAY.

About Rev. Gretchen Haley

Gretchen Haley is relentlessly curious about most things, especially the big stuff of theology, the beauty of creation, the magic of collaboration, and the great joy of pop culture (reflected in this blog by random posts on Beyonce, Taylor Swift, streaming shows to binge, or the latest Marvel movie). She has an audacious ambition for the liberal church, believing in its capacity to transform lives and our world by way of hyper-local relationships and partnerships that inspire the unleashing of courageous love. She's all in on adrienne maree brown's emergent strategy, and finds solace in the trails in and around Fort Collins Colorado where she serves with the brilliant Rev. Sean Neil-Barron as one of the ministers of the Foothills Unitarian Church. She and her amazing partner of over 20 years, Carri, have 2 children, Gracie (16) and Josef (14) who both relish and resent being PKs, and who keep her grounded, frustrated, inspired, and humbled, everyday. She adores her dog Charlie who smiles and gives out hugs, and and finds her oversized dog Archer endlessly amusing.
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