FEAR

I grew up in an affluent Memphis suburb and lived a cushy, upper-middle-class life, but you wouldn’t know it from the culture of fear that the after-school specials and children’s books of the 1980s seemed so hell-bent on creating. Despite my relative safety, every type of media I consumed was suffused with a warning about some kind of imminent danger: stranger danger was a big one (why has no one ever approached me in a white van to offer me candy? based on what I was told, it seemed inevitable that this would happen), the danger that drugs would fry my brain (how interesting that marijuana instead came to my rescue during a period of chronic pain in my thirties!), and the danger associated with sex (both having sex – because AIDS – and being female, because men were also dangerous.)

As I became older and gained some perspective on the relative privilege I had been raised in, it struck me as ironic that so much emphasis had been placed on preparing me for dangers that were false or exaggerated, almost to the point of hysteria. These days, I have a more cynical take; I believe that false fear mongering is a convenient way to avoid having to look closely at the real dangers faced by others. It’s an excellent pathway toward justifying a sense of victimhood and solidifying a place of defensiveness that precludes any kind of responsibility-taking for making the world a less hostile place for those who actually have a great deal to fear.

My daughter Shiv visiting our friends’ foster dog, Fatima.

Like queer folx all over the country, I woke up yesterday to the news that five of our own had been killed at a nightclub in Colorado Springs. Out on a Saturday night—haven’t I been saying lately that I wanted to go out dancing? It’s been too long since I did that, and I’m not getting any younger. Gay bars are especially great as a queer woman because you don’t have to deal with getting hit on by random dudes, so I get the temptation for straight girls, believe me, I do, but they don’t understand. How can they? If you’ve never reached for your love’s hand in public, but pulled away, afraid. If you couldn’t take the person you actually wanted to dress up for to your high school Prom. If you were harassed by cops the night of your first kiss. And so on and so on.

I could continue with stories from my own lived experience, those of my students, who are younger than me, and those that queer elders have shared with me. Let’s just say that in the grand scheme of wild terror and aching and deep, jaw-clenching unfairness and other things that often accompany coming out and falling in love when you’re queer, the dark corners of a dance floor, the knowing looks of literally being “in the club,” the freedom, the joy, the wonder – that shit is sacred. Full stop. And it has been violated. Once again. 

Unlike the earlier times, in college or in grad school or later in my twenties, when I sought the freedom of a rainbow dance floor, when I return to one now – and I will, very purposefully, and very soon – I will also be occupying the space as the parent of a child who is trans. She loves that she is trans, is proud of who she is, because her other mother and I have worked very hard to make it safe for her to live her truth. But we know that we cannot make the world safe for her, far from it. She is growing up inside a dual age of unrivaled freedom, where our culture is finally starting to splinter the gender binary and make room for the diversity of expression that’s always been there, and the nasty, hateful reaction to that movement which seeks to suppress and vilify it. To vilify my child. The very essence of who she is. Who she was born to be.

Do they do this out of fear? No. I do not believe that they do. Genuine fear is panicked and protective, not cold and calculating. They are not actually afraid of her. They do not think she will harm their children in bathrooms, or make soccer teams unfair for their biological girls. This is all a sanctimonious, cynical ruse to distract from the real danger and injustice on the ground, much of which they are perpetuating. 

Fear is a powerful tool, a manipulator, but as I strive to remain a decent human, I pray that those who spew hateful rhetoric about my child, about me, about my people, never know the true fear that for me, as the mother of a Black child in America, as the parent of a child who is trans, as a queer woman, as a Brown woman, stays lodged just behind my breastbone. I keep it there in order to function, because no one makes their best decisions out of fear, and I cannot serve my child if I live inside of a fog of alarm. But sometimes I wake up to news, like I did yesterday, and my chest tightens, and I forget how to breathe. 

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