Thoughts on the Struggles in Our Little Place in the South

So, I am finally finding time and energy for returning to my blog. And, I am none too soon on that little plan. Things have certainly been heating up, socio-politically, here in the Old North State.
We finally won the right for LGBT folks to marry. My spouse and I were honored and privileged to be part of the profound work envisioned and carried out by the “We Do” Campaign of the Campaign for Southern Equality which was so important in turning the tide throughout the South. No sooner had we won those skirmishes, than the fear-mongering bearers of the controlling status quo passed measures allowing county magistrates to refuse to issue marriage licenses on the basis of religious convictions. So, compliance with laws granting equal access for LGBT persons to the same rights, privileges and resources afforded all other citizens do not apply to persons whose jobs require carrying out those laws if said persons do not believe, religiously, LGBT persons should have equal access. As magistrates are, by definition and function, employees and representatives of the State, we now live under conditions that overtly subvert the separation of Church and State—at least in regard to individual conscience, if not a legally sanctioned specific Church-State affiliation. Of course, this will—at some point—be overturned. But, the disturbing and dangerous precedent has been set. And, it has served the purpose it was intended to serve: the fundamentalists in power can collectively say, “I don’t want to and you can’t make me.” Civil rights and human rights be damned. The fundamentalist-pot-stirring powers that be get a low-level, backdoor win (for now) in favor of their resistance to laws they don’t like because they threaten their sacred pathology-of-sameness.
In the meantime, the imperialist ruling class stokes the fires from another angle. The Charlotte City Council has, for the second time, rejected LGBT-inclusive, non-discrimination ordinances. The connections between the events in Charlotte and emerging trends in other states regarding birth-sex and gender are rather undeniable. It seems clear that the narrowing of tolerance, generally, and the targeting of trans* folks, especially, are all part of a last-ditch, back-lash response to the strides forward in regard to marriage equality. It is also clear that the growing anti-racism efforts in our land have agitated and befuddled the keepers of the status quo. As awareness and outrage against the various tyrannies of injustice grow, the impulse for empire to march across our bare backs gains fervor. Such is the cost of the freedom cry. Steps forward in one area produce a fear-based, extreme retaliatory response in another. It keeps us disoriented and off balance. The age old observations regarding imperialist, colonialism play out everywhere: as the tide turns to greater tolerance, then acceptance, of one oppressed and/or marginalized group, then to more such groups, the more privileged groups become more fearful and more susceptible to manipulation by the powers that be. To maintain its “freedom” to advance the movement of empire toward greater and more organized economic-political systemic power, the relative freedom afforded the bodies on which the system is built must be codified, controlled, and exploited. This is nothing new. It has been the invisible beast, eating us alive, right in front of us since the colonization of this continent and the invention of America.

The question is, really, one of awareness first: how long must the colonial-capitalist fangs tear at our very flesh, collectively, before we see what is eating us and do something, equally collectively, to stop it? How long we will keep prattling on about how “out of touch” or “ignorant” our elected officials are before we, collectively and in large numbers, realize that they know exactly what they are doing? The evidence of the harrowing truth in our country is right in front of us. And, it is more and more well-documented in our (finally) written histories. Now, more than ever, as we stand on a clear plane that allows us to actually glimpse what a more truly united and just awakening for all oppressed-marginalized-and exploited peoples might look like, we must set egos, fears, and personal issues aside and become willing to be at the table together. Here, at home. As folks are doing in other places in our troubled land.
Despite the wonderful example and work being done by the Forward Together Movement (which I actively support) and others (like, Campaign for Southern Equality), there is still an underlying separatism among, within and between oppressed groups that leaves us all weaker and less effective. This is harmful to the work we need to do. Worse, however, we are missing the opportunity to reap the benefits of healing, support, increased understanding, and solidarity that emerge from being willing to have the difficult conversations, stay at the table together, and become stronger and more effective for having done so. And, the work before becomes that much larger and more difficult to do. Aside from these and other obvious problems resulting from our lack of communication and working together, we’re missing a larger issue: whether we realize it or not, underneath the rhetoric and legalese, our very lives are on the line. It is not about this issue here, and that issue over there. They are all interconnected. As, in the reality of the larger picture, all of our lives are.

Of his work on behalf of Women’s Suffrage, Frederick Douglass said: “when I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated for emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found a little nobility in the act.” As my friend, Mandy Carter, is wont to say, focusing only on the issues that impact us directly, that we personally are invested in, is not justice—it is “just-us.” I don’t know exactly what we need to do to resolve our disconnections and come together more decidedly and effectively, but I do know that it begins with willingness to come together and start listening to and talking with one another. I suspect that, sooner or later, all of our lives depend upon it.
When I was growing up, my mother belonged to a social sorority and I was often in contact with the women in the circle. I was particularly impressed with one of my mother’s friends, Helena. As children do, one day, I asked her about the odd, mis-shapened tattoo on her forearm. She very patiently and loving explained it to me. Her story and what she said at the end changed my young life…and my worldview. She said: “be careful what rights you give up, no matter how small—because before you know it, you have given up them all.” As I grew up, I heard her say these words several more times. As I watch events unfold around us these days, I often hear her voice in my waking and my sleep. And, I wonder when we will learn, collectively, how to come together for meaningful change. And, every day, in all that I do not know, I do know this: I do not want to wake up having failed to do my part.


About liammichael

I am a gender theorist, theological activist, writer, trans activist-advocate, and educator. I also work directly with trans and LGBTQ persons through workshops, support activities, and community-building. My work is informed and shaped by a deep concern for addressing the intersecting layers of disenfranchisement and oppression which stymie our efforts to create a just and meaningful common good. I work with, consult with, educate, train public sector groups, secular groups, and faith groups seeking to be affirming, accommodating, and celebratory of trans/non-binary and gender non-conforming persons. This space is a small part of the work.
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