Tears fall onto my keyboard as I read about Corey Jackson and Terrel Williams―two gay American teenagers who suffered bullies and hanged themselves this October. It seems that the out-of-focus "better future" so many of us work for is a time and place these boys could not quite imagine or dare to believe in. Faced with the casual, incessant, unchecked cruelty of their peers, both Jackson and Williams made a raging lynch mob of their own two hands. They gave up before they could learn how to vote, protest or upstage their bullies by thriving. They renounced the harsh lessons and chipped blessings of this time―this incarnation―before the culture, at large, could awaken to its capacity for compassion and sociopolitical evolution.
Even after Ellen and the heartwarming "It Gets Better" videos and the purple shirt shows of Spirit Day solidarity; even with James Baldwin's books on sale for under ten dollars on Amazon and six sexy seasons of the L-Word, and Chris Colfer belting queer high notes on Glee; even with the flamboyant geniuses of Project Runway and all the urgent spoken poems and all the out gay people tweeting, blogging, lobbying, marching, marrying, adopting, soldiering, surviving and succeeding with open pride―these boys could not find a possible self to look up to and reach for. No reflection to celebrate. No prayer to believe in. No dream worth chasing. No faith in social change. And this hopelessness in the face of so much LGBTQ visibility is what I am grieving.
Often, the world hurts the brave. It bruises and it breaks us. It messes with our heads and sometimes it even charges us for it. It disses and dismisses our desires. It disappoints, persecutes and alienates us. But the world is also full of magic and music and mundane beauty in abundance. Yes, here where there are wars and greed and starvation, there are also ocean-deep wonders and mystical sunrises and kind strangers, generous kisses and perplexing, complex, divined love.
Love is what must have kept my stolen, enslaved, abused, disenfranchised ancestors stubbornly creative and determined to press on. For me―be it queered or deemed conventional―love is the thing worth staying for, observing, struggling for, preserving, celebrating and building upon. No doubt, this is an odd and lonely planet where homophobia has reached pandemic proportions, but from my ancestors―whose pain I have the privilege to only imagine―I have inherited the ability to love. I love therefore I am, therefore I continue to live.
How do you teach self-love that is both persistent and patient? What do you say to a mocked child who gets his ribs cracked against a wall? What do you say to make him stay and try to trust tomorrow?
This Autumn, the boys are falling like leaves: Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Corey Jackson and Terrel Williams. This list is partial and yet it is already too long. Many names have not been reported. Many others have been “othered” to death. I miss them all: The pretty physical substance of them. The precious possibility of them. The ideas, inventions, stories of survival, grace and much-needed laughter they might have contributed to the world. On what appears to be a battlefield, I will not forget the loss of their minds and lives. I will cite their names often, with urgency and love. I will fight for the freedom they could not see coming on the horizon. I will incorporate their spirits into the body of my work―this body alive and different and kicking.
Rise Up This Fall,