Queer Joy as an Everyday Practice
In honour of Pride Month, Alex Iantaffi, author of the Nautilus Gold Book Award winner, Gender Trauma, and co-author of How to Understand Your Sexuality, writes about the power of choosing queer joy everyday in spite of stigma, and drawing on the legacy of queer elders who’ve led the way.
I’ve been thinking a lot about queer joy lately. It might seem strange given that much of my work focuses on trauma and that we’re facing wave after wave of anti-trans legislation in what we currently call the United States, where I’ve made my home for the past fifteen years. However, what is the point of addressing trauma if not to be able to feel more fully alive once more, and to be present to what is, rather than be constantly ruled by our past? I have been thinking about queer joy because things seem, once more – always for some – so hard right now. How do I practice, cultivate and nurture queer joy when systemic violence is so pervasive, bigotry so visible, and attacks on our children and body sovereignty constant? How can I embody queer joy as an older, disabled, trans, queer, immigrant, parent, partner, therapist, friend, community organizer, writer?
“Queer joy is not a feeling but rather a practice, a verb, an action. To live our lives shamelessly, in the full light of the sun…To choose queer joy everyday, as a practice, is resistance.”
If it seems odd that I am talking about queer joy as an embodied practice, let me take a moment to define queer joy as I’ve learned about it by one of my elders and older queer sib Donald Engstrom-Reese. I have learned much from Donald since first meeting per seventeen years ago, when I was in my early 30s, still trying to figure out what it meant to be whole, to be a queer adult, and a parent. Donald has taught me, and reminded me, that queer joy is not a feeling but rather a practice, a verb, an action. To live our lives shamelessly, in the full light of the sun, so that nobody has the power to pull our secrets from the shadows, helps us feel whole and unafraid. To choose queer joy everyday, as a practice, is resistance. When I choose queer joy as an older trans and queer person, I am nurturing not just myself but, hopefully, also my hearth and kin, my family and communities. I know this because of the trans and queer elders who have done that for me, showing me a way of being in the world that I did not know was possible.
“My queer joy is only possible because of my ancestors, especially queer transcestors, and gender-blessed ancestors. They made it possible for me to not only survive but to thrive”
As I have been getting older, there have been moments of vanity, given the glitter gay that I am. Is that a wrinkle I see in the corner of my eye, or the middle of my forehead? Beyond those moments though, I have also found profound joy in accepting that I am indeed getting older. At first it was the surprise to have made it through my 30s, then my 40s and then celebrating 50 just over a year ago was definitely a watershed moment. So many of us, especially those of us who came of age in the midst of the ongoing AIDS pandemic, never thought we would make it past our 20s. I don’t want to dwell on more trauma right now, though, so let me return to why getting older has opened a new portal to queer joy I wasn’t expecting. For me, getting older has also meant my body deteriorating, due to one of my disabilities for which wear and tear is an issue. The connection between queer joy and getting sicker might not be intuitive so let me spell it out. As I lost some mobility, faced a spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak, and generally felt like hell on more days than I can count, I also started to treasure and nurture each moment that I could do things that help me feel connected, like dancing, singing, smelling the good green Earth (even though I am allergic to almost everything), and being here, still alive, loved and loving, with two amazing nesting partners, wonderful children, and cuddly dogs. This is not the life I was told I was supposed to have. Every pulp novel, literary work, movie, and even people had warned me about how terrible my life would be if I fully breathed into life my queer self. Yet, here I am, 51 years old, trans, queer, and disabled and full of joy. Some days it feels like a miracle, most days like hard work and practice.
“So, in this web of interdependence, when I wake up, I am grateful for breath, for the days I can shower, sing, dance, fight for my communities, and love with my whole heart”
I want to make it clear that, when I talk about queer joy, I don’t mean I am happy all the time. My family and close friends will readily tell you I’m a curmudgeon. I’m also not trying to spin some positive psychology when I talk about my disability. In fact, I pretty much hate that whole branch of my field, for many of the reasons explained by Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Bright Sided. I’m talking about practicing connection and interdependence. My queer joy is only possible because of my ancestors, especially queer, transcestors, and gender-blessed ancestors. They made it possible for me to not only survive but to thrive. Does it not mean I owe as much to those who will come after me? So, in this web of interdependence, when I wake up, I am grateful for breath, for the days I can shower, sing, dance, fight for my communities, and love with my whole heart, shamelessly and joyfully. Some days it can be hard to practice queer joy. Some days I feel tired, in pain, and I can hardly move, or think. These are the days when I need to practice the most. I practice remembering pleasure in my bones, surrendering to what is, knowing I am not alone, and having compassion for myself and all that I want to do and cannot do. Today I nurture queer joy by writing this blog post, while looking at the sun dance with the birch leaves outside my windows, besides the beautiful pink blossom of a crabapple tree, while the rest of my family is still asleep. Soon there will be coffee and a bagel with the homemade lemon curd I made in the microwave a week ago, barking dogs, some volunteer work – because the fight for liberation is far from done – and whatever else this day will bring.
Gender Trauma, How To Understand Your Sexuality, Hell Yeah! Self Care: A Trauma-Informed Workbook and many more empowering books by Alex Iantaffi are available at JKP.com or wherever you buy books. Get 25% off using discount code JKPPRIDE25 at checkout. Offer only on JKP.com, valid until the end of June.
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