Like our previous one, this post is inspired by our readers’ many questions about the relationship between Queer and Lent. But this post will look at the connection between Lent and Grief. After all, both Lent and Queer are positioned differently around mortality: Jesus is killed after his time in the desert (SPOILER ALERT!) and many of us who are queer and trans in the US have to struggle daily for self determination and autonomy over our lives and deaths. So it seemed obvious to us to write about Lent and Grief and have it also be a 1-3 post series. Who knows, we might even do another post about an all together different topic next and then after forty (six) days have an interwoven masterpiece!
"We don’t talk about death in the same way that we avoid the dark. We live in an electrically saturated bright world where we rarely have to be in the dark and where when we die, we are still supposed to look alive." Dori Midnight
as a queer and trans person of color and a person working within queer and trans movements I so often hear about death. The deaths of queer and trans people are one of the few parts of our lives that the mainstream media will cover, especially when we are killed. to the point of super saturation. Just last week there was another murder of a black trans woman killed in Arkansas, in the fall many trans and queer people were killing themselves, some reported in mainstream news, some i’ll never know about. This past Saturday I went to a beautiful and powerful memorial service at Judson Memorial Church for trans activst and artist Chloe Dzubilo who passed away a short time ago.
(Mx Justin Vivian Bond performing at Chloe’s service, photo by Brett Lindell)
today is my dad’s birthday. tomorrow it will be 3 months since i learned he died in memphis. on december 17th my memphis family had a military funeral for him. But my dad died some time before that, at least many many months, without most of us knowing because he died alone. and his body was not found for some time. up until now i haven’t written or really spoken about it a lot, after all, i too live in an electrically saturated bright world! but given that this post is about grief, his birthday is during lent, and i am grieving his death, it seemed right.
(“Daddy George” in 2005, photo by Reina)
recently i was email-talking to a friend & frequent collaborator about this blog in hopes that she will guest write a post. i hope she does! my friend told me that lent to her means having lent something or oneself to another and she is a person who lends herself to difficult processes, especially grief. she has consistently named the power in slowing down our work in order to create more spaces for grief after violence. If you knew her, you might hear her ask: what if we lent ourselves to grieving for our lost loved ones rather than to rapidly responding thru new & improved hate crime legislation every time a queer or trans person is killed or survives some kind of violence? i liked her thinking! so now I’m asking myself things like: what would happen if I made space to just grieve the exile and isolation of trans women from queer & trans space and radical movements, rather than try to rapidly respond to it?
in short, as my friend says: grief is good. grief brings us together. coming together deepens our relationships, bolsters our resiliency and grows our power.
this is a post about lent, and how we might bolster our own power by lending ourselves to grief. as we move deeper into lent and edge into spring i am really desiring a re-emergence and bolstering of spaces in our personal lives and social justice movements that:
-hold ancestral & personal grief as a powerfully political act;
-make plain the connections between grief & diminishing circles of care, resource and isolation;
-resists silence & shame by honoring people who passed all the while deepen our own relationships and invested in our own living.
i am curious about what an abundance of these spaces would do to our collective resiliency. Would our movements and lives be able to hold more people? Would we feel less isolated and less shame? how they would affect our individual self determination and our movements for self determination. what kind of power comes from a space of pausing with grief rather than making room only enough for urgent response.
my first profound experience of sitting with grief and honoring life within the queer community happened in 2008 after a black young trans woman, sanesha stewart, was murdered in the bronx. a group of us, individual activists and people from different organizations gathered together to figure out how we should respond. Some of us knew sanesha and some of us did not. the new york newspapers sensationalized sanesha’s death [trigger alert, that article is fucked up!] with transphobic headlines and questioned whether she deserved to be killed because she didn’t disclose being transgender. i remember one meeting where we struggled to determine how to respond to both to the violence in those newspapers and the violence that happened to sanesha. one idea was to go down to the criminal court house and put the media and the person accused murdering sanesha on notice: we ain’t taking this shit anymore. No doubt this would have been powerful, queer and trans traveling to a site of violence masked as a hall of justice and assert our own form of justice.
but one of my strongest feelings was that we as a community were affected by this murder. this was a young woman some of us knew, who was in support groups with some of us, she was a client of some of us, a friend, a neighbor. and so we made a important shift, we decided to create a space for all of us to feel the depths of this grief in community, so we had a memorial at bronx community pride center. one of the most powerful parts of memorial was the preparation, it was happened in many different homes throughout new york city. some of us were making flowers out of wrapping paper,
(Tasha making paper flowers, photo by Reina)
some of us were making a tree of life mural that memorial participants could contribute to,
(Lida painting Sanesha’s Tree of life, photo by Reina)
some of us were gathering materials, all of us were spreading the word: come April 5th to grieve and celebrate the life of Sanesha.
the effect of this was powerful. we redirected our energy and attention from a person accused of murdering Sanesha and gave our energy to the people that needed it most, her family and each other. when we did this we bolstered our resiliency through deepening our relationships with each other. and we created a sacred space to honor her life by being aware of our own grief, rather than redirecting our awareness away from it.
(Us singing “we shall overcome.” photo by Sabelo)
Anyhow. That’s the start. TBC!