by Maisha Z. Johnson
The march began near my house, and according to Twitter, it was coming closer. I could easily meet up with the crowd within fifteen minutes.
But the only thing that seemed “easy” – or even doable – was pressing my face against my pillow. Even getting out of bed felt impossible. So that night, my contribution was nothing more than scrolling through my phone, watching the banners go by in Twitpics while feeling guilty for not doing “enough.”
Recently, this has been a common scenario, both because of the frequency of demonstrations happening near my Oakland home and because I fight daily battles with anxiety, depression, and healing from trauma.
And lately, I’ve been in a funk.
I’m trying to change this. Not the funk, though I am taking steps to nurture my wellness, but the part about feeling bad about it.
BGD accepts writing and video from queer and trans people of color! SUBMIT your work.
I realize “funk” is not the clinical term for it, but I know from experience that the can’t-get-out-of-bed feeling is a very real part of many queer and trans people of color’s lives. We’re alive after generations of oppression, lifetimes of trauma, and daily struggles to affirm our worth, and after all that, life is bound to feel hard to face from time to time.
In other words, this guilt is not mine to carry. Being unable to be as visibly active in the movement as I’d like is not something to shame myself over.
Here’s some of what I’m learning about participating in the movement when I’m in a funk.
1. In working for true liberation, there is room for a variety of ways to show up in the movement.
We all have different ways of being our best selves, as we all have our own strengths and boundaries. Under the “activist” umbrella term, we are many things – we are healers, we are artists, we are orators, we are educators, and more.
Personally, I’m an introvert, and I love writing, so I can make a bigger impact through written words on social issues than in conversation with strangers. I’m more likely to show up to a march with a well thought-out sign than to be the one organizing the turn-out.
All kinds of contributions are valid, no matter how seemingly small.
When I think of social justice work, I think of taking risks, being uncomfortable, fighting harrowing battles and facing horrific truths – because that’s a big part of what it takes to create radical change. But what counts as risky is different for everyone. If being in a social setting feels like a panic-inducing risk, then sitting out of a march is okay.
It’s also okay to find spaces where I can show up as I am. If being part of a particular organizing space requires me to stretch beyond my boundaries, I can say no to being part of that space.
The truth is, it’s a constant stretch outside of my comfort zone to be fighting for my right to survive with dignity – that’s not natural to anyone, because it’s not something we should have to fight for. So it’s necessary to allow some space for healing within the comfort of what feels safe to me.
2. It’s clear that we, as QTPOC, must be at the center of the fight for our own liberation.
When racism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, and more collide against so many of us, these vicious cycles of oppression threaten our lives every day. And through our lived experiences, we’re the ones who have the wisdom to know what it takes to change our lives for the better.
Those of us who struggle to survive these oppressions every day are also taking the most time, energy, and risk in being on the front lines of the movement. All the while carrying trauma and untreated illnesses.
Do you see where I’m heading here? For QTPOC activists, our own healing and wellness is essential to social change work.
You’ve probably heard it before – self-care is important, self-care can rejuvenate your work, self-care is…sometimes just another source of pressure to make us feel like we should be doing more.
That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the kind of self-care that, to me, looks like indulging myself in an emotional moment with my pillow.
That may not look to an outsider like a great contribution to the movement, but in that moment, I’m doing the best I can.
And when you’re doing the best you can, you’re doing enough.
If that’s celebrating yourself for doing nothing more than brushing your teeth, you’re doing enough. If it’s sharing about other people’s movement work on social media or contributing from home by creating your own art, you’re doing enough. If it’s temporarily disconnecting completely from the world, to just be with your feelings, you’re doing enough.
We carry the hardest feelings when we’re healing. And when it comes to building the wellness of our communities, healing is an incomparable contribution.
BGD is a reader-funded, non-profit project. Please GIVE today and help amplify marginalized voices.
Do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.
Maisha Z. Johnson is a healer, a troublemaker, and author of two poetry chapbooks, Split Ears and Uprooted. She breathes her Trinidadian roots and experiences as a queer black woman and survivor of violence into her art, working to amplify the voices of those often silenced. She blogs at www.maishazjohnson.com.