I usually write about graphic novels. Today I am writing to the world about living in the world as a cis-gendered, Latina-lesbian, with two sons and a wonderful, patient wife who keeps marrying me because the laws change but our commitment does not.
Last weekend I attended the Children’s Literature Association’s (ChLA) annual conference in Columbus, Ohio. I presented research, talked about graphic novels, heard important ideas about books and reading. I also took part in a panel organized by Dr. Katharine Slater, supported by the ChLA board and the ChLA Diversity committee, and focused on the needs of minority scholars.
I did not want to be there, sitting in front of a room mostly filled, with so many women of color, with so few White allies. My reluctance to participate is born from a lifetime of being called out, threatened, and assaulted being a person in the world.
Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen began the panel by addressing the fact that we, as women of color, were taking a chance by representing ourselves, as ourselves, to the academy. I sat next to Dr. Marilisa Jimenez Garcia, and Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas and heard their stories, and shared my own. Unfortunately, our stories are not unique. The women in the audience spoke of being regularly ostracized, criticized and summarily dismissed personally and professionally. I left the room feeling drained. Later that afternoon I heard Dr. Park say the words I know to be true, “We are not the problem. Racism is the problem.”
More Than Racism
That night I enjoyed the company of friends at the ChLA awards ceremony filled with congratulations, hotel conference food, and laughter. Later we had what can only be described as the first annual ChLA Prom Night. In one corner of the room I danced with gay men, lesbians, and straight allies I had come to know and appreciate. We clustered together and celebrated the end of a long day with silliness and joy. At one point a gay male colleague confided, “I used to go dancing all the time. I miss it.” And I knew what he meant.
The next day, Sunday, as I stood waiting for my phone to charge before I got on an airplane to return home, I saw the news. I knew what it meant, even if the news anchors didn’t say it; Mass shooting, Pride week, a nightclub called The Pulse. We were, once again, hunted for being ourselves in the world.
It was not a coincidence that a coward with an assault riffle killed and wounded more than 100 LGBTQ people on Latin Dance Night in Orlando during Pride week. It was a planned attack by a rage-fueled man with a million excuses and the tacit approval of a nation. Make no mistake about the importance of the everyday aggressions against my communities; racism, homophobia, and misogyny work hand in hand to destroy the person I am in the world. They give a pathway to hate turned to action. As we danced and laughed and drank on that very same Saturday night, we were part of the same LGBTQ community who takes refuge in music, community, and joy, who celebrate ourselves and each other in the world.
More than One Man
I returned home on Sunday feeling wounded. On Monday I picked up my 13 year-old son from middle school. He got in the car and asked if I knew about what happened in Orlando.
“I do. What do you think about it?” I asked.
“Maybe Trump is right. Maybe we do need to keep them out.” He said, quietly, as we drove down sun dappled New England streets. I found myself defending Muslims and trying to tell him it was a single man who destroyed that night. I ran through the list of non-Muslims who had bombed buildings, and opened fire in public places, killing and wounding so many out of hate. I explained it is more about guns than faith. As we drove, I defended a religion with a long and lively history of damning, imprisoning, and killing LGBTQ people to my son because I want him to be better than that.
But if I was honest with him I would say I know religion is a problem. The Catholic Church, along with the vast majority of organized Protestant religions damns me to hell for the person I am in the world. The Church of Latter Day Saints damns me, and my children, for the person I am in the world. The majority of Muslim countries have laws against me, and a faith that condones killing me in horrific ways, for the person I am in the world. So, it was one man, but he was not alone.
Be Brave Enough
White, cis-gendered, or straight people often ask, “But what can I do?” They ask me in private, in classes, in conversation, and they asked at the ChLA panel. My answer is the same. You can be brave. Brave enough to say, “That is not ok” out loud and in public. When faculty members says, “but she sounds so white” after meeting an African American job candidate, you can respond, “that is not appropriate”. You can refrain from putting the burden of racism on the one non-White student. You can be brave enough to defend my right to marry, to raise children and have all the rights you have had for so long. You can be brave enough to shut down the “all lives matter” defense of racism. Call out the “what about men?” misogyny. Shut down the “she was drunk and wearing that” rape culture. You can listen, without excuse or argument, when we say that words matter, actions hurt, we are mistreated and misjudged everyday single day for being ourselves in the world.
And let me be clear, you will need to be brave to stand with us because you will be uncomfortable. Your actions will cause tension, you will not be appreciated by aggressors for standing up and speaking out. You might shake, feel queasy, or doubt your decision to step out of your privileged, safe space. There will most likely be pushback, accusations and suspicion. It will never be easy, just as living in a world designed for you is never easy for me.
I am tired.
I am haunted.
I am hunted.
You can choose to be brave enough to defend who you are not.
Laura Maria Jiménez, a person in the world, every day.