by Angela Lemus-Mogrovejo
AFO Content Writer
“Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never yet touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.
Queerness is essentially about the rejection of a here and now and an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.”
-Josè Esteban Muñoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity
I’ve had death on my mind recently.
I’ve been thinking about children and the harm this world inflicts so casually on them.
And I’ve been thinking about suicide, slow death, and the wear and tear that so many communities I belong to experience in their purposefully shortened lives. And yet, as I think about these morbid topics, I still find myself hopeful. I find myself thinking that hope has not been lost entirely.
However, the stakes that come with remaining hopeful grow higher with every passing day. New days bring news of beloved, high profile people like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade passing away from suicide and the resulting pain that accompanies their deaths. New days bring news of “soul murder” and psychological abuse inflicted upon children separated from their families at United States (US) borders. Recent research on the frequency of suicide in the US over the past 20 years has found an unsettling 30% increase in suicides across almost all 50 states and, even on my most optimistic day, this is not news I can greet with anything but intense sadness.
Nevertheless, I still believe there is merit to pragmatically hoping in the face of this collective misery. Specifically, I would argue that we can find the roots of our troubles, and with it, guidance for retaining hope, by looking more closely at the social/political context shared by personal losses like suicide and the political violence of child separation at the US border. I want to stress above anything else that our collective situation is quite dire. I do not in any way desire to undersell the challenges & violence many of our communities are facing in the current political climate. Too often I have seen people (myself included) try and deny just how terrible our collective life situation is and attempt to deal with life by only engaging with an incomplete view of reality. While this can be a comforting approach to life on occasion, I find it to be unsatisfactory for grounding hope in the context of morbid realities.
And the realities that many of us are facing are as varied as they are overwhelming. For those seeking some form of mental healthcare, they now face a political climate which values slashing the budget allocated to the National Institute of Mental Health by more than 30% by 2019. For those mentioned previously who committed suicide in recent years, financial troubles and the ability to seek robust, affordable mental healthcare plagued many of their lives prior to their suicides and continues to affect their loved ones now. In the case of those living specifically in New York City, the risk for suicide increases if one belongs to a marginalized group, such as LGBT youth, elderly populations, and young Latinas. And last but certainly not least, despite the evasive rhetoric many politicians use to describe the comforts being provided to detained children, no amount of comforts can deny the lasting trauma that has been and continues to be inflicted upon children separated from their parents at US borders. In essence, the current political climate is one of great tragedy.
But it is not only these extremely public incidences and research which lead me to believe we are living in a time where our souls feel wrapped in tragedy. I cannot recall a week going by over the past few years where I didn’t wonder if a friend was going to die from suicide. Or, if I was not hearing about my friends considering ending their lives or inflicting self-harm, then I was seeing them share memes or make posts with some particular nihilistic or despondent tone to them. As ridiculous as it may seem to worry over friends posting about sad moments or sharing nihilistic content, I have heard too many stories of people passing away for far less. Not only that, but with the constant cycle of sharing news regarding the latest murder of an unarmed person of color, the conditions faced by the currently detained children, and every other financial and social difficulty creeping up in our lives, I can’t blame anyone who has decided suicide is their best option.
The world we live in now is all consuming, ever-shifting, and seemingly incapable of providing us any comfort in grappling with its cruelty. And for those of us from marginalized backgrounds who try and fight back against the world’s collective oppression, we can’t help but feel the burden of presenting a strong face to each other. As we feel our own personal demons consume us slowly but surely, we try our best to engage in self-care and manage our own well-being. We try to remain productive at the expense of our mental health, at the expense of our relationships, at the expense of our commitment to breaking with historically oppressive belief systems until finally many of us simply can’t handle it.
We are living in an age where the consequences of valuing productivity over humanity are being realized and at a point where “capitalism is quite literally killing us.” Capitalism is killing us and many of us are taking a way out just so we don’t have to deal with this world anymore. Our collective reality is sobering and I can’t fault anyone for losing hope at this point in time.
And yet, in spite of it all, I still believe it is worth holding onto hope.
Perhaps it is the activist in me who wants to believe we can still do more through remembering how our connections to one another can make miracles happen. Perhaps it is the stubborn Aries in me that looks at all the tragedies I and all my communities have overcome and believes we are not finished just yet. Perhaps it is just the rather cynical optimist in me that believes in spite of all we suffer, in our personal lives and as marginalized people facing structural violence, we will ultimately do what we can to “provide for each other and, when it comes to it, [fight] for each other.” Or perhaps it all comes down to the one thing that I believe underlies my steadfast denial of succumbing to this misery: “we have each other.”
As hokey and frivolous as that may sound to say, we must hold on to this truth. Because one of the greatest tricks I have learned capitalism has at its disposal is lying. Capitalism, in its most basic form, operates the same way mental illness does: it convinces you of non-truths and makes you believe your choices can only fit into a world defined by those non-truths. Capitalism makes you believe you are not worthwhile, that certain populations are and never will be worthwhile, and that no matter what happens you and everyone around you must always prove you are worthwhile through (financial) productivity.
All belief in your wellbeing be damned.
All belief in justice and care for people be damned.
All efforts to create and imagine a new world be damned.
All you have is an endless quest to prove yourself, self-care and community-care be damned.
These are the choices left to you with capitalism: prove your worth and potentially deprive others of worth or succumb to a slow death of believing you are and never will be enough.
To these choices, I reply, as Katie Pryal has previously, that “you cannot make a choice when you are surrounded by lies.” These choices offered under capitalism are not our only options. They cannot be.
In the few years I have lived on my own, I have experienced virtual homelessness, a lack of money, consistent feelings of suicidal ideation, and a constant belief that I would never make it beyond 22 years old. I have recently passed my 25th birthday and become convinced that my living is not by mere chance.
It is because of hope. I have lived because of hope.
I have lived because in spite of an ostensibly ever-present sense that I was worthless and that all the communities I belong to are the same, many have stood up and defied this sentiment. In spite of the constant disparagement they face by people who purposely will never understand them, trans youth continue to thrive and create blueprints for better worlds. Despite the option to succumb to political apathy and leave the plight of separated children to the concerns of the tyrannical, several communities have moved up to seek justice for these children. And, despite not always knowing what to say or how best to support one another, I have seen countless people reach out to comfort their friends nearing the plunge towards suicide and comfort them.
These may be small blessings in the face of a catastrophic world long built on misery. These may be meaningless beliefs when compared to the weights we all carry with us in a world crushed by capitalism. Perhaps I, like many who choose hope, are the true fools.
But I choose to believe in this queer hope. I choose to place faith in the humble but real truth that we have each other. We have each other in ways those before us could never imagine and those after us may yet live to see as ordinary. We have this queer hope, this feeling that looks at this world of despair and says “No, this is not all we can be. We can be so much more and so much more is possible.”
This world has much death, yes, but there is life as well. And that life, frail and tattered though its spirit may be, is enough to make a better world.