Our Queer Ancestors

I’ve been thinking more about my last post and my burgeoning desire to bring the Mighty Dead more fully into my life. I’ll come clean and honestly admit that I don’t much honor my genetic Ancestors. I give them due respect of course, but thus far I haven’t found any connection with them. I’m grateful for the blood the courses in my veins, but when I think of what my immediate Christian ancestors would have thought about me, a Pagan, genderqueer lesbian who’s voting for Obama twice… well, let’s just say that family reunion is likely to be an awkward one.

So instead I turn to ancestors of mind and hearth, those who once worshipped as I did or who experienced life in a similar way to mine. And you know what? There were a lot of people who were like me. Who fell in love with people sharing their genitalia. Who experienced life both as a man and a woman, and some days didn’t know which was which. Who were the victims of oppression, homo- and trans*phobia, and religiously-motivated persecution. Who had to live their lives in the closet or face dire, often life-threatening, consequences.

The experience of us LGBT folks has been erased, invalidated, and denied throughout history. Quite literally, there is not a place for us right now in history books. Queer people just don’t exist. We’re a modern fabrication by an immoral, godless political left, confused, sick, and doomed to rot in Hell. (How we manage to be both nonexistent and a threat to modern society, godless and caught up in another faith’s eschatology, is beyond me. I guess we’re just that good.)

I think it’s high time I started helping to reclaim our history.

 

The purple handprint has been a symbol of gay liberation since Halloween 1969.

I started by looking through this month’s LGBT birthdays listed on Wikipedia.  There’s a skew toward cis white males – when isn’t there? – but I started combing through this list for those who have passed away and become our community’s collective Ancestors. Some of the names won’t seem surprising at all. (For example, the fact that Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991) of Queen was bisexual probably isn’t news to anyone but me.) These individuals were writers, poets, politicians, scientists; sons, daughters, lovers, and oftentimes parents. Queer people existed all over the world, at all points in history, in all strata of society, from Philippe I, Duke of Orléans (September 21, 1640 – June 9, 1701) to silent film star Greta Garbo (September 18, 1905 – April 15, 1990).

Some of these stories end in tragedy, whether through the murder of Harvey Milk (May 22, 1930 – November 27, 1978) and Matthew Shepard (December 1, 1976 – October 12, 1998),  or the suicide of Alan Turing (23 June 1912 – 7 June 1954) and Tyler Clementi (December 19, 1991 – September 22, 2010). Our queer Ancestors faced shame, humiliation, violence, and oftentimes death just for who they were – because the world wasn’t ready to trade in hate for compassion.

How can we best remember our Ancestors?

We can not forget them. We can remember their names, their stories, their faces. We can make them part of our own history, even if they don’t show up in the history books. We queer folks, we can come out of the closet and be our own advocates, when we aren’t faced with violence or threats to our person. You straight folks, you can be allies and help us fight homo- and trans*phobia wherever it breeds and help us build safe spaces for people of all orientations and identities. We can best honor our Ancestors by finishing the work they started and trying to fix a world that gave them so much hatred and violence.

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5 thoughts on “Our Queer Ancestors

  1. We can also honor the whole person. Many people admire Turing for his work and contribution to computing and code breaking, many people admire Greta Garbo for her looks and contributions to film but how many people honor them for being who they were as well? Too often we focus on achievements and charisma rather than the whole. IDK about anyone else but I know that I and every other person I’ve ever met is a whole person and deserves to be remembered and honored not just for their greatness and achievements but for being human and troubled and making mistakes along the way. Editing someone’s sexuality from their historical record is an incredible disservice what is most admirable about these people isn’t that they were great it’s that they were ‘normal’ human’s who achieved these things.

  2. Good morning Daniel,

    I saw the movie about Harvey Milk a few months ago and even though I am not a big Sean Penn fan in general, the movie in itself, and the true story really touched my heart.

  3. Wonderful post…beautiful and heartfelt! I have many LGBT friends (and I know others, less well, that I admire for their writing, online blogs, artwork, etc.) and I find that the best way to honor them (and their ancestors too, as you wrote about) is simply to support them…help them fight for their happiness and rights as much as I would my own. It’s not right that, even to this day, because I happen to be straight, I’m treated better/more fairly by much of society than those friends that I would trust my life with, friends I love with all my heart. After all, any LGBT member of the human race is exactly that: a member of the human race. My kin. My ancestors too. I won’t forget. And I’ll help others not to forget, as well!

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