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.
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.