Today a very important person in my life called me, sobbing and hyperventilating.
They (I’ll keep them anonymous) had spent the majority of the day in conversation and debate with someone who espoused some pretty bigoted, hateful and harmful views in the wake of the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. My loved one believed it was up to them to change this person’s mind, because queer and trans lives are on the line. This person isn’t queer or trans themselves but has many friends and loved ones who are. Like many of us, they have been really shaken by the implications of the shooting and feel an increased call to action because of it.
After several hours and no headway being made in changing this person’s mind, my loved one became so distraught that they broke down crying. They told me they felt like a failure. They knew the urgency of the situation, knew that people’s lives are potentially in danger, and that now more than ever, we need to speak up and fight as hard as we can to change minds. They didn’t convince the person they were talking to, and because of that they felt that they let themselves, me, and the entire LGBTQ community down.
This message is for that person, and for everyone else who has been hit hard by conversations surrounding the recent events: whether you have been personally affected or not, whether you’re queer or trans or a straight cis ally, whether you’ve been able to have any discussions about the recent events or whether you’ve had to step away from the news entirely for your mental and emotional health.
You are more important than any cause.
Yes, activism is incredibly important. Whether it’s on a large scale through political change or a small one through individual conversations, we all need to be doing our part to make the world safer for queer and trans people, and all marginalized people. Especially in the wake of such a tragic and eye-opening event, we feel that this is an incredibly urgent cause. Every day that we do not act, people are being murdered, shunned, erased, beaten down physically and emotionally, mistreated, abused into self-harm and suicide.
But you are still more important than that.
It sounds like a selfish message. If people’s lives are at risk, wouldn’t it be incredibly self-centered and heartless NOT to give your all to combat bigotry, hatred and violence? How could any one person be “more important” than the hundreds of thousands who are suffering?
Yes, you should give your all. But you should never give MORE than your all, because if you are hurting, those who seek to destroy you and those you care about have won. Taking care of yourself when others try to tear you down is revolutionary. It’s a form of activism in defiance against those who want you to suffer.
Activism is a humanist endeavor. Activists try to change the world because we care about people and we want to make life better for them. I think self-care and self-love are also forms of activism centered firmly on humanism. You are a human being, too, and you are just as deserving of love, care and peace as any collective group, or any individual in that group.
We all take this journey from different starting points. Some things that are easy for some are difficult for others, and it doesn’t make anyone better than anyone else, just different. We are all individuals fighting alongside one another for the same end. Just as we need to support others who are struggling in our communities, we need to support ourselves when we are struggling. You are part of our community and our family, and we need you. You are precious just by virtue of existing. If all you can do some days is continue to live in the face of a world that doesn’t always care about you, that is enough. If talking about the news or engaging with hateful people is triggering to you and you can’t always speak up where you think it’s needed, you are still enough. We are here supporting you, and those of us who can speak will do our best to step in when you are in too much pain.
Engage where and when you can, because we need all the help we can get right now. But please, for your sake, ONLY engage where and when you can without causing harm to yourself. It’s easy to feel guilty for stepping back when things are painful. I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks that are often triggered by interpersonal conflict, so I know very well the guilt of having to choose to not engage in conversations that may be important to have, but may also be harmful to me. You feel like people are depending on you, like it’s your responsibility to change people’s minds. But it’s not just your task alone. It’s the shared responsibility of all of us. When one arm gets tired, the other comes in to relieve it. That’s why we need our community. No one person can do it all, and we need one another to support not only our cause, but ourselves.
Please remember that your life, your health and your well-being are more important than changing anyone one person’s mind. You are not just a fighter for the cause. You ARE the cause.
“I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared, if you feel like no one cares and no one understands, you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you, cares for you, and knows that you’re capable of amazing things, and that you ARE worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out.”
If you are struggling and need support, please contact one or more of the following organizations: