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State of the Queer Nation 2018: Choosing Hope

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I’ve found them — out and proud young lesbians on Twitter. They’re influenced by queer theory, denounce transphobia, but embrace the word lesbian, too, no matter what their pronouns are. One posts a series of lesbian laments along the lines of, “Over a week into Pride Month and I still don’t have a girlfriend. Why?” Another jokes about going full lesbian in the morning as she walks down the street remembering a kiss.

Sometimes they squee over Janelle Monáe, Hayley Kiyoko, and Kehlani — and other times comment on how few lines the women of color get in “Ocean’s 8.” For them the world goes on. Trump is banished to the margins. Not in an act of ignorance, but a kind of life-preserving resistance. We have to have hope after all. Why bother fighting for a future if there’s no laughter or no love in it?

What a shock, what a delight to read their posts after the apocalyptical notes on Facebook from middle-aged queers like me, who occasionally polka-dot their desperation with videos of heroic Minnesotan raccoons. Not that the young ones aren’t occasionally frightened. Not that they don’t take to the streets sometimes. But for them, the daily news has a different resonance and weight. Or at least they hide their terror better.

After all, they haven’t done this before. They woke with the 2014 murder by cop of Michael Brown, but were barely in diapers or not yet thought of in 1998 when the African-American man James Byrd was dragged behind a pick-up truck, causing his decapitation. Or when the young, gay, and white Matthew Shepard was beaten and left bound to a fence. And retrovirals hit the scene transforming AIDS, which up until then left gay men skeletons and women, well, women don’t get AIDS. They just die from it.

Perhaps they were in pre-school when the Supremes awarded George W. Bush the election, the planes struck the Twin Towers, and anybody at all could predict the surge of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment, the erosion of civil rights, and the destruction of American democracy.

By the time they hit high school, many of them found Gay and Straight Alliances or had vicarious support with “Glee.” Obama was president. Marriage was quickly on the table, though not buying a home.

Their mix of whimsy, anger, lust is a great relief. After glancing at the headlines, catching the news, I’m slumped in the corner muttering, “We’re fucked, we’re fucked, we’re fucked.” We Americans slap immigrant children in cages, adults in prison camps, yank naturalized citizens from their homes.

Since the Supremes declared open season on queers, “No Gays” signs have sprouted on businesses. I’m afraid HIV will be a death sentence again as Obamacare is slashed by a wannabe dictator president embracing killers and grifters, while our imperfect Democracy, which has allowed whatever progress we’ve made, is laying drunk in a ditch.

The sun should topple from the sky in shame. The earth should swallow us all. But never does. I often feel exhausted and alone. Especially when the cynical left gleefully lectures us that America never was great. We’ve always destroyed families — except nice white ones. We’ve always been the absolute worst. Nothing really has changed.

They deny the groundbreaking catastrophe of Trump. And ignore as well the sea change that gave birth to these young dykes on Twitter, most of them young women of color.

They deny history as much as the Bible-embracing a-historians of Fake News and Trump. By forgetting — despite this attempted counterrevolution — how much things have changed since the 1990s when Homophobia, Racism, Misogyny, all the Hates, really, hunted openly together like packs of conjoined wolves and activists acting up and fighting back and avenging would be careful to leave demos together, or at least in pairs because everybody had a friend that woke up in the hospital or not at all.

I remember hiding my sexual identity, rarely seeing black people on TV except as pimps and hookers. I remember funerals, lots of funerals, and straight people on TV laughing as they said we should all die of AIDS. I remember how the first red ribbons were a big deal. And how girls in my generation were the first to regularly be told we could be doctors. We could be lawyers.

Yes, things changed. Not enough. Not for everyone. But things change. There’s no stasis. Neither is history some convenient lyrical arc bending toward justice. Or toward Hell. It’s more like a mechanical bull, an electrocardiogram bouncing up and down, sometimes in slow motion, sometimes with a violent lurch.

I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But I do know that we have changed things — for the better — before. Why not believe what history tells us is possible? Why not embrace hope? It’s the only thing that will save us.

Kelly Cogswell is the author of ”Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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