I remember vividly my application and interview processes for graduate programs and assistantships working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and ally (LGBTQIA*) communities. I started my first week of work in an LGBTQIA* Center, feeling fearful that I would not be seen as queer enough because of the way people perceive me or the gender of my partner. I still felt that way as I searched for jobs and as I entered the field as an LGBTQIA* professional.
Something I have noticed about our community is a tendency to police bodies, the boundaries of queer, what is “enough,” and who belongs. Why do we do this? I think, in part, it has something to do with a pressure for us to fit into neat boxes, for the sake of “simplicity” or “efficiency.” However, these boxes are tight. They constrict us and reduce us. There is very little space to be queer outside the narrative that is written about us – about how a gay, queer, or LGBTQIA* community looks, sounds, acts, and makes love.
Where is the space for us to bring our intersecting identities? We bring our sexual orientations, but where are our sexualities? How do our races, ethnicities, and cultures show up? What about our social class identities? How do we make visible our gender identities and expressions? Where do our whole selves fit?
I believe that we can create space for whole people and the identities and experiences they bring by opening our perspectives to what LGBTQIA* means outside of binaries. We owe it to our students and ourselves to critically examine, explore, and celebrate what it means to be a queer person of color, bisexual, pansexual, fluid, intersex, poly, kink, trans*, genderqueer, agender, asexual. There is power in recognition and visibility.
We can reflect on how we express and perform our identities. We can take note of the ways we occupy and reclaim space and language. We can interrogate the manner with which we create rules for or define identities for others. We can dictate what our identities mean to us, not the other way around. People come first. We all determine where we belong on and off of our spectrums each day. Role modeling this to our students is critical to their empowerment and journeys toward self-actualization.
We can unpack homonormativity, the rigid rules that define assumptions, roles, and dichotomies. We can challenge our fatigue through learning about new identities, including others, or even naming others in our acronyms. We can challenge our fear of the unknown.
We can evolve beyond our boxes to see true and organic queerdom – what it means to become our amorphous, unapologetic selves. We do not fit easy categories and definitions, which is often a significant part of who we are and how we identify. We have many more dimensions than three.
How can we create a “movement that can speak directly to the pain that is within folks, and offer them healing words, healing strategies, healing theory” (hooks, 1995, p. 75)? The exhaustion in social justice work transcends the typical stress of a busy and taxing job. How can we inspire a framework of self-love? To practice self-care is radical and revolutionary; it will enable us to stay charged, present, and passionate.
How do we continue to push the boundaries, to keep learning, to take risks, to nurture and support whole people in solidarity? We can spread and expand and embrace our diversity within our diversity. There is power in reclaiming our community for ourselves.
We can let there be questions, and we can create space for more voices and perspectives. It is acceptable and encouraged to ask openly: what do our communities need?
As student affairs professionals, we often discuss LGBTQIA* communities as they are manifested for and by students. What about our space and responsibility as professionals? How do we hold ourselves accountable, acknowledge what we do not know, and commit to lifelong learning? We must not to let the fear of making a mistake become the barrier to building community. In fact, we must make mistakes, take responsibility, and talk about impact. We can and must commit to being a work in progress.
Above all, it is essential that we remember that we are a community. Through asking these questions and engaging in critical reflections and dialogues, we can redefine what our community means to us. We can reflect on the way that we show up as advisors, leaders, educators, mentors, and role models. We can lift as we climb. We must remember and honor our mentors and lanterns from our journeys. Our success is dependent on mutual support and growth.
We are and always will be enough.
hooks, b. (1995). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.
Christine Dolan is the Coordinator for LGBT Student Involvement & Leadership at Washington University in St. Louis. Christine earned their B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University in 2009 and a M.Ed. in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of Vermont in 2013. They enjoy hiking, reading, and exploring their new digs, St. Louis. Please do not hesitate to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.