Identity politics can be an intimidating sea of reactionary emotions to navigate.
On one hand, you have the camp of “everyone is equal” which often glosses over the very real differences between groups of people and on the other, you have the camp of people who see people as Venn diagrams of identities and fail to take individual experience into account. As with a great deal of things, the truth lies somewhere in between and beyond.
Layers of identity matter because they shape and influence us in systematic ways that allow us to find common experience among those of a similar identity. It is the queer identity (of which there are MANY subcategories with unique challenges and benefits) that I will draw your attention to because there is a beautiful flavor to queer experience that can be wonderfully, magically healing.
While some may have trouble with using the word queer, I am using it in this article as an umbrella term for anyone who feels they don’t quite fit comfortably in the straight, binary world.
A History of Healers
In many cultures around the globe and throughout history, there have been special roles reserved for queer people.
From European colonial history, they mention people they called Berdache or passing women who would have been assigned female at birth if they were European and who took on roles that Europeans believed to be “man’s roles”. In West Africa, there were people, spiritual leaders, whom Europeans would have called men, who appeared to them to present in a feminine manner.
There are many other examples of societies that had a more fluid approach to gender and sexuality than those that dominate the world today (though there is a strong movement to break that mold and allow some breathing room).
It excites me to see a thriving queer community, unified or not (by unified I mean all the sections together vs just gay men or trans women or lesbians or enbies etc). There’s a liveliness to a thriving queer community that you just don’t see in the same way in the straight world.
It feels more free.
Part of the great value of queerness is also the source of its greatest pain: the role of the ‘other’.
You may have heard people talk about being ‘othered’, which is not unique to queerness but which has been a defining characteristic for a very long time.
To be othered is to be made to feel like you are different from everyone else; like you don’t belong. I know that today it can sometimes feel like everyone is a little bit gay, and perhaps everyone kind of is, but statistically, people marked as queer, be they trans, gay, lesbian, bi/pansexual or some other variety, make up a pretty small portion of the population.
Being an outsider to the community gives you the time and space to observe society in a way that you can’t really do when you’re in it. You can spot and understand conflicts much easier without the obstacle of in-group loyalty.
Knowing that your experience lies outside the realm of normality can also lead to wondering what else might exist outside of that reality. This broader perspective and ability to question norms is such a gift! It is this gift that has been so valued in other societies and that means queer people are well-positioned to act as effective mediators in the community.
Of course, the abuse that queer people tend to face in most societies today means that these gifts are often muffled under the sound of trauma.
Surviving as a queer person today is hard and often very traumatizing. Many don’t survive. Those that do, do so through developing a great deal of resilience. Sometimes this resilience comes from within and other times it is developed through connecting to and building community.
I have yet to meet a queer person who doesn’t have a history of trauma.
We’ve all had our fair share and many of us have made it through the darkest days and can help pull others toward the light. Plenty are still in the thick of it, reacting disproportionately to all sorts of experiences. Fortunately, the ones who have made it through to the other side can spot someone who is struggling, and in my experience, these people often help those who are struggling to find their way.
Not unlike soldiers who have gone through battle together, queer people often experience shared struggles that bring them closer to each other.
Even if these experiences didn’t happen at the same time, there’s enough overlap to develop a strong sense of solidarity. That solidarity, coupled with first-hand knowledge of working through trauma is a big part of what makes queer communities so healing. Oftentimes, they are experts at healing themselves and others, having done so much of it themselves.
Limits to Your Love
Rural queers will be one of a handful of queer people in their region. Sometimes they are the only one. This experience automatically means that the pool of available romantic love is very limited if it exists at all.
This is often at the heart of queer migration, though that happens for other reasons as well. Country queers will often trek out to major cities where the concentration of queer people is much higher and sometimes there is even a whole gay neighborhood where gayness is visible and everywhere — something many country queers dream of through the many long years in isolation.
Longing for acceptance and then finally being able to experience it is a truly magical healing experience for anyone. Once one has experienced such an exhilarating thing, it becomes easier to guide others to finding that same joy.
Being limited in your dating pool can also lead to widening your scope of acceptance in who you can love. This often results in queer love that crosses other boundaries like socio-economic status, race and nationality.
While straight people are scrolling through apps demanding perfection, queer people are going to the same social gatherings with the same people again and again and realizing that if they want love, it’s in the room and they’d better start finding reasons to love someone there. This limitation encourages you to develop the skill of finding what is lovable about people — there’s always something!
It’s About Freedom
The magic that heals as a result of the queer experience comes from knowing the truth: that freedom to love and freedom to express beyond gender-based constraints is one that everyone should have the opportunity to explore if that is their desire.
We have a rich diversity of beings all doing their own thing, but the trouble is that a large amount of them are not actually living according to their own will, but to the expectations of others in one way or another. Living up to these expectations has different costs to different beings.
Many of us grew up being told that equality has been achieved and also that there are two discrete sexes and/or genders and that they behave in a particular way. And that they should behave in a particular way. This is clearly not true. The many protests and counter-protests around trans and gay rights around the world these days are evidence of that. We have not won full equality, but we will continue to fight for it.
Queerness is about daring to exist beyond the norms. It’s about widening your experience to include more than the ration that was handed to you. It’s about learning that there was no scarcity to begin with, but a boundless, rich abundance of love and joy. And ultimately, it is love and joy that heals.
What Makes Queerness Magically Healing?
No, queer people aren’t actually any more or less magical than anyone else. What’s magical about queerness is the journey it took to be fully yourself in the face of a system designed to exclude you.
Along the way, queer people are forced to learn a lot about trauma and healing and self-confidence. When you’ve faced those hardships and won many battles, it’s hard to see someone else struggling and not lend a hand.
Many of us fail to help others who are struggling because we don’t know how. But if you’ve gone through the same struggle that you witness others experiencing, you often do know how to help. This is just one of the many reasons why we need to listen to the voices of the oppressed. Who better to turn to than those who have been bloodied and broken and learned how to heal?
We are at a time in history where we all need some collective healing.
Looking to resilient communities, like the queer community, as a model for how to embrace, accept and love one another with all of our flaws and struggles, is crucial for us to move through the pain and come out the other side.
It’s time to learn what joy means to each of us and to amplify it as much as we can.