As a child, I was raised in the church. In this world, you are expected to defer to the good word or to those more versed in the meaning of the text when faced with doubt. I always found this facet of religion, along with the tendency to condemn, rather exhausting. It seemed contrary to me that we should look outward in order to better understand the boundaries of our own morality. This was an instinctual belief that would later solidify to form the base of my very own identity and character.
This is why I am highly critical of activist movements that take on religious airs; quite frankly it creeps me out.
Lately, attending activist gatherings in Atlanta feels like stepping into way too-long religious services. Too often it feels like I’m in a church and instead of talking about fairy tales meant to "guide" morality, the discussion revolves around matters that are incredibly important to me. We talk about dismantling white supremacy, we talk about unlearning racism, we talk about unlearning transphobia. All causes I would gladly die for--and that is no exaggeration.
Still, my commitment to those causes comes not from a voracious consumption of other people’s sage advice. It comes from my consumption of literature and facts that I deem relevant to my own enlightenment
People tend to defer to folks they consider "authorities" on subjects; sort of like speaking to a priest at confession. I assume this is because most of us are of mediocre caliber when comes to forming opinions or sustaining beliefs. For me, it’s why religion is such a necessary and popular institution; the religious person can take many forms but almost all of them are one that seeks moral guidance. I’m not arguing that seeking guidance is inherently wrong or detrimental, I am arguing that it’s in our best interest to take on the incredibly difficult task of guiding ourselves.
When we look to others to tell us how to live, we give away our agency. We become incapable of knowing who is lying; who has malicious intent. It’s why so many revolutions have shown themselves to be noble albeit double-edged swords. While on one hand, a change is taking place, opening the way for something greater, but on the other there are those who seek to exploit this change and rise within the resulting vacuum of power. Human nature is much too vile for anyone to ever place all of their faith in it, especially while seeking transformation.
This is why I get frustrated when people use me as a sounding board or seek advice from me regarding their own activism. Since I began writing for Wussy, my opinions have been derided because of their lack of a foothold in actual radicalism and derided because of their perceived deep association with radicalism. No one reader interprets my message the same, and I should hope that this would always be the case. I describe my perspective, my point-of-view, and often try to strengthen it with a peppering of vital facts and figures. I also use Snopes and other fact-checking sites to prove or debunk everything ever shared in the feeds of my various social media accounts that may inform my stories. I do these things because I am skeptical, discerning, and strive to think for myself and myself alone.
I am critical of activism that takes on a dogmatic air because I consider it to be dangerous and a potential weapon that could be used to harm the very people it seeks to help. Time and time again, we see groups of folks succumb to the folly of reverence and deferment: from David Koresh to the Catholic church and the US government, do we not have enough proof that we should always question those in charge? Even more, this treatment of an individual's word as bond also tends to trigger the implosion of once great movements. I can think of nothing sadder than seeing a cause eat itself alive and effectively erase it’s impact from memory following idealistic schisms.
So stop messaging your favorite Rad internet personality when you want guidance on how to be a better person, or how to evolve in such a way that you are an effective weapon against supremacy of all kinds. Instead, consume information and look within yourself.
I support anyone who seeks to embrace queer politics but I think it's tragic to see burgeoning activists lose their intellectual identities because of the religious atmosphere we've created around these ideas. Think for yourself--I can’t say it enough. Be discerning and never stop asking "why". If you begin to let other people do that for you, you will lose everything that makes you who you are. The struggle to dismantle and ensure that a rebuild actually occurs is as old as human discontent, and the latter will always be a struggle while we continue to miss the forest for the trees.
If you take away anything let it be this: community organizers, writers, activists are not messiahs and you are not disciples, so lead yourself to liberation.
Zaida J. is the Associate Editor here at WUSSY and a self-described transgender loud mouth.