All’s Fair in Love and Activism

You ever had those days where you really just cannot get out of bed? Where you’d rather sleep from 8in the afternoon until 8, 9, or 10 in the morning, rather than do anything productive? Or those times when you’ve only slept for four hours, because there just seems to be something on your mind, something that just won’t let you be…

Have you ever been in those times when you’re counting down the minutes until you can be by yourself again, because being ‘on’ around people requires too much effort? And they’ve started to see see that you’re tired, regardless of how much you’ve slept; they see your weak smile, or your distant gaze, and they try to encourage you, tell you it’ll be better; they try to tell you that things won’t suck this much in the future. And you believe them, sure. Problem is, things sort of suck right now, and that’s what’s bringing you down.

You know, activism is a lot like love – and stay with me, now, because I’m surely talking about one just as much as the other. You put your whole heart and devotion towards a cause; you put your trust in people, and empower them with your belief that this something is worth fighting for, because you know it can change the world for the better – whether it’s your world or someone else’s.

And at first, it feels amazing — like a high you just can’t get enough of, this fighting, this pushing. It feels like you’re doing something productive with your time, maybe for once. It feels like every moment is one step toward something greater, something bigger than you’ve ever imagined. Sure, there are small setbacks sometimes – things are moving slower than you thought they would or moving faster into a direction you didn’t expect it to go. Still, all things considered, it seems that your efforts are really taking you somewhere.

Then you hit a wall. Or, more specifically, you feel as if, out of nowhere, you’ve gone from speeding at an exhilarating 50 mph down an empty highway to 100 mph full of nothing but cars, trees, and poles, and you can’t stop no matter how badly you want to. And you’re also somewhat intoxicated. And maybe high. And you have no seatbelt or airbag. And then bam! – right through a steel-enforced wall. Does this sound like anyone’s love life? Or the fight we lost to Prop 8?

The change happens so suddenly and the impact is so hard that you have no idea what the hell just happened, but you know that it hurts – a lot.

For me, this painful change generally happens when I feel like I’ve met someone who completely understands where I’m coming from, has claimed numerous times that they get me and my struggle, and that they’re totally 1000% behind my cause.

Then, I turn around, and I’ve found that they’ve run far, far away – generally into the “Wish I could be an ally, but I’d actually prefer to not hear about your people’s problems all the damn time” camp or, my favorite, “Can’t we all just get along because race doesn’t matter” camp.

I can’t apologize for the fact that my race/sexuality/socio-economic issues affect my life everyday or ignore the fact that other people are constantly and consistently ignoring those issues. And, of course, my race does matter. I have a cultural history that still means something to me even if doesn’t to you. Not judging someone based on their ethnic background is not the same thing as ignoring it.

There are the people who I’d just like to stuff some sense into. The people who can’t pretend to understand, because not only do they not want to, they also don’t feel like they should. These are the people you bite your tongue at and walk away from because, as one of my favorite band’s, Incubus, says: “Blood in my mouth beats blood on the ground.” Unfortunately, these are the kinds of people that can affect you the most, the ones that make you second-guess what your fighting for. “If there are people like that who exist, people like that who will always exist, what am I doing this for?”

And the thing is, the people that seem out to get you don’t always come in the form of far-right-wing crazies spewing hate on television or even in the form of your super-conservative, never-gonna-change-no-matter-what-you-say parents, grandparents, cousins, or siblings. Sometimes, it’s the people closest to you — the people who should understand the most.

Sometimes, it’s your (ex)girlfriend. Sometimes, it’s your own mother.

You think the people closest to you will understand what you’re fighting for the most – and generally they do – but it hurts to know what they really think; that what you’re doing will never be enough or as significant as you’d like it to be.

All of a sudden you find yourself thinking: “What if what I’m doing isn’t enough? What if they’re right, and what I’m fighting for isn’t as important to the world as I think it is?”

Recently, the people who have thrown me off course are the fellow queers who think fighting for LGBT equality is good, but don’t understand why I feel the need to “focus” on women of color. They think that my joining a QWOC-oriented group is nice, quaint even – but it’s not going to do too much in the long run.

What they’re really saying, of course, is “You don’t really matter,” and “You’re not good enough.” And sometimes, they don’t even realize it.

They don’t care to realize it, of course, or even stop to consider the absurdity and hurtful nature of their words. The important thing to them is not that they have clearly explained themselves. The important thing to them is that they’ve said what they’ve felt like saying, and you’re listening. And you’re being affected. And they’re going on about their day while you stand shell-shocked and second-guess everything you’ve ever fought for, wondering “What am I doing wrong?”

If you’re like me, you could stop focusing on the blog post you’re supposed to finish within the next few hours. You stop paying attention to all the work you’ve been doing. At 7:00 pm, you shut your lap top, turn off the lights, and go to sleep. Or you try. And even if you can’t sleep, there is nothing on this earth that will move you to get up – because what’s the point? It hurts too much to move, anyway.

If you’re like me, you could spend the next few days or weeks ignoring the outside world, sorta-kinda hating the outside world, and instead cry into your cereal bowl, with cereal that’s been soggy for at least an hour, and listen to Kelly Clarkson er – I mean someone cool and worldly like Bob Marley – lament your woes on blast.

But if you’re like me, when you realize you’ve run out Milk and you’re kind of sick of sitting on your ass all day and you’d really like to enjoy your cereal, you’ll decide to get up and do something. Even if it’s something small and inconsequential (like having no milk), you’ll realize it’s worth it to you to get up and go to CVS to replenish what you’ve lost, because it’s something you want.

Get up and do something, even if it seems small and inconsequential, because it’s worth it to you and it’s something you want.

Repeat.

Activism, like love, is hard, because it throws you for a loop sometimes. Even when you feel great, like you’re on top of the world, there are times when you feel like you’ve fallen beneath the weight of it. There are times when it just feels so utterly pointless, like you’re wasting time. Sometimes, the actual act of activism, planning, rallying, what have you, can make you burnt out. Other times, it’s the people you encounter that can make you want to scream and hide beneath a rock until life seems better again.

It’s in those moments when you realize the only actions, thoughts, and reactions you can control are your own. It’s in those moments when you have to realize or re-evaluate what is most important to you – and you alone. When you’ve done that, when you recognize for yourself that you’re doing is enough and is important, then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says or does. You can only satisfy yourself – you can only make yourself happy – not the world.

It takes a while to recuperate from a nasty blow to the heart and I can’t tell you when or how exactly that will happen. I can’t tell you when the pain will have dissipated enough for you to resume a normal, functional state of mind. I’m still working on that, myself. But I can tell you that, sometime soon, it will happen.

What your doing does matter and what you’re fighting for is worth it. And you’ll be okay. I promise.

  • Asha

    I love you, Erika.
    And everything WILL be okay. I promise.

  • Lisa M

    Thank you once again for writing such a heartfelt piece. So many elements that you've shared resonate with me. I am an activist and have been for a very long time. I have found myself silenced MORE in the movement than outside of it. AND I am not a silent person, I speak up most of the time but find it difficult to do so when the people I surround myself purport creating safe spaces "where you can fully be who you are and embrace it wholeheartedly without feeling isolated, minimized, and dehumanized"…I have felt all of those things and I venture out to claim it is another way people exert their privilege…exert their power…flail it around with no regard to how it impacts those around them…it is something that I often cannot described really well. It is this sense that I do not belong…that somehow I do not fit in because I am not good enough…and I wonder how much of that is internal…thank you for sharing…you've given me a lot to ponder about…

  • http://www.zarachiron.com/ Zara Chiron

    Lovely post! Nothing worth fighting for is easy to come by-that is why it is a fight! It does help to go back to the drawing room and sketch out what your truth is over and over and over. I mean we shower everyday, eat everyday-we maintain our outer everyday-we MUST maintain our inner even more so as it is our spirits that drive us to live truthfully. It always helps to take time out away from others so the inner voice in us can vibrate clearly to our hearts. Bless you Erika. Honestly…the more I read your heartfelt words-the more I just cannot fathom how ANYONE can be homophobic or racist….at the end of the day even if one does not understand another's lifestyle or experience-can they not just have some basic compassion for their fellow human being?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10300615 Yarimee Gutierrez

    You've done it again 🙂 Thank you for another beautifully written post. Your sincerity makes your readers (or at least THIS reader!) feel like you're speaking directly to them. You're always REAL, but always positive… and you're right!

    "Get up and do something, even if it seems small and inconsequential, because it’s worth it to you and it’s something you want.

    Repeat."

    Loved it.

  • Graham

    Nikki, your writing never ceases to unveil a truth that is so deeply imbedded into everyone’s life. Your ability to take personal struggles and connect them to the grander scale of a community is simply striking.

    You, and your cause, do matter. However quaint.