I was 12 or 13 when I began to develop different ways of harming myself. It started with biting my lip to the point of ulcers and bleeding. It moved to biting the inside of my jaw that left me unable to open my mouth or even eat. The inability to eat fueled a new development of self-harm and denial in my late teenage years and early college. I didn’t eat. I worked out and ran way too much. I dropped 100lbs in less than 7months and at my lowest I weighed 155lbs while standing almost 6ft 1in. Notably, these inner workings and damaging manifestations of trauma developed out of my fear of accepting my own queerness and the reaction from society and family.
However, as I grew into my queerness in my early college years, I learned quickly that who I presented to the world, to the queer community, was not what they wanted. Being overweight, soft, losing my hair early, and a multitude of other physical disadvantages was not only unacceptable to the wider society but was unvalued in the mainstream queer community. This un-valuing and body shaming within the queer world threw me further into the deep abyss of body dysmorphia and simply not eating and self-harm. Layered on top on homophobic trauma was the trauma of being unaccepted by my community.
It’s taken many years to find community that values who I am and my body and worth. It’s taken years of trying to understand the psychological, sociological and physiology of the queer community. And there is a great understanding that I came away with: people who’ve been hurt, can hurt people. This great understanding means that the queer community is not a perfect community, which was a concept that I had in my mind growing up. Loving and accepting with open arms, rainbows, and sunshine, that was all another reality and an escape that is often constructed. And though that is true a lot of the times, it is sometimes the case that the culture of white supremacy infiltrates my community of people we call QUEER.
And this happened from the very beginning of the gay rights movement. Stonewall was not the only moment in queer rights nor was it only white, middle class people who began the movement. It was poor, trans, activists of color like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Zazu Nova who spurred the necessary movement for queer people. And intersecting this movement, was their experience of police brutality and violence. The movement was also people on the streets who fought for equality. It was the ballroom scenes creating community for many queer people of color. It was the activists, nurses, and drag performers who looked after poor people with HIV and AIDs who were disproportionally people of color and who were not provided adequate medical treatment. The queer community, though marginalized, has seen and continues to see the manifestations of white supremacy that is breaking our family.
Permeating the familial bonds of chosen families and sex positivity is exoticizing and the fetishization of people of color. Cloaking the drag shows and current RuPaul extravaganzas is transphobia and classism. Undergirding the glorious pride parades is opportunistic capitalism disguised as rainbow colored clothing and liquor bottles. And on the outside of it all and within it for those who may be in denial, we don’t talk enough about how hard it is to be queer within the queer community. We don’t talk enough about the innerworkings of our family – a family that has been devastated by trauma and hatred AND a family that can exude exclusivity. And we surely don’t talk enough about the REAL history of the queer rights movements and the harm (along with the liberation) that came with it.
Family can only be family when it can look within itself and reform. The queer community can only be queer when it can be honest within itself just as we proclaim to the outside world to be authentic, be true, be yourself. The chosen family that many queer folks have because of the complete denial of their biological families shouldn’t come with conditions based on physicality, race, money, class, physique, etc. I shouldn’t have to starve myself or workout every day to feel beautiful or included but I still struggle with it today.
It’s time for accountability, family. It’s time to hold ourselves accountable for the moments we deny our siblings their dignity and humanity. Because this is life or death. This is life giving or death dealing. This is perpetuating societal norms that manifest into bodily harm or full body acceptance. And I know that’s hard. I know we want to feel safe and protected. I know we don’t want to crack what has given us a sense of acceptance. But we must.
We must deal with our history. White, queer folk must do the inner work of dismantling our racism and white supremacy (because yes, you can be queer and perpetuate systems of racism and white supremacy). Toxic masculinity and body shaming must be interrupted. Intersectional thinking must be cultivated because our oppression is connected to the oppression of others and their “otherness”. We must do this work and do it in love and do it for our queer family.
It’s still interesting for me to say that I found wholeness in my faith – which at one point broke me and continues to break queer folk. It’s interesting because it is through my faith and the teachings of Christ that I was able to look within, to disrupt a false reality, to see systems that keep us from our humanity and divinity. And I don’t want to be an apologist for Christianity, but I do hope that no matter faith or spirituality or creed, queer folk can look deep within ourselves and each family member within the community. To look deep to see that spark of the divine that is longing to ignite instead of being put out, that glittery humanity that wants to be loved instead of judged, that divinely queer soul that needs nourishment and fullness instead of malnutrition and emptiness.
I love my queer siblings. I love my queer community. And it is through that love that I write these words. We can be better. We can love better. And we can do it all looking fabulous in our own ways, in our own embodiment, and in our own divinely made selves. So let’s get to work, family.
Rev. Lee Catoe (he|him) is the managing editor of Unbound and the Associate for Young Adult Social Witness for the Presbyterian Church (USA).