(A helpful reminder — care of teachushistory.org — that this ain’t the first revolution.)
For anyone out there wondering: Fagbug was a huge success. We had nearly 50 people attend (significantly trumping our previous record attendance of seven), our academic dean apparently teared up talking with Erin, and Erin herself blogged that it was “one of the most powerful days” she’s had in awhile. It was pretty powerful from my perspective, too. The weeks leading up to last week’s two events haven’t been easy ones, as readers of this blog well know, and I’ve found myself asking the “Is it worth it?” question more often lately than I would like. The sponsor for the GSA has apparently been asking a similar question (about whether she hurt me, in encouraging me to resurrect this group from the dead). I don’t think either of us realized what we were taking on when we first set out to do this, and now that we have a better sense of the battle, we struggle trying to weight that against the tiny revolutions we’re seeing on campus, to determine which wins out: the progress or the pain. And actually, more than the notion of taking something hurtful and turning it into something good, and more than the specific issues of hate crimes and homophobia, that question — “is it worth it?” — is what struck me, spending that Thursday with Erin.
One of the hardest things to grasp about Erin’s story is that its outcome (to the extent that it has one, yet), is so complicated. Her own community, back in Albany, has largely turned against her. Even as she gained support internationally, she was losing it back home. The majority of the people leading the “boycott” against Fagbug were at one time friends of Erin, and if I remember correctly, 99% of the negative response has come from within the gay community, not the rest of society. Watching the bits of her film that she shared with us, listening to her speak, and talking with her more personally throughout the day, I found myself wondering more and more whether she felt it had been worth it. It was clear, despite her commitment to the cause, that what she’s done and continues to do has taken a toll on her, has worn her down in some regards, and it was hard for me to see that. Although I hesitate to think I’ve been through anything close to what she’s experienced, I feel I can relate to some extent. My choice to restart the GSA, like her choice to continue driving the Fagbug, has had some fairly serious and “uncomfortable” consequences, and as many reasons as I have to love my university, I often consider transferring almost solely because, as a queer person, I feel so out of place. Each time, people push me to remember the positive changes I’m helping to enact here, but it’s difficult — sometimes — to believe that social progress is worth such personal loss. Is it worth being tokenized, ostracized, misunderstood, or simply mis-fitted? Is it worth having my college experience transformed, even partially, into a battle to drag my school kicking and screaming into the 21st century? More often than not, when professors or staff here attempt to suggest I have a responsibility to stay and help the community progress, I shake my head and struggle to explain that isn’t what I set out to do. I came to school for the same reasons anyone else would: to go to class, to learn, to meet people, to have a social network, to further challenge and become myself. Revolution, with all its casualties and mess, was not on my to-do list. So, is it worth it? Is this revolution worth my loss? Is Erin’s? Or anyone’s?
More and more, what I realize — at least for myself — is that there’s no existant answer to that question. The initial choice — to start the GSA, in my case — was a relatively long time ago, and many other choices (and unexpected consequences) have sprung out of it. There’s no way to look back now and wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t done that, because so many “thats” have taken place. I would have to break it down to every meeting, every person we’ve involved, every event we’ve held, every argument we’ve made about why to hold them, and further even than that, further than I can conceive here to dissect things. Even if it were possible to imagine, clearly, what my life would be if I had done things differently — gone to a different school, re-closeted myself for college, been less vocal than I am — there’s no weighing the gains against the losses, life after against life before, or the university’s progress against my own sense of angst.
The more I think about it, the more I think my desire (or any “radical’s” desire) to second-guess such choices is a critique of the wrong issue. I think what we’re experiencing, actually, is not the result of poor decisions, but a problem of poor alternatives. As I told Erin after she left, as grateful as I am for what she’s doing, and as much as I admire her for keeping at it, it makes me sad that she’s been presented with a situation that calls for it. It bothers me that there’s any reason for us to keep fighting this battle, to keep sacrificing our personal needs in favor of public ones, or ignoring public ones to take care of our individual selves (as we have every right to do.) It’s not that the battle isn’t worth it; it’s that the issue isn’t worth being an issue. Fighting homopobia is a valid cause, but continuing homophobia (for instance) is a mantle that should long since have been given up. Until it is, the individual suffering that corresponds with a battle for change, has to continue. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s the problem, not our attempted solutions, that are really wrong. For me, that’s reason to continue the fight, but it’s also reason to be vocal that this is a choice no one should have to make. We should not live in a society that’s so divided, that presents us with choices like “college or social acceptance,” “community or increased awareness.” Like any good multiple-choice test, we need that final option, that additional alternative marked “all of the above.”