Ode to Our Survival in this Great Wide World, or, Fight On, Dear Queers of Color, Fight on: A Love Letter
by Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes
Dear Queers of Color,
It is by no bit of chance that we are here. We are, beyond doubt, fervent and tenacious survivors of a long, bloody and vicious battle- one of many- against the powerful, daunting, and violent forces of Hegemony, of Normalization, of History. History would not have wanted us here, it would have wanted to obliterate us, as it has many of our fallen. (And it is by no bit of chance that our fallen have fallen, for we are being systematically undone.) For centuries, those who came before us made their way through the thick and thin of it, vigorous and weary. I want to tell you that I am glad you are still here. I am glad you are still here. And I am glad I am still here. Because otherwise, among other things, there wouldn’t be moments like this to risk ourselves within. The world is a jagged place, and that we manage to survive it at all is often miraculous to me. I often think of Audre Lorde’s Litany For Survival. I am often awed that through all the centuries that have been architectured for the genocides of our ancestors, I, somehow, am here and You, somehow, are here. I think about those of us, differently raced and racialized, differently queered bodies, who fight tooth and nail and skin and bone and blood to just find a tiny little space in the world to breathe and love and feel freedoms on our skin and in our hearts in ways that so much of the world would not want us to~ and I am stunned that we are here, nonetheless, breathing, and loving, and creating powerful work, smiling to the sky, even if also, crying rivers from which we learn how to swim.
And I am enraged. I am enraged that we have been made to feel small in the world.
Will we ever learn, completely, wholly, through and through, to stop apologizing for who we are?
Some of us apologize all the time for who we are, in very loving, self-deprecating humour – confessing with the jolly of forthcoming change, or desire for change, of our sad, alienated, lives in the soil of these United States. Our moralistic subjectivities which we fight tenaciously, our poorly educated intellects which evidence an America bent on an amnesiatic storying of the world and itself in it, infuriating us over the necessity of having to expend energies on learning what we should have been taught since our beginnings. We stand like anti-scouts, queer and tall, some of us pledging our sincerest apologies for being products of the Reagan era, or for our monolingualisms, or for the blindnesses wrought upon us by our privileges, of skin, class, gender, or nation. And we try so hard to be something else, something less alienated, less violent. Something deconstructive and haunted and responsible and we apologise for failing again and again – if apology can also be read in the unflinching commitment to wake up tomorrow and try again. To give of ourselves, again. To tear open our chests and throw ourselves heart first, again and again, into the wide open terrain of struggle: for something else than this, for each other, for a justice that keeps us awake at night, and that we understand as possible, however interminably deferred.
But these are not the manifestations, the acrobatics and elocutions of apologetics I am bringing into question. This dance, the fight to always be more for the world, I entirely condone with every particle of my being. No, it is something else I want to evoke here.
In Colombia, where my family is from, homophobia not only lurks around any bend with an assaulting word or glare or fist or gun, but government-sanctioned programs for social cleansing, Limpiezas, have essentially, extrajudicially, mandated the elimination of particular kinds of queer bodies from the streets: the attempt- in this ‘totalitarian democracy’- at some wicked dream of a purified body politic. Moving through queer spaces both here and there, I look around me, and I think about the Limpiezas, the pinche fucking Limpiezas. I think about the world—a world, this world, chock fucking full of fucking Limpiezas, quiet and loud, and I think about all the different ways we meet the world everyday in the aim to survive-to survive the State, (for State brutality can be so undiscerning, and where it does discern, I fear that you and I are not of the type they would choose to spare. But then, that is in part why we are who we are)…to survive our families, our education, our health system, our economy and its poverties, our prisons, every system, every violence, every heartbreaking assault on our worth, …to survive, even, or also, ourselves… it is all one unbelievably, staggeringly, massive systemic and systematic Limpieza.
But where, I have been wondering, is the space to unapologetically love who we love, and be who we are, however heterogeneous to ourselves we may be day to day, hour to hour, breath to breath? How do we learn to walk through this world, rendering ourselves- skin and bone and heart and soul- completely and utterly unapologetic for having survived, for having remained or become that which a world would never have wanted us to be? How do we stop apologizing- for being queer, for not being white enough, for not being woman enough or man enough or Christian enough or productive enough or sufficiently bourgeois? When did it become so difficult, so challenging, so desperately frightening to claim our stake in what it is to be who we are and live what we live? Against the growing tide of normalization, as it rises and swells in great waves aimed at drowning us all; and against the security of an anaesthetized homogenization of the spirit- we must all fight hard, so hard. And I see us fight all the time, I do! Fighting to grow deep into our difference, completely and utterly unapologetically.
We must grow deep into our difference. We must vow, like Shange writes Cypress, to avenge our kin and kindred, living and dead, blood-lined, inherited, and otherwise, to avenge by way of refusal, by way of staking our claims, by way of following our dreams, by swearing to those who come into the world after us that the world shall not make us feel ugly, or useless, or dirty, or ashamed. That nobody, and no thing shall make us small. That we shall not be made to feel as though our skin is too dark; our speech or bodies or desire too crooked and staining; our rage or intellect or poetry too threatening; our dreams too ridiculous; our histories too long. We must vow to survive, to thrive, in the always and never aloneness that is this curious hustle we call life.
We must grow deep into our difference. That, I believe, is where our magic is rooted. And we must fight! Always! Warriors of the hither and tither, we carry the past on our backs, the ghosts of places and times and histories: of genocides, and colonization, of revolutions as grand event and as small, intimate refusals- both memorialized and forgotten, whispering in our ears. We collectively conspire with the present, the dead and the living, with those here and absent, towards infinite and hopeful futures. With such resolve and contention, do we revolt, fists and words and passions in the air, holding tightly to our insistence against a violent order on which our politics rail, shouting “We shall not be tempered!!”
For this, and so much more, I am in love with you. You, dear Queers, dear fellow Queers of Color, I am in love with you, because you are so strange. You are exquisite. You are breathtaking. You are beautiful. We are powerful in ways we do and don’t yet see, and I am proud to be amongst you, to fight by your side.
Thank you for being you.
Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes is a U.S.-born and raised, Queer, Colombian, scholar, activist, and writer-artist living in San Francisco, California. Her work includes photography, advocacy research in Colombia and the U.S., prose and poetry, and performance. She is the singer in a group called “Casi Pájaros”, is a co-founder of FCQ! and a passionate advocate for social justice.