My speech at the Fort Wayne Equality March, Sunday, June 11, 2017:
You’ve heard a lot of people talking today about equality and inclusion, asking for dignity and respect from Republican politicians. I’m here with a challenge for the community of people listening to me, asking you to keep making the LGBTQ+ community always more inclusive, because if being queer means being who you truly are, with support and acceptance from the people around you, then everyone should be queer.
In 1988, when I was 17 years old, I came out as a lesbian and experienced for about a year the welcome of the Kansas City gay scene. Then I realized that “bisexual” was more accurate—if the year hadn’t been 1989, I would have had words like “pansexual” or “queer” to describe a diffuse sexual orientation, but I used the word I had—and suddenly the welcome became quite a bit cooler, and remained so. Eventually I gave up on participating in the LGBTQ+ community.
I have made my way back to the community over the past several years because this is my tribe. During the time I was gone, trans activists have done so much to push things in the direction of inclusivity in the LGBTQ+ community in a way that I, with my internalized feeling that I didn’t really belong anyway, couldn’t have done. But transgender people spoke up and said, “Hey, you’re not representing me” or “Hey, that was transphobic” or “Hey, we have some additional issues that you L and G people haven’t thought of.” Thank you for this work, my trans and gender-queer comrades—you’ve made it easier for me to feel I belong here, too.
By pushing against the binary model of gender, these trans activists have complicated the previously tidy binaries of sexual orientation as well: a lesbian whose partner transitions from female to male: can she still be queer? A person who gets involved with a non-binary-gendered person: what’s the word for that orientation? The complicated Venn diagrams that result from queering the sexual orientation binary by exploding the gender binary have resulted in a proliferation of initials for what used to be the LGB movement and then became the LGBT movement. And with this expansion of identity categories came the snowflake insult—starting several years before the alt-right began overusing the word as an insult for any liberal or Democrat, the word was used to mock people whose sexual or gender identity was deemed too specific, too unique.
But we could all own it, couldn’t we, just as we turned the word “queer” from an insult into an identity category? Every person who becomes part of the LGBTQ+ community has fought a battle, either internal, external, or both, to live their lives in the world in a way that reflects the reality of their hearts. We are all snowflakes: unique, beautiful, fragile. When our political opponents insult us with the word “snowflake,” they aren’t just talking to us but to their own children as well, and they are expressing a clear set of values: (1) Being like everyone else is mandatory. (2) Being sensitive or fragile is weakness and will not be tolerated.
Those of us who have struggled to discover who we truly are and to live that openly in the world, who have become toughened by adversity but not so tough that we have lost our fragility and ability to feel—have a different message: Please join us, whoever you are. We will welcome you.
At the end of the fight, in 50 years or 100 years or maybe in 10 years, when LGBTQ+ people will have won every legal battle and the social battles as well—when that day comes, and historians look back on the progress of the movement, they will see a steady march toward both more embrace of uniqueness and an ever-greater inclusion of difference . . . and that won’t seem strange to them at all, because they will see with hindsight that our movement all along was about letting individuals be who they are with the support of a community.
In the meantime, we can move toward that future every day by finding the common ground that connects us, each of us finding ways to fight for each other’s rights, trusting that those others will turn around and fight for mine.
Is there room in the movement for both the two men who want a monogamous marriage, white picket fence, 2.5 children and a dog and for me, the queer lady in her nonmonogamous marriage with a man? Is there room in the movement for people at the far ends of the gender spectrum and for those in the middle, or whose gender expression shifts fluidly? Is there room for the straight cis-gendered guy who was bullied as a kid because he loved art and musical theater and wants to make the world a better place for his future children? If we want to change the world, the answer had better be yes.
I read last night that Ice Cube chided Bill Maher for his use of a racial slur, saying, “That’s our word now, and you can’t have it back.” Words have power, and I want to own “snowflake.” We are all of us snowflakes if we have the courage to be, and however beautiful and fragile snowflakes are, if they join together into a snowball, they can pack one hell of a wallop to a big ugly orange toupee!
Rachel E. Hile