Finding and Centering Queer Joy
by Sassafras Lowrey
Being part of the LGBTQ+ community can feel scary and overwhelming at times. Although in recent years, within the United States, there has been a tremendous cultural shift of welcoming and acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, but that doesn’t mean that homophobia and transphobia don’t still exist. From structural discrimination, to discrimination in religious institutions, and targeted hate crimes and violence it can be easy to be filled with despair and fear about your LGBTQ+ identity and the state of the world.
A couple of years ago, I was organizing a panel about queer writing at National Association of Writers & Writing conference. The panel involved me and several other queer authors talking about our artistic lives and practice and how to do that work in community. Towards the end of the presentation someone in the audience stood up and asked something to the effect of “with everything bad in the world happening to queer people, how can you possibly keep creating?” I remember taking a deep breath and responding “when I look at our world I can’t help but see the strength and beauty of our community.” There is no question that world can be an overwhelming place, we hear negative things about the LGBTQ+ community in the news, and it can feel scary and overwhelming seeing statistics but this moment has stuck with me, because it was so honest, vulnerable and reminded me so much about how important it is to me to as often as possible center queer joy.
In recent years, there has been a lot of conversation about “toxic positivity” — a phrase to refer to a way that people, sometimes especially online might use positivity as a way to minimize the suffering or hardship that others are experiencing. Toxic positivity is generally thought of as being disingenuous or performed happiness, denial, minimizing, and invalidating that hard or bad things are happening to others or in one’s own life. I think the difference between centering joy and being toxically positive is about not trying to see the world through rainbow tinted lenses, or pretend that bad things aren’t happening. Rather centering queer joy is about making a conscious decision to find moments of joy whenever and wherever you can, to celebrate the advancements and playfulness of LGBTQ+ culture even as we recognize the hard work that remains to be done to combat homophobic and transphobic discrimination.
Finding Queer Joy
For me finding queer joy is about finding ways to have your inner pride parade every day. It’s about finding ways to celebrate your identity and uniqueness and that of our entire community. It’s so easy to internalize the negative messages that we might hear on the news or the stereotypes we might see in mainstream media about who LGBTQ+ people are, or just as harmfully the absence of representation. To combat feeling invisible or marginalized, I like to find moments to always center the joyful, fun, creative, and empowering things I know exist about being LGBTQ+ and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole.
Here are some of my favorite tips for centering queer joy even during the time of COVID-19:
1. Make (virtual) Friends: One way to center queer joy is to surround yourself with LGBTQ+ people — obviously now because of the Pandemic that looks a bit different and will be virtually but the great thing about the internet is the opportunity to connect with LGBTQ+ people literally around the world. Meeting other LGBTQ+ people and learning about their lives and experiences always gives me jolt of pride and happiness.
2. Enjoy Queer Art: For me one of the best ways that I can channel queer joy into my life is to prioritize consuming art by queer artists: music, and books and films. I like to make sure that playlists on my phone are mostly queer artists so that the music that I’m ambiently taking in when I work or go for a walk are queerly affirming and centering LGBTQ+ lives and experiences. Creating your own art and sharing it with friends online is also a great way to release your creativity and brighten your mood.
3. Queer Vision Board: Print out pictures of things that you love about queer culture or events or places you want to someday visit. Hang queer art in your home or room, print out photos of queer family or friends to frame our pin up on your wall. Having visual representations of the community where you can see it can help to inspire and help you to feel more connected to your LGBTQ+ culture even if you are stuck at home. I even have a rainbow painted on the wall of my home office — so if you need an extra boost of pride I’m a fan of adding rainbows!
4. Know Your Queer History: It can be easy to feel isolated, especially right now with the pandemic keeping us separated from community. One strategy for centering queer joy in your life is to find ways to remember you aren’t alone, and for me that often looks like learning more about the history of LGBTQ community and people. There are amazing resources online for learning more about the history of the community, and of course there are books! One of my favorite new books for learning more about the community is Hugh Ryan’s book “When Brooklyn Was Queer” which gives a great look into the LGBTQ+ underground history in New York!
We can’t be happy all the time, and sometimes bad things happen, that’s just the way life works sometimes. Finding ways to keep yourself surrounded by beautiful representations of LGBTQ+ community might not change those bad things, but it can inspire, encourage, and fortify you to face the hard stuff head-on with rainbows and glitter!
About the Author:
Sassafras Lowrey’s novels and nonfiction books have been honored by organizations ranging from the American Library Association to the Lambda Literary Foundation and the Dog Writers Association of America. Sassafras’ work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired and numerous other newspapers and magazines. Sassafras has taught queer writing courses and workshops at LitReactor, the NYC Center For Fiction and at colleges, conferences, and LGBTQ youth centers across the country. www.SassafrasLowrey.com