Tuesday, June 30, 2020

“To Walk the World Without Masks”

The Wild Reed’s 2020 Queer Appreciation series continues with an excerpt from the book Shirt of Flame: The Secret Gay Art of War by Ko Imani.

Shirt of Flame explores how LGBTQI people can adopt a leadership role in co-creating a society of equality, freedom, justice, respect, truth, and growth by living our best lives – lives “grown in love” and filled with love, compassion, and community. For as Imani reminds us, “Demanding change without embodying change will never create change.”

In the following excerpt from Shirt of Flame, Imani challenges us to “walk the world without masks.” Obviously, in this time of the global coronavirus pandemic, this isn't a reference to actual physical, life-saving masks, but rather to the metaphorical “masks” of inauthentic, life-denying words and actions that we can be tempted to wear so as to avoid change and transformation – ours and the world's. Accompanying Imani’s words are images of queer men who, in my view, are living in the world without these metaphorical masks.

All of us, whether we consider ourselves activists or not, must recognize that our oppression, like a wall, is two sided, not one sided. Our focus must be turned inward and outward at the same time, but the only way we'll be able to hold both in mind gracefully is if we stop clinging to thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors that limit our attention and cause suffering. This is why self-control and self knowledge are inherent in our Power. We have to examine the ways in which we participate in our own oppression.

How many of us have walked down Main Street or through the park with a partner and not grabbed our beloved’s hand? For how many candlelit dinners in fine restaurants have we settled for eye contact from opposite sides of the table? How much of our time do we spend with the eyes in the back of our heads wide open, afraid to fully express our selves for fear of attack?

The answers? Too many. Too much.

Start small and just challenge yourself to observe the ways you think. In the examples just given, although there is an atmosphere of oppression that is sometimes present in public, and certainly there are situations in which it would be unsafe to do so, most of us actually oppress ourselves by not grabbing that hand, cupping that waist, offering that peck or special smile, or by only frequenting queer establishments. We do the oppressors’ hardest work for them by allowing ourselves to be boxed in. We assume the worst and that keeps us from our best.

You, yes, YOU, deserve a full, joyful, and abundant life filled with Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love, but if you wait for someone else, somebody “over there,” to give it to you on a platter – it ain’t gonna happen. You have to claim it for yourself.

A great example of claiming space is also one of my favorite memories from when the Rev. Fred Phelps’ family visited Ann Arbor, Michigan, in February 2001. My partner dropped me off near the University of Michigan early so I could prepare for my silent prayer vigil sitting among the Phelps family holding their "God Hates Fags" signs.

The first thing I saw after I got out of the car was an image more powerful than watching hundreds of same-sex couples make-out in the university commons later that day, more powerful than any speech I heard: I saw two young, punk men striding confidently across South University Avenue holding hands. What I didn’t see was any hint of self-consciousness, maybe a bit of defiance, true (the green mohawk was a clue), but I didn’t see a sideways glance, not a hesitation. Just the inspiring courage to walk the world without masks.

– Ko Imani
Excerpted from Shirt of Flame:
The Secret Gay Art of War

pp. 34-35

NEXT: What We Are Hoping and Fighting For

Related Off-site Link:
The One Choice You Can Make Today to Create the Beloved Community – Ko Imani (Whosoever, July 1, 2002).

For previous posts in the The Wild Reeds' 2020 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Zaylore Stout on Pride 2020: “What Do We Have to Be Proud Of?”
Francis DeBernardo on the U.S. Supreme Court Ruling on Title VII: “A Reason for All Catholics to Celebrate”
Mia Birdsong on the “Queering of Friendship”
The Distinguished Rhone Fraser: Cultural Critic, Bibliophile, and Dramatist

See also the previous posts:
Our Lives as LGBTQI People: “Garments Grown in Love”
Growing Strong
A Spirit of Defiance
Spirituality and the Gay Experience
Michael Bayly’s “The Kiss” Wins Award at Twin Cities Pride Art Exhibition

Images: Subjects and photographers unknown.

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