Let's Be Proud!
By Mariana García Jimeno** - Contributor
This month the world commemorates fifty years of the Stonewall riots, and the worldwide famous pride parades will take place. On these days, some people will go outside and participate, while others will consider it a vain or transient trend or even a marketing strategy. In any case, the truth is there are many reasons to be proud and celebrate diversity, love, and stepping out of the script that society has written for us.
To celebrate this momentous month, I want to tell you how my straight, cisgender feminism has been deconstructed and reconstructed through my work with LGBT people, summarized in four lessons I'll explain below.
I was born and raised in Colombia. My country fought a fifty-year long internal war, and just a few years ago, the government signed a peace agreement with the most prominent guerrilla group. For the last months, I've been working with Colombia Diversa, an organization that advocates for the rights of LGBT people. My work entails collecting information on violations against the LGBT population. Which has meant traveling to secluded places in the country where especially heinous attacks have been committed against LGBT people.
Therefore, through my work, I’ve been able to meet women and men who identify as part of the LGBT community, people who generally live in very precarious economic conditions and suffer multiple forms of oppression and violence.
I’ve spoken with mothers that lost their children in the war, and from here came my first lesson: the meaning of motherhood. Feminist theory has taught me several answers, depending on who I read. A “cultural” feminist would say that motherhood is the most important process that a woman can go through and that society should begin to recognize its importance and protect it. Basically, a cultural feminist would say a mother will always love her sons and daughters above all. On the other hand, a liberal feminist would say that maternity will be important for women only if they’re deciding whether or not they want to be mothers, in the same way men do. To achieve that equality and freedom to choose, decision-making power based on economic independence is indispensable.
Nevertheless, I learned that motherhood can be a process either freely chosen or imposed by society, that at no time necessarily follows from pregnancy or delivery. Love is such an inexplicable state of mind that I witnessed trans women and gay men taking care of homeless trans, gay or lesbian people just for the sake of solidarity and later becoming their “social” mothers or fathers and protecting them no matter what.
I also witnessed how parents (mostly mothers, I must say) could deeply love and care for their children and at the same time struggle with themselves and their children for their LGBT identity. Society has imposed so many burdens on the shoulders of mothers, and the truth is that within rural communities machismo is so strong that mothers are blamed over a lifetime for having brought "deviant" human beings into the world.
And thus, my second lesson surrounding the meaning of family. It's no secret that for a self-recognized feminist family is not the heaven on earth that religion and society try to defend. Families are full of violence, hence, the tons of laws proscribing marital rape, domestic violence, incest, etc. In many cases, this violence is worsened within biological families, and that's why in the LGBT community, social families are very common. Those families of people who have gone through similar processes of exclusion and who create networks of solidarity and affection that can be assimilated to what we consider a traditional family, even with established care and provider roles.
I also understood that many times biological families can only deal with having an LGBT member in the family through rejection because as a society we have perpetuated a negative and derogatory language to talk about LGBT people, and this becomes the only language available to describe what they’re living.
So here comes my third lesson. We make incalculable efforts to theorize about what gender identity is, what sexual orientation means, what gender expression encompasses, and many more concepts that will allow us to understand the reality in which we live. Likewise, we fight day and night for making body positivity a thing, for women to embrace their bodies and to challenge the modern rules of female aesthetics. We judge those who get plastic surgeries or artisanal procedures to be more voluptuous or thinner precisely because they perpetuate unattainable beauty standards for most. But here’s the lesson: gender is everything and nothing at the same time, we should be able to build our gender in any way we want. Gender is a constant process of becoming, and the truth is that these categories mean nothing to people who have had to live their own experiences without being able to use a language to explain what they feel. Understanding that gender is a social construct or that a woman is not born but instead becomes one is of little to no use when a body perfectly adapted to the idea of a woman is the only thing that can make a trans woman feel part of society and at the same time diminish her risk of making her gender identity evident, thus decreasing the violence and discrimination she can be subjected to.
In the absence of a language that people can use to describe their experiences, they often turn to someone with whom they don't need to use words. And this is where my last great lesson is: religion is a place of oppression for many, yes, no doubt, but at the same time the existence of a supreme being is for a lot of people the only hope of connection with someone else in this selfish and individual society. The constant contradictions between being judged but heard and forgiven are a relief for the suffering that characterizes the daily experiences of these people.
Each of these lessons gives me reasons to want to celebrate this month and take the streets to shout. First, to shout that being gay, lesbian, trans, queer, intersex, or any other way that people recognize themselves is part of beautiful human diversity. There's nothing to be embarrassed about, and there is no fault involved. I also want to shout that we call all be who we want to be. In this world, there is room for everyone -equally- no matter how we see ourselves, how we feel, or who we love. And third, I want to shout that LGBT people aren't alone, those willing to listen and love you without hesitation are more –myself included!
And so I conclude by telling you that Pride is not a purposeless day, it's not a simple fashion. It's a day in which we have the opportunity to shout loud, so loud that every single person who's ever felt ashamed or excluded at some time in their lives because of their sexual orientation or identity can listen to us saying, we are PROUD of you!
*This essay was originally written in Spanish, click here to read it.
**Mariana García Jimeno is a Colombian lawyer from Universidad de Los Andes with a Masters in Law from Harvard Law School. She currently works as a lawyer at Colombia Diversa and as a Law Lecturer at Universidad de Los Andes.
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