About My Name
In which I was invited to share my story, was asked to edit it down, said "no" because "what came out was what needs to be read", and they passed on it
This summer I was invited to share a bit about myself for an old colleague’s new newsletter. They were highlighting folx they were inspired by, and I happened to be one of those people. I don’t often receive unsolicited requests; I was flattered. So I said, “sure!”
I got an email back with a list of questions and prompts to respond to. I was told to pick 3 and try and keep my responses brief. Reviewing them, I wasn’t all that inspired, but I set to the task anyway. I said I would do it.
And did it, I did!
Not only that, I’m hella proud of my responses. They clarify some core values I have and clearly express what it means to me to be a White Descendent of the United States of America (more on that soon!) who co-creates alongside an intergenerational, multi-racial, cross-territorial community of Black, trans, queer, indigenous, immigrant, displaced, disabled, and youth artists.
So I submitted it along with the illustrated self portrait below. After writing it, I didn’t want to include a photo portrait because a photo gives a false sense of self—it pretends to not be distorted. In my responses, I am trying to find clarity through a positional perspective, which by its nature is distorted. An illustration feels like a better representation of that distortion through perspective. You cannot truly see me other than the way I want you to see me.
And isn’t that ultimately what we want: self determination, identification, and autonomy while moving towards racial, trans, queer, disabled, poor liberation?
Well…I was asked to submit a photo (instead of the “beautiful illustration”) and to edit my piece down to fit the proper “length”.
The person who invited me to be a part of their newsletter meant well. They want to lift up people doing activism and advocacy work, and they want to share our stories with their audiences. That’s (mostly) wonderful.
It was also an unpaid effort. I needed to assess my own value and determine how I wanted to respond to what seemed like an unnecessarily rigid structure. I sat with the response and realized that I was being asked to compromise on who I am. I passed.
So here it is as it was submitted.
Name: Jason Wyman
Twitter Handle: @queerlycomplex
Tell us about you (your name, how you spend your time, how you relate to the concept of activism or advocacy on a personal level):
My name, Jason, means healer. It’s always been a source of tension and liberation. Healing is central to my movement through and occupation in this material world. Healer, on the other hand, implies a certain kind of expertise and study. I am definitely not an expert, nor do I care to be, nor do I even want to be seen in that light.
My reaction to expert or expertise is deeply interwoven with my understanding and experience of whiteness. White is often and almost always considered expert, and the structures of study that support societally recognized expertise are the structures of White Supremacy. As a beneficiary of these structures, I have a duty and obligation to actively work towards dismantling whiteness (aka White Supremacy). For me, healing and whiteness are immiscible.
And so for me to truly live my name I must redefine it as “a process of healing” and define my healing as “abolishing White Supremacy”. So Jason means Abolishing White Supremacy.
What inspired you to first step into action?
My understanding, criticality, and commitment to the abolition of White Supremacy is intricately tied to my coming out at the age of 18 while in seminary to be a priest at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. It was December 1994 and right before Winter Break. The rector found out I was queer thanks to his boss cruising for sex at the University of Minnesota bathroom, the same bathroom I was cruising. He pulled me into his office and told me I wasn’t kicked out of the University, but I was not allowed back to the seminary in the Spring.
I could only afford school because the seminary subsidized it. Without additional resources, aid, and support, there was no way I would be able to continue my education. I feared I would not be able to stay at the University of St. Thomas, so I reached out to a student group, Commitment to Diversity, and met with their founder Stacey Danner.
The year before I came to St. Thomas, white students burned a cross on the front lawn of a home housing Black students. A coalition of Black, Latinx, indigenous, and white students founded Commitment to Diversity as a means to address the systemic racism of both the University and the Catholic Church.
During my meeting with Stacey, he called me out for staring and told me that if I wanted his support and the support of Commitment to Diversity I needed to quickly come to terms with my own racism and prejudice. If I showed I was willing to work, he’d use whatever resources Commitment to Diversity had to increase my financial aid and find me housing.
My survival as a queer at St. Thomas became dependent on my addressing my whiteness and my racism. That forever linked my queerness to racial justice; there is no Queer without racial liberation.
What advice do you have for folks who want to step into advocacy but aren't sure how?
I don’t give advice. Giving advice assumes expertise, and…..see answer one. 😉
What I do have are some insights and questions from my own life that may (or may not) be helpful in examining personal and collective value(s).
I also want to recognize that these insights and questions come from a plurality of Black, indigenous, immigrant, trans, queer, disabled, poor, houseless, young, and older folx with whom I have had the honor and privilege to co-create over the last 25+ years. While I cannot name the specificity from whom an insight or question comes from, I cannot claim these solely as my own.
I offer these insights and questions about value(s), White Supremacy, and intentionality because they help me determine my own actions and movements (aka advocacy).
What you value determines your decisions.
ASK: What do you value? What do your values tell you about what you find valuable? How do your decisions align with your values and what you find valuable?
WHITE SUPREMACY (Please see this link for more in-depth information about White Supremacy Culture.)
White Supremacy is pervasive and extends beyond white folx. It is a system of thought and a culture of unspoken mores as much as it is the structures of law.
ASK: What thoughts and mores do you have that uphold White Supremacy? When have you supported or benefitted from the structures of White Supremacy? How are you abolishing White Supremacy?
Yes, intentionality of actions matter, and so does the way those actions are perceived regardless of intention.
ASK: Why do you want to take action? What response will you have when / if someone calls into question the intentions of your actions? How can you better understand the intentions and perceptions of your actions?