[Jason's] Unfolding Queer Cosmology, The Third Post
in which remembrances and epiphanies at Wounded Knee unfold
Note: This is the third post in a new series I am now titling [Jason’s] Unfolding Queer Cosmology. The name has changed to better reflect the specificity of the Queer Cosmology. It is [mine]. [I] references that it also is not mine, solely.
This is not the beginning. This is not complete. The ending of this post is not the end.
A Grounding (edited from “The First Post”)
This is a work-in-progress (just like me, just like us).
We are not complete. We are neither a beginning nor an end. We exist only now.
May the now that is unfolding unfold all.
I remember the first time I really realized I was white. I was 18, and I had just been kicked out of seminary for being queer. As a result, I needed housing and additional financial aid FAST. I had six weeks between the end of Fall Semester and the start of Spring Semester to figure it all out.
I reached out to Stacey Danner, co-founder of the student group Commitment to Diversity at the University of St. Thomas, the campus on which the seminary was located. We met in the seminary dorms. I stared. Stacey told me I was being racist. (More context here.)
Looking back, I still see it so clearly even if those details are not exact. I was scrawny, my voice higher pitched, exuberant anxiety spilled out all of my limbs. I cried more than I laughed, and everyone saw me laughing all the time. I was constantly terrified that I would lose everything because queers always lost everything. In fact, queers simply died of AIDS.
Being called racist in a moment of utter terror for my future snapped something inside me. It changed the entirety of my life for it opened up an entirely new path. I could confront my racism and see what happened. Or I could not confront my racism and know what would happen. I realized in almost a split second that the unknown was way less terrifying than the known.
I apologized immediately to Stacey and became hyper aware of my eye movements. He accepted my apology and told me to go do some work. He pointed me towards looking up Peggy McIntosh as a starting point. I thanked him for the pointer. I got to work.
Over the winter break, I went to the Minneapolis Public Library and started researching Peggy McIntosh, white privilege, and the People's History of the United States. I was shocked to learn how so much of the foundations of the United States and our global economy are built upon the legalities of White. White is law. It isn't just a skin tone.
There is an exercise I was introduced to in 1996 by the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond. It starts with a timeline of who was legally defined as White according to laws written by the government of the United States. Then, it lays out all of the laws that excluded non-Whites from property, education, voting, housing, banking. The purpose is to clearly show how race is not a simple imagined construct; it is a legal construct, one that that assigns power to white folx and oppresses non-white folx, especially Black and indigenous folx.
I remember seeing this timeline so neatly presented, and I was again confronted with the reality that my physical body was a result of political decisions made by men who look like me. Other white folx in the training were overwhelmed by this discovery; it was the first time they ever felt the weight of White. It is not easy to realize that the entirety of history and reality that you've been made to believe is fair is actually a system of legal oppression and that you do, in fact, benefit from it. For me, it was another decisive moment. I could choose to learn from and accept this new reality—one that had deep, material consequence for non-white folx—or I could suppress the reality unfolding and cling to my belief that the world is fair.
The choice was clear: learn and accept.
It was the same decision I made two years earlier.
I have started a new project. I am sharing space and time with artists across this country and talking about our personal and collective understanding and non-understanding of anti-racism, anti-fascism, and anti-capitalism and mutual aid. I offer that these are the words I’ve chosen, and they may not best represent the other artist’s desires, values, or dreams. So new words like decolonization, settler colonialism, providing, patriarchy, dreams, love, and cosmology are expanding our understanding and offering new non-understanding.
This project is fertile with remembrances and epiphanies. Threads once forgotten are suddenly noticed as crucial infrastructure in a cosmology that strongly works to undo generations of harm done in the name of the United States of America. I feel the ways my physical body occupies colonized territories, and I do not want it to perpetuate the violence done in the name of my ancestors, ones who have been and are politically deemed superior. I see the gravity of my movements, and I realize even something seemingly inconsequential ripples into future waves. I know I must be aware of my body and movements.
In a conversation with Native American artists James Pakootas (member of The Colville Confederated Tribes) and Maura Garcia (non-enrolled Cherokee and Mattamuskeet), Maura shared a motion of weaving via video. Her hands danced back and forth, and she spoke about the ways mutuality is also flow, streams, unending cycles. It is showing up for your peoples without expectation because mutuality already exists; it is being.
Her offering of weaving dance, flow, streams, unending cycles brings me back to Wounded Knee. I had just graduated high school and turned 18. I was on a Christian mission trip to Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota Sioux peoples in what is politically known as South Dakota. We were there to offer aid in the form of painting houses and sharing meals. We also required participation in our religious camp to receive aid. This is not mutuality.
Elders took us to Wounded Knee, and even though I cannot remember the exact contours of the landscape or the faces of those Oglala Lakota Sioux elders, the weight of the horrors of the United States still feel visceral. They make me nauseous as if the toxicity of White is bile in my stomach. I want to expel that which was known as foundational.
My exchange with James and Maura is changing the reality of my visit to Wounded Knee. I feel the grass beneath my feet, feel the hot August heat as I roam gravestones and memorials to people killed by the government that gave my family the right to their home. That trip was my first direct confrontation with the myth of the United States of America and this land that it occupies.
I now realize how the United States of America died for me that day.
A mere four months later, I would come out, get kicked out of seminary, and be called a racist. And Wounded Knee prepared me for all of it.
More is unfolding. It is ever unfolding. It even unfolds upon itself.
So there is more yet to come. Stay tuned.