Let’s Talk About Space, Privilege, and Priorities

The last few years have been a total whirlwind for me. As Let’s Queer Things Up just celebrated its third birthday (yay!), I’ve been reflecting a lot about the work that I do, the spaces I do that work in, and the intentionality behind what I’m doing. I want to shed a little light on the big picture here, as well as my vision for this platform (and the work I do outside of it) moving forward.

LQTU started as a personal blog. I wanted to carve out a small space for myself to share my experiences as a transgender, non-binary, gay, and mentally ill person. Having grown up in the age of FreeWebs and LiveJournal, my idea for this space was finding validation as a person whose lived experiences were seldom seen or acknowledged, and to find community in that process.

I didn’t expect that the blog would go viral. And I definitely didn’t expect that, to date, we would have a Facebook community of over 22,000 people. I didn’t know I would have the amazing opportunities that I do now, writing for many social justice platforms, being published in books and anthologies, and being able to share my journey with some amazing folks out there.

I didn’t recognize my own power. And most of all, what I didn’t know going into this was the kind of responsibility that would fall on my shoulders when I became so visible in the community and beyond it.

Lately, folks have reached out to challenge me and ask how I’m making use of that responsibility. Particularly, as a person with privileges around race, class, and education (to name a few), folks in the community have rightfully pushed back to ask me what kind of intention I’m putting into what I do. So I want to share some of that intention — especially because when you encounter a piece of mine on the internet, the context around it is not apparent.

It’s also my hope that this inspires my other privileged queer content creators to join me in putting some serious thought into how they take up space. Because if we’re not doing this work mindfully, we have no business doing it.

First off, I want to define my spaces. Let’s Queer Things Up (the website you’re currently perusing!) is still a personal blog. For a short time, we sought out guest contributors to bring in more diverse perspectives — but I quickly decided that I couldn’t justify not paying marginalized contributors for their labor. Social capital rarely translates to financial capital; this left me in a difficult position of not wanting to center my privileges, but also not wanting to speak on behalf of marginalized folks.

This is the predicament, I think, for many marginalized writers. Many of us have privilege in some form or another, and we want to share our experiences, but also don’t want to center our experiences. This is not an easy thing to navigate. Staying in your lane is central to social justice work — and it requires constant self-reflection and unlearning. This is a process that has no finite ending point; it is constant work, and work that I’m still doing.

Which is a big reason why the Facebook community was originally built. It actually has a much farther reach and significantly more engagement than the blog itself (in other words, more folks participate there than on this site), which meant I could boost the signal on important work that other folks in the community are doing. I opened up the Facebook community as a way to challenge my readers to consider perspectives other than my own.

I maintained this blog separately, then, as a space to get to know me and to process my experiences. Truthfully, I’m still trying to figure out how to do this responsibly — and I’ve been in dialogue with numerous marginalized bloggers, in conversation about the ethics of blogging in social justice spaces, navigating power, privilege, and space.

Our personal experiences do not exist outside of current systems. So how can we speak for ourselves without reinforcing those existing power dynamics? Is that even possible to do effectively? And how, exactly?

There aren’t easy answers to this. Anyone could look at anything someone writes and ask why they haven’t covered every possible perspective or marginalization. The question then becomes, “How can I write this, for myself and for my community, but still ensure that I’m not erasing other folks and also not speaking over or for them?”

This has been a question I’ve been grappling with throughout my career, especially as I become more and more visible in this work.

Until I feel confident in my answer (who knows when that will be), I’ve pulled back from blogging quite a bit. I personally decided to step back and publish less here, and focus my work on other platforms like Everyday Feminism, The Establishment, and Rewire, where my work was edited by folks who are firmly committed to being as intersectional as possible — and called me on my shit when it didn’t measure up. That has been a learning process far more valuable than what I’ve gained by blogging solo.

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll notice a big shift in what I’ve written recently as I continue to tangle with these questions.

This piece at The Establishment, for example, exemplifies the direction my writing has ultimately taken — divulging personal experience while also endeavoring to acknowledge how that perspective is situated in larger systems of oppression. I’ve also tried to shift more into a memoir/prose-poetry style at times, like this piece at Unapologetic Feminism, which I believe helps create more defined boundaries about what I can and can’t speak to.

Many of you know this, but I also began working as an editor. My belief was that I could use my expertise to help uplift other marginalized writers, and advocate for opportunities and access. Even in that work, there’s always the question of space. There will always be the question of space.

So in the last year, I have strictly worked with platforms that were founded and run by a QTPoC-majority (Everyday Feminism and RESIST specifically), doing this because I believe that no platform that is centering marginalized folks should have a privileged majority. These platforms had a firm commitment to not diminishing the voices of oppressed folks — and that’s why I specifically sought out work with these folks.

Writers like myself who have visibility are in the unique and difficult position of publicly evolving. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that when I started writing, I didn’t do so with a lot of intention or consideration of the big picture. I think if you find writing online to be easy, you’re probably not putting enough thought behind how you’re doing it.

In the last few months especially, people have asked me about my “big picture” — what it looks like, who I show up for, and how I show up in the world.

And I love these questions. I love them because they challenge me to align my actions with my values. I love them because I know it comes from a place of folks believing in my capacity to do shit and do it right. I love these questions because we should be asking everyone with social capital to be thoughtful about how they’re leveraging it, especially if they’re privileged in some way.

More than anything, folks have asked me how I, as a white trans person, am showing up for queer and trans folks of color. I’ve answered these questions privately, sometimes posting on Facebook to address it publicly, but I haven’t written about it here until now — in part because I wanted to have a more cohesive plan moving forward instead of just publishing a list of empty promises, and in part because I was unsure of how to have this conversation in a way that didn’t position me as a Super Duper Great Anti-Racist Ally™.

Someone recently and rightfully pointed out to me that by quietly sharing articles by QTPoC, occasionally posting on the Facebook community about race, calling folks out here and there, and not making my stance crystal clear here on the blog for folks to access, I’ve ended up creating a lot of silence and complacency around this. Folks only see glimpses of what I stand for, rather than knowing without a doubt what I stand for and what actions I’m taking.

Like many white queers, at times I wind up showing up when it’s convenient, rather than really thinking through what I’m doing and making sure it’s an integral and consistent part of the work, instead of something I duck in and out of.

And that’s why I’m opening up this conversation — I want to engage with my readership and my community, and think through the ways in which I can be more intentional about supporting marginalized folks, and especially QTPoC who have done so much to support this work that I do.

Let’s talk about the concrete stuff first.

Right now, I’ve got my sights set on the Facebook community, because it’s by far the most visible. Specifically, I’m putting together a small team to take on a larger role in managing the community.

There’s so much potential to utilize this space to bring greater visibility to shit that really matters, and so I’m inviting folks to shape the community into a more radical reflection that extends beyond my limited perspective. I’m tapping into the funds from my Patreon to start making this happen, to ensure that these folks will receive some kind of compensation, as well as using my own funds to do this.

To be clear, I’m not asking these folks to do the emotional labor of moderating; I’m asking them to curate and share resources that they think are important, as well as finding ways to create better systems of accountability to ensure that I’m prioritizing those most marginalized in my community. I’m creating shared access to an audience that, previously, I was the only one managing. In this way, the space can begin to decenter my perspective and start to broaden the issues that we cover and the voices we amplify.

Additionally, I’m working on putting my support behind specific platforms. This is in the form of donations (in particular, I’ve recently shifted some of my Patreon donations to RaceBaitR and Rest for Resistance, which I highly encourage folks to donate directly to). While I don’t have a lot of financial capital right now, once I secure full-time work, all of my Patreon funds will shift towards supporting other platforms doing this work, particular folks at the intersections of anti-Blackness and queerness.

I’ve also reached out to different organizations and Facebook communities to learn how I can best support them. Right now, my focus is directly promoting their content and converting traffic to them, boosting the signal on this vital work — especially for pages and activists who have a much smaller following than I do.

(If you have suggestions about activists, communities, or online platforms I should be supporting, please tweet me @SamDylanFinch!)

I’ll also keep up with the personal ethics I’ve set for myself. I won’t be speaking on panels that do not have a POC-majority, just as I won’t work for organizations or write for platforms that do not have an explicit (and proven) commitment to those most marginalized. I will explicitly challenge and name organizations and platforms that continue to keep those most marginalized at the bottom rungs of the ladder rather than represented at all levels and in all roles.

I will continue to pass along speaking engagements, writing gigs, and other opportunities that I have to folks who traditionally don’t have access to these things. I will share my professional relationships and expertise to help more and more marginalized writers access better opportunities. And I will only write on topics which I have lived experience of, continuing to be as thoughtful as possible about how I frame those pieces.

And I’ll be listening — with an open inbox and an open mind — to the feedback that I get, recognizing that I will mess up, and that I’m responsible for doing the labor to make it right.

I know a lot of writers who tell me that they didn’t ask to be visible, and therefore they aren’t responsible for how they use that visibility. I disagree with that completely. I realize that navigating this can be messy and difficult, and involves a lot of growing pains, but I think anyone who has access to social capital has an ethical obligation to think critically about how they’re using it.

And in the end, that’s why I’m opening up a dialogue with my readers about this — particularly because from the beginning, I’ve noticed a lot of privileged white queers in my community that put my work on a pedestal, while making no effort to seek out other voices — like queer and trans folks of color, working class queers, undocumented queers, fat queers — because they conflate queerness with whiteness, with economic privilege, with thinness, with a particular privileged and disconnected experience of queerness as if our queerness makes us all the same (intersectionality, anyone?).

I know what that looks like in action, too, because as I’ve navigated these public spaces, I’ve seen myself reinforce that same idea when I’m not being purposeful about how I do the work — that the “queer community” I write to is somehow a reflection of myself, rather than making a sincere effort to expand and diversify perspectives rather than centering my own. I am constantly undoing this assumption as it comes to the surface in my own work.

I know that I have to follow up and do the work now. I’m hoping that this will act as an impetus for other folks, especially white queer content creators like myself, to also step up and be publicly and explicitly accountable for how they inhabit spaces online and who they’re showing up for (and most importantly, who they aren’t).

I know this work is messy, and I know it requires that we not just sit in our discomfort, but fully inhabit it and peel it back layer-by-layer. I know it can reveal some really uncomfortable truths about ourselves — believe me, in my last few years of doing this, I’ve seen some really ugly truths about myself. The unlearning never stops. The work never ends.

But that’s because oppression and injustice doesn’t take a break, either — and you can choose to let it be background noise and tune it out, as so many folks often do, or you can tune in and fully acquaint yourself with it, choosing to do what’s right rather than what’s comfortable. You always have a choice, which is the most empowering and simultaneously horrifying thing about privilege; you have a choice that other marginalized folks never do.

That in mind, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my choices. I want to invite other privileged folks in social justice spaces, especially those with visibility or access to resources, to consider their choices, too. Name your values. Examine your actions. Parse out the discrepancies.

And I want to invite my readership, particularly those furthest at the margins who have the energy and desire to engage, into a larger conversation about the community we’re building together. How can I show up for you? How can I make you feel seen?

Lastly, and most important of all, I want to thank the folks who continue to challenge me to think critically about how I move through the world. That labor is a gift — one that I wasn’t owed — and your belief in me and my capacity to do good and important work is something that I don’t take for granted.

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to take this thing that I’ve built these past few years and use it in just, equitable, and liberating ways. And I’m appreciative of the folks who stand behind me and cheer me on as I do it — but to do this work ethically, I know that my place in this work is not at the forefront.

There’s a place for everyone in this movement. But we have to carefully consider where, exactly, that place is, knowing when to step up and went to step aside. I’m grateful to finally be seen. But not if it obscures everyone else.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Space, Privilege, and Priorities

  1. bobcabkings says:

    There’s a lot here to ponder for any activist and/or writer stepping into subjects touched by marginalization, oppression, ignorance, or denial. It is too easy for our privileges to be unconscious, and the resulting world views and their expression in action and writing unexamined. Thank you for taking all that so seriously, and in doing so challenging others to do so also.

    Liked by 2 people

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