Since 2009 I've shared every year during the month of June a series of "Queer Appreciation" posts. Each series is comprised of a number of informed and insightful writings to mark Gay Pride Month . . . or, as I prefer to call it (since 2011), Queer Appreciation Month. I always made a point of including in each series a diverse range of writers and topics, and in general the writings I share are positive, proactive and celebratory.
I begin this year's series 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 excerpt from Shirt of Flame shared below, Imani challenges us in our response to violence and ignorance. Do we choose to "wield a sword forged of Fear" or embody, like a "garment grown in Love," the wisdom and compassion that have forged our lives as LGBTQI people?
Like heroines and heroes in a fairy tale, LGBT[QI] people are at that point in the quest where all chasms have been crossed, all chimera dispatched, all riddles answered. We have emerged from a cavern onto the mountaintop, where we're faced with the choice between two blazing weapons, a fiery sword or a Shirt of Flame – equally forged of power and pain, but only one of which will win the battle to save kingdom and soul.
We have reached a critical juncture. The decision we make now between fiery sword and shirt of flame will define the existence and pronounce the fate of all LGBT[QI] people, born and unborn, for decades to come. To create positive, genuine, lasting change in culture and policy we just have to take up the correct weapon: the thunderbolt – the Shirt of Flame.
Most things begin violently, but then there is always a choice. We cannot choose whether or not we enter the world underwater, in a mansion or in the projects, just as we cannot control the behaviors of peers, caregivers and strangers who train us in the ways of the world. Like clay that wakes up on the potter's wheel, we cannot help our placement nor so much our shape, but, once we are awake, we can each control what it taken into the vessel of our being and, entirely and most importantly, what comes out.
We LGBT[QI] people and our allies cannot help the preponderance of error an ignorant and fearful society put into the fashioning of our individual vessels on that tilting potter's wheel. For most of us, the defining process of nurturing was like riding one of the broken machines of creation, wheel spinning vengefully, thoughtlessly deforming usand shrinking us from our natural potential. Now, we can't help shrieking on the wheel as we painfully grow beyond the limitations of ingrained mental models about sexuality and gender. Our feelings in response to unloving, untrue and violent rhetoric and behavior – our indignant anger and our hurt – are all natural and appropriate.
At the same time, we are on the mountaintop. We are choosing between those blazing weapons, fiery sword or shirt of flame. At every moment of our battle for integrity and actual equality, we have our choice of response to violence and ignorance. We choose to either wield a sword forged of Fear or wear a garment grown in Love. We choose between conflict and cultivation. If we want to end oppression,
we will all have to make the most helpful choice, individually and collectively. Will we choose destruction or growth? Disease or wholeness? Rot or transformation? Lies or truth? Stupefaction or revelation? A weapon of Fear or one of Love?
In all the amazing expanse of our universe, there are only these two fundamental ways to respond to any situation: with Love or with Fear.
Think back through your day for a moment in those terms – every action you took today began as a source thought of alarm or attraction.
For example, for different people exercising may result from love (i.e. "taking care of my body because I love myself") or from fear of stigma, illness or loneliness. In every moment, you chose, actively or by default, to embody either Fear or Love. The good news is that whichever you chose a moment ago, now you can choose again.
The tendency is to think that you made your choice long ago, with one careless act or a single gentleness. Really, though, the initiation never ends; every moment, each individual is on that mythical mountaintop deciding between Fear and Love. Every moment, each of us has the option to change her or his mind.
In our battle, choosing the weapon of Love is the first step of a new journey that offers not only ultimate victory but the achievement of our personal and communal full, abundant, and joyful existence. Fear's blade offers only an ending, a trembling and a death.
Neither path is easy. They are twin fires. Making the choice between Love and Fear is to be "Consumed by either fire or fire," as poet T.S. Eliot offers in Little Gidding. Choosing the path of inspiration and Love leads through a fire all its own, as Love brings up everything unlike itself. No sooner do we declare what we want to have, be and do than everything we don't want shows up at our door! As Marianne Williamson puts it in Enchanted Love, "Any time there is a chance for deep love, there is standing in front of that love a wall of fire. That fire might take the form of something burning within you – an inner condition – or it might take the form of an outer circumstance. But there is never love without fire . . . the presence of that fire does not say, 'Go away' . . . the presence of that fire says, 'Here, if you are strong enough to take it, is love.'" Choosing Love does not mean we will not be tested and derided, but we can pass through any tempering fire if we only hold to Love. That you undertake this journey at all proves your mythic courage.
. . . As LGBT[QI] individuals and as a queer community, the time has come to make a bold and decisive commitment to the most congruent and effective means to create change that we can muster given our current knowledge. We must choose wisely, for only one option nourishes life. Our enemies have already made their choice – the sword of Fear, falsity and dissolution. We must choose growth, wholeness, transcendence, truth, revelation, cultivation and Love!
However, we must remember that Love is not a hoe, not a hammer. Love is not a pen, saw, mask, nor ship to sail across our conflict laying on a daybed eating grapes. Love is not even a weapon. Love may not be wielded and then yielded when the war is won. This Love is the "thunderbolt within," a power which cannot be displaced nor lulled back to sleep once awakened. To choose the instrument of Love is to don the intolerable shirt of flame: to put on the garment, a second and shimmering skin, the very being, of Love. Each of us must become Love, in chosen, earthy, and real Incarnation, by choosing to respond to every situation with it.
– Ko Imani
Excerpted from Shirt of Flame:
The Secret Gay Art of War
Excerpted from Shirt of Flame:
The Secret Gay Art of War
of the Pulse Gay Nightclub Massacre,
Orlando Martyrs Commemorated
in “Triptych for the 49”
The Wild Reed's 2016 Queer Appreciation post of solace, inspiration and hope:
• "I Will Dance"
The Wild Reed's 2015 Queer Appreciation series:
• Vittorio Lingiardi on the Limits of the Hetero/Homo Dichotomy
• Reclaiming and Re-Queering Pride
• Standing with Jennicet Gutiérrez, "the Mother of Our Newest Stonewall Movement"
• Questions for Archbishop Kurtz re. the U.S. Bishops' Response to the Supreme Court's Marriage Equality Ruling
• Clyde Hall: "All Gay People, in One Form or Another, Have Something to Give to This World, Something Rich and Very Wonderful"
• The (Same-Love) Dance Goes On
The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation series:
• Michael Bayly's "The Kiss" Wins the People's Choice Award at This Year's Twin Cities Pride Art Exhibition
• Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
• Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
• Steven W. Thrasher on the Bland and Misleading "Gay Inc" Treatment of the Struggle to Overturn Prop 8
• Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that "Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters"
• Sister Teresa Forcades on Queer Theology
• Omar Akersim: Muslim and Gay
• Catholics Make Their Voices Heard on LGBTQ Issues
The Wild Reed's 2013 Queer Appreciation series:
• Doing Papa Proud
• Jesse Bering: "It’s Time to Throw 'Sexual Preference' into the Vernacular Trash"
• Dan Savage on How Leather Guys, Dykes on Bikes, Go-Go Boys, and Drag Queens Have Helped the LGBT Movement
• On Brokeback Mountain: Remembering Queer Lives and Loves Never Fully Realized
• Manly Love
• A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2013
• Worldwide Gay Pride – 2013
The Wild Reed's 2012 Queer Appreciation series:
• The Theology of Gay Pride
• Bi God, Somebody Listen
• North America: Perhaps Once the "Queerest Continent on the Planet"
• Gay Men and Modern Dance
• A Spirit of Defiance
• A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2012
• Worldwide Gay Pride – 2012
The Wild Reed's 2011 Gay Pride/Queer Appreciation series:
• Gay Pride: A Celebration of True Humility
• Dusty Springfield: Queer Icon
• Gay Pioneer Malcolm Boyd on Survival – and Victory – with Grace
• Senator Scott Dibble's Message of Hope and Optimism
• Parvez Sharma on Islam and Homosexuality
• A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2011
• Worldwide Gay Pride – 2011
The Wild Reed’s 2010 Gay Pride series:
• Standing Strong
• Growing Strong
• Jesus and Homosexuality
• It Is Not Good To Be Alone
• The Bisexual: “Living Consciously and Consistently in the Place Where the Twain Meet”
• Spirituality and the Gay Experience
• Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
• A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2010
• Worldwide Gay Pride – 2010
The Wild Reed's 2009 Gay Pride series:
• A Mother’s Request to President Obama: Full Equality for My Gay Son
• Marriage Equality in Massachusetts: Five Years On
• It Shouldn’t Matter. Except It Does
• Gay Pride as a Christian Event
• Not Just Another Political Special Interest Group
• Can You Hear Me, Yet, My Friend?
• A Catholic Presence at Gay Pride – 2009
• Worldwide Gay Pride – 2009