So I’ve worked in community organizing for a few years now in academic, professional, and personal contexts across a range of issues. In that time, I’ve hosted events, participated in events, delivered workshops, and attended mandatory HR focused equity-based education and community-led initiatives from pure interest alone. Over this time, I’ve picked up on a trend that’s been nagging at me for a while. I can’t help but notice that queer and trans folks – facilitators, organizers, speakers, community members, participants – are routinely asked: give us more stories. Tell us what you’ve been through and what you’ve overcome. Tell us stories of your failures and your successes. And while the intentions are positive (productive, even!) the message is clear – everyone loves queer trauma.
Of course, a lot of these requests come up in educational settings, like equity-based workshops for organizations. We recognize that personal narratives are valuable learning tools that illustrate the day-to-day realities of broader concepts and principles. And certainly, sharing stories and speaking to personal truths are colossal sources of empowerment when they’re offered of their own volition and their own accord. Voluntary disclosures can help folks find support, break taboos, and signal a staunch refusal to be silenced, and thus mobilize advocacy campaigns and catalyze broader activist resistance and social movements.
However, the constant demands for disclosure from non-community members rest on (most times, unintentional) assumptions based in covert power dynamics that reinforce harmful narratives against 2SLGBTQ+ and marginalized communities at large.
Ultimately, such requests render complex and multifaceted experiences of hardship, trauma, and violence into simplistic and palatable narratives to be used by the heterosexual mainstream to enhance their learning, no matter the personal cost of disclosure. In expecting these stories, we assume that trauma is a feature of the past, and that 2SLGBTQ+ folks are able to distance themselves from their own experiences enough to engage publicly in their own pain. Additionally, the over-reliance on stories and personal experience suggests that community members must volunteer their trauma to afford legitimacy to their subject matter expertise, reinforcing the prevalent narrative that 2SLGBTQ+ life and pain are fundamentally inextricable. This is not to suggest that those who want to volunteer their truths should be silenced; we’re simply aim to raise consciousness toward the fact that even our most benevolent and well-intentioned learning processes operate within systems-level power dynamics that uphold the status quo.