On a cold mid-February night, my graduate school put on its largest show of the year – an annual benefit concert held at a local rock club. I had told Zora to come. Back in college, she always came to my performances. This would hardly be different, I said. No different at all.
Zora sat near the front row – I made sure of that. Meanwhile, backstage, friends shook me by the shoulders. “There’s no backing down now. This is it.” I was glad for that double-shot of whiskey that came around. I looked out over the lights.
Onstage, I enlisted the help of the audience – my classmates – maybe 400 of them. I wanted them to back me up – to sing with me. The parts weren’t hard.
And this is the story of how I proposed to Zora. I sang to her a vision of a joyful life – a life I wanted with her. I instructed the hearty 400 to continue singing while I hopped off the stage, took a knee, and asked her to marry me.
What followed after Zora’s “yes” were thunderous applause and shouts of joy – some from friends and some from strangers. Rounds upon rounds of drinks. Deep hugs, shared ecstasy. On this night, we had 400 witnesses to this deeply personal and universal joy. This was the memory I wanted for us both – not the song, not the performance, but the joy shared and compounded by 400 witnesses.
Zora deserved that joy after having to reclassify relationships that once mattered and were then dampened or washed away by homophobia. After we moved to a new city far from anywhere we called home and after we reacclimated to church community, I wanted this to be a moment shared, a joy shared. There had been enough pain, and there was yet room for expected joy.
Today, I want to talk about queer joy – why lifting up the joy of LGBTQ folks matters. And later, at the request of Que(e)ries, we’ll peek into the details of some more of those joys, which may include the story of our first home, our wedding, and the small moments of happiness that comprise our everyday.
We Count It As Joy
There’s this running acknowledgment that movie lesbians don’t fare well, that the music of queer women is melancholy, and that we are feminist killjoys (ever a compliment, if I’ve heard one).
The narrative of queerness – especially of queer women – is largely a narrative of sorrow: alienation and misunderstanding. As a woman of color, I see the same narrative repeated in other marginalized communities. But queer sorrow – our sorrow – does not blot out our joy.
Queer joy is a gift to a world that daily tastes a little joy and hungers for more. The exchange between queer experience and the experience of joy is rich, multi-directional, and life-giving. And while queer identity is certainly not the only lens through which a richer joy can be understood, it is for us a powerful prism through which to refract the spectrum.
As queer individuals:
We count it as joy to be gathered together.
We count it as joy to be able to express love.
We count it as joy to suffer for the sake of truth.
We count it as joy to celebrate and to fight and to do the work that remains to be done.
What Queer Joy Offers the World
Queer relationships illustrate a freedom from gender roles and stereotypes – out of earthly power dynamics and dehumanizing theories like complementarianism. They demonstrate an alternative to the subjugation of women that often plagues heterosexual relationships. They demonstrate the potential for all relationships to benefit from increased agency and respect, rather than assumed roles based on gender. They produce a lived-out alternative to relationships based on dominance. Queer relationships illustrate the joy of equity and empowerment.
Queer identity says in the face of exclusion that radical inclusion is possible. Queerness is an umbrella under which we cannot draw exclusionary boundaries, but rather, we must reach outward toward those whose experiences we do not understand and whom we call our siblings nonetheless. Queer identity says that those in my community are defined not as I see them but as they know themselves to be. Queer identity says that I may not understand my sibling, but that I must try, and that I must remain humble in the presence of mystery. Queer identity illustrates the joy of inclusive community.
Queer joy flies in the face of homophobia. Queer joy says in the face of danger that life abundant must continue. It says that we respond to societal shame with pride – a most joyous resistance. It says in the face of trauma that humans survive and thrive.
The Joy of Now and the Joy Yet to Come
I wish and work for a day yet to come without cisheteronormativity (the assumption that cisgender and heterosexual identities are defaults), where I do not worry at night if my wife will be denied healthcare at a hospital because of her identity, where I do not worry for families with queer parents, where people of exquisite vision for a world worth building are not extinguished, and where young people get the chance to grow up.
But there is abundant joy in my queer life and in countless queer lives. There is abundant joy in the smallest moments I share with my wife – in cooking a meal together, in reading beside each other in bed, in prayer, in making jokes at the grocery store – and there is abundant joy in the celebratory occasions we share. There is abundant joy in the communities that queer people call home, in the friendships that queer people have, and in the bodies that queer people inhabit.
This is a joy that permeates and enriches a world that can see it. Can you see it?