Posted by: aediculaantinoi | October 20, 2010

Spirit Day Follow-Up

Today, Jason on The Wild Hunt blog linked to my various posts here on Spirit Day. I’ve been seeing a lot more traffic here than usual, as a result, and several other folks have done so as well. I appreciate the implied approval of my efforts here!

However, in the comments on The Wild Hunt post above, I am taking a lot of heat about “missing the point” of all the Spirit Day, “It Gets Better,” and so forth projects and efforts. A lot of this critique is coming from gay men, who have also said disparaging things about me being closeted or using a pseudonym. I’ll leave that aside at present, and address the main issue that these critiques have raised (most of which, it seems to me, have probably not read my full entries on these topics, but instead have just read the excerpt given by Jason in his entry).

What these various critics have generally said is that the point of all these efforts is to give hope to those who are in danger, because hope is what will keep them alive. Hope is not a bad thing at all, and indeed through more situations in my life than I’d like to admit, living in hope has been about all I could do. But, hope isn’t enough.

Hope can be a false mistress. No matter how much one hopes certain things will change or get better or an outcome one seeks might arise, one can rarely be certain that it will turn out that way. Note that people who are successful and content in their lives don’t hope that their fifty job applications turn up an interview, or hope that the next paycheck will get them through bills and food the next month, they simply live in assurance that these things are taken care of. When such a person is hit with cancer, for example, they’ll then learn the value of hope; but if, like many, they find that their insurance won’t cover treatment, or won’t get them the best treatment available, they’ll hope until their last breath that there will be a way out…and they may not have their hopes fulfilled, unfortunately. Telling people in difficulty that they should hope more is horrible, especially when one might be able to help in more direct ways.

[Let’s also ignore the fact, for the moment, that all of the Christians out there who are praying that all the LGBTQI people will see the error of their ways and convert to Christ are also using hope as a weapon against us. While this doesn’t sour the overall usefulness or importance of hope for anyone/everyone else, nonetheless, let’s keep this in perspective. They are carrying signs that say “God Hates Fags” in front of Iraqi soldier funerals because they have hope that we’ll embrace their message and see the error of our ways.]

The “It Gets Better” campaign is a good thing, if it does give people the hope to carry on–do not get me wrong, I am not saying the program shouldn’t exist, or that it is a bad thing. I’m saying that it isn’t enough, there needs to be more alongside it, and that the complacency that many are having as a result of saying “Well, you’re just knocking these things down” really needs to be examined for the privilege and security that belies such viewpoints. If all that is sustaining someone is hope, as soon as that hope is broken or in any way compromised, then that person’s reason to carry on and continue trying despite difficulties is suddenly robbed of them, and they have nothing. Far too often, those who live on hope either die on hope or die in its absence. Hope isn’t enough.

Telling bullied LGBTQI kids that they need to have hope, and that in time things will change, is the equivalent of telling a caged and tortured slave “Keep hope alive–in a few years, you might be free like I am!” Meanwhile, the torture and forced labor and horrific conditions continue. And while I wish it were possible to, in this metaphor, free the enslaved now, it is sadly not possible. Thus, telling them in the meantime, “Well, keep hoping” just seems cruel. I’d like to give them a shield in the meantime so that the torture isn’t as damaging as it was; I’d like to give them a sword to rise up against their oppressors; and I’d like most of all to give them a key to unlock their own chains and fling open the doors of their own cages. I wish there were more options open to me to do this for them. So, in the meantime, I don’t want to just say “Keep hope alive!” and if you survive the next few years, you might be free; I want to say that there are ways to loosen those chains and make the whip sting less strongly, even if I can’t give those keys and shields and swords to them right now. Thus I offer what I’ve offered here.

So, the steady stream of hope that is coming from these various efforts is a good thing, and I would not ever suggest that it shouldn’t occur. But, I think we can’t stop there. I don’t ever want to tell someone who is drowning just to hope and pray (ironically enough!), I want to throw them a rope if I have one, or a life ring if I have one, even if I can’t come out in a boat and lift them into safety immediately. Those of us who are not drowning have a responsibility to do this, I think.


  1. […] We now come to the deified abstraction Spes, “Hope.” Given my remarks earlier today about how “hope isn’t enough,” I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think hope is useful or even positive […]

  2. YES this. Right here. So this.

    • Thank you for your approval and your support. I do appreciate it, and it means a lot to me, even though you are someone I know and count as a good friend. 🙂

      I was really getting upset there with how much flack I was taking over my opinions from gay men. It isn’t as if I was sniping and not offering alternatives or further suggestions; and it isn’t even that I was saying any of these things aren’t worthwhile. But, of course, this is the internet, and heavens forbid anyone be contextual or reasonable in their abilities to discuss…or, something. 😦

    • Thank you for your continued support and solidarity, my friend! 😉

  3. Hope isn’t enough.

    I’m reminded of Patrick West’s book Conspicuous Compassion – his basic premise being that wearing coloured ribbons, signing internet petitions, and sticking red noses on cars are all manifestations of a culture of “ostentatious caring” which is aimed primarily at feeling good (“informing other people how “caring” you are) – and that this does not necessarily translate into “doing good.” West’s thesis is that public displays of empathy do not change the world for the better (he’s talking primarily about the UK, btw). He asserts for example, that “empathy ribbons” are mainly about informing one’s peers how caring one is. West says this is fostering a culture where gesture is seen as equivalent to action.

    I think there’s definitely a touch of this on the GLAAD website:

    “Wearing purple on October 20 is a simple way to show the world that you stand by these courageous young people and a simple way to stand UP to the bullies.”

    I can’t really see how turning my facebook profile pic purple is actually going to make a difference.

    • I think I’m really going to have to pick up this book. And yeah, I was thinking much along the same lines. This really nails it, right here.

      Mind if I quote this in my blog?

    • Precisely. And yet, I’m still being told on comments that I don’t get it, and that this effort is akin to Harriet Tubman saying to slaves “You’ll be free, sooner if I can get to you, but meanwhile just hang in there.” Not acknowledging the privilege inherent in such a position–where it is non-bullied kids, and non-bullies, and adults who are the only ones that can really make a difference, but for the other 364 days of the year they don’t have to wear purple or endure the constant battle that the bullied kids have to–is what is making me the most angry in this situation.

  4. A few links you might find interesting – Purple shirt, empty gesture and When it’s not LGBT suicide and Why I don’t like Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project as a response to bullying

    The weakness of GLAAD’s campaign seemed to me to be not so much the “hope” aspect (although I think you’ve made some very valid points in respect to that), but the way it was primarily oriented towards online participation – as in changing one’s facebook or twitter profile, placing a logo on a website, etc. I guess my knee-jerk reaction was that as a form of activism, it seems less risky and effort-inducing than physical participation (some useful discussion on traditional forms of activism vs web 2.0 here and here) – another thing I had in mind was the pagan/magical equivalent – a “debate” that’s often come up in pagan activist circles between those who advocate direct action (ranging from protest camps to agit-prop street theatre) and those who just want to participate “on the astral plane”. It’s interesting that one of the respondents on TWH mentioned the Day of Silence and Transgender Remembrance Day because I think that there are significant differences between Spirit Day and these other initiatives – one aspect being in the way the internet is used as a tool for dissemination of information and organising, but the primary mode of engagement is in non-mediated forms of activism.

    • Yes, very much with you on that–purple Facebook pages or photos do nothing, risk nothing, and I seriously doubt very many random suicidal bullied teens are going to flip through FB and then suddenly go, “Oh, there’s reason to live–thirty people I don’t know have purple on their pages.”

      I can also see how certain aspects of, for lack of a better term, “metaphysical” actions (including ones I’ve suggested) may seem rather useless as well–prayer, spells, doing things astrally, etc. That always gets on my case a bit, when people say they’re going to do something on the astral but they won’t walk down the street from their house or drive across town (or take the bus or what have you) to show up for something in-person. If one of the great things about paganism is that we have an acknowledgment of the actual physical body and the worth and wonder of actual physical things, why the emphasis on the “superiority” of doing things non-physically? It’s a mystery to me…

  5. […] are also some great discussions in the comments regarding Lupus’ follow-up post on Spirit Day. Well worth taking a look, as well as some of […]

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