Today is the first St. Valentine’s Day in three years in which I write a new blog about what this day means to me. In 2009 I wrote one wherein I recount why St. Valentine was a historical figure worthy of recognition especially in these times and reiterate my support for marriage equality. (These may seem like disparate themes, but trust me, they come together in the blog.) Rather than write a new post, I simply pulled The Spirit of Love and Resistance Behind St. Valentine's Day from the archives and put it back into circulation every February 14th.
This year is different because St. Valentine's Day has acquired deeper significance to me. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year, I learned that I have breast cancer. For many reasons, it has been challenging to reveal my condition to those I know who love and appreciate me never mind acquaintances, colleagues and virtual strangers who follow me on social media. While I got over the shock of the diagnosis fairly quickly – I had to – accepting this frightening contour to my identity enough to make it public has been more difficult.
So why am I “coming out” today as a person with cancer? I do it to acknowledge all the queer women of color in my life who have stepped up for me since I was diagnosed. Rest assured, I have been showered with heartfelt messages of love and encouragement and genuine offers of support from people of all walks of life. Every one of them has been integral in activating and sustaining my new warrior mode, reminding me of how too blessed I am to not beat this disease. All of these people are soldiers in my quickly formed and ever-growing wellness army.
But there have been certain sister-friends who have played immediate and special roles through the early days of my devastation and terror. Not even weeks after my diagnosis, the woman I affectionately call my Minister of Defense and her husband helped me clean and reorganize my bedroom so that it can be a space much more conducive to my healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, she has been fielding the outpouring of concern from our mutual friends and has appointed herself the coordinator of my extended support system – rides, meals, escapes and other things I may need as I undergo treatment. My Minister of Defense and I were supposed to leave for Sundance a few days after I was diagnosed. Not only did she cancel her trip, she let the others we were going to stay with about my condition. Upon receiving the news, those women made time in their hectic festival schedule to pray and chant in community for my recovery.
It was critical for me to not wait until conventional treatment started to take action towards healing myself. I needed to build my sense of agency as well as my immune system, and before I could even take the first step, my Minister of Defense and another friend teamed up to split the cost of having a box of organic fruits and vegetables shipped to my house each week so I can juice every day. I could not afford to do this otherwise. They also take turns accompanying me to my appointments which is not only of comfort to me but to my elderly parents who insist on coming with me. When not taking the copious notes and posing the questions that I may be too overwhelmed or frightened to ask, they are engaging my parents in the language in which they feel most comfortable about anything and everything but the fact that their youngest adult child is facing a life-threatening illness. It helps them, and that in turn, supports me. Another lifelong friend – a doctor who is facing a challenging transition of her own at this time – not only sent me hundreds of dollars in health assessment and improvement kits including immunity-boosting supplements, she flew to New York City so we could have an ol’ fashion slumber party in her hotel room.
In the fight for my life, these women have been on the frontline. Each of them, at one point in her life, has been in a romantic partnership with another woman. Because I had not gone public with my diagnosis, one of the friends who went to Sundance actually sent me an email to ask permission to tell her partner because her wife had a very strong relationship to powerful ancestors who answered her prayers. I have no doubt that she organized the prayer circle for me in Park City even when her primary reason for being at Sundance was to premiere and promote her own film. All this slander against LGBT people, painting them as ungodly, immoral and such, when from where I sit, they are the most spiritual and even prayerful folks I know.
This is not the first time I have written about being an appreciative ally. I am the first to say that heterosexual people especially women owe a tremendous debt to the LGBTQ struggle for some of the sexual freedoms we enjoy. Ironic as it may seem, the boundaries queer people bend and bust at the risk of their own lives in many ways expand our heteronormative privilege. Their radical decision to be simply who they are makes it much safer for the rest of us to redefine who we may want to be. We have a broader range of acceptable sexual expression because of the queer liberation movement for every time they push the envelope, they set a new “normal,” and it’s not even they who benefit the most for their courage. Rather it is those of us whose sexual identity is already validated.
While I admit now that this is an oversimplistic analogy, I liken it to how the presence of Malcolm X made the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. more palatable in a society where his ideas were already deemed radical. Same visions, different philosophies, both to the left of what was considered acceptable and therefore also dangerous and vulnerable to the status quo. They needed each other to survive long enough to make the impact that the rest of us, regardless of what we may believe, continue to enjoy today.
Perhaps I am stretching for meaning behind my receiving the news on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day this year, but one thing remains true. For the longest time I have felt that in many ways I can choose to do with my life and body – have (a certain kind of) sex or not, get married or not, have children or not – because the authentic living of openly queer women make it more permissible for me to make choices that buck the heteronormativity that attempts to govern even my life as a straight woman. What I do or not and why or not is on me, no doubt. But I have more sexual choices that carry less negative repercussions because of their sacrifices as much if not more than any other freedom movement.
And so it is on this St. Valentine’s Day, the lapsed Catholic with breast cancer is reminded yet again in the most visceral way why supporting full equality and acceptance of LGBTQ people is not some noble feat of reneging her privilege. It is a radical act of self-preservation. In more ways than I can count, queer sisters keep saving me. Again, I am humbled, appreciative and grateful to new depths of my being.
The day after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California affirmed the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8, I sat in a waiting room at the Evelyn H. Lauder Breast Cancer Center with my parents and a lesbian “sister from another mister.” She reminded me of the previous day’s historic significance. We slapped a high five, and I joked, “If these MFers can’t support marriage equality because they can’t see past their religious dogma that it’s the right thing to do, at least do it because it’s strategic. It’s good fiscal policy!”
“You know how many people would flock to get married?” my friend said. “How much money that would put into the economy?”
“It’s a recession, yo,” I reminded no one. I reminded myself, however, how lucky I am. Here I face the biggest challenge of my life, and choosing to be on the right side of justice is proving to be one of the most brilliantly selfish things I ever did.