On: Being a Writer in a World That Needs Doctors

Bayard Rustin

We need doctors, not writers,” they say. “In the age of technology and social media, anyone can be a writer. Be something useful!

Because of this rhetoric, most days I feel as though I bring absolutely nothing to the table. What contributions do I offer to the world, or even just those around me? I don’t care to be an oncologist and diagnose tumors, so what good am I?

According to society:  none.

It’s no wonder I spend many nights panicking about the direction my 22-year-old life is headed. In a culture that worships doctors and neglects patients, it is easy to get caught up in unnecessary comparisons. In doing so, I often come to feel as though being an activist through writing is a cliché waste of energy for Black queer people. Of our many prominent historical figures, an overwhelming majority are notable artists. Is that all we are capable of? Is this what our ancestors fought and died for–so we can think and express our “feelings” instead of perform open-heart surgery?

Exactly.

The work of those before us was not done to secure a future in which all Black children would be doctors and lawyers. Their work was to secure a future in which all Black children could be doctors and lawyers, should they want to. And those who do not? We, too, have a purpose.

As individuals who have a way with words, pens, paintbrushes, and our bodies, we the “artsy activists” may not be the ones to discover the cure for HIV/AIDS or send future Zimmerman’s to prison. We may not be the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or creators of the product that causes the demise of Apple. But we will be (t)here in a multitude of ways. As a writer, I will be (t)here—using the power of my words to critique the system and teach diversity and inclusivity in professional spaces, thus demanding change throughout.

This is not to say that one cannot be both a writer and doctor. Many are. Many, however, are not; and so enters the social hierarchy forced upon us that values one type of individual over another. Doctors are regarded as highly intelligent masters of a craft. Writers are regarded as slackers. (There is also a lack of understanding as to why “minority” people may be more likely to study a ‘soft’ science.)

This work is not necessarily “fancy.” It does not require 12 years of college and a wardrobe of perfectly tailored suits. It does not make people ‘ooh’ and ‘aah.’ People often refer to activism through writing as “the easy way out.” They are misled. This work is not for the lazy. As a writer, I often find myself unable to produce writings because I feel as though my words have no value. As an activist, I often find myself unable care about the latest life lost because so many have come before and so many more are sure to follow. When constantly compared to those in more “admirable” fields, the constant ignorance surrounding our contributions to society leave me questioning why I even bother. The constant self-motivation, ostracizing, ignoring each “no,” attempting to create solidarity that is often one-sided…there is nothing easy about this way out. This is painful work. This is tiring work.

This is purposeful work.

What comes of activism through writing is a fundamentally grassroots effort at empowerment and the influence. Through writing, I heal, educate, and inspire. I tell the story of my 12-year-old lesbian self to the 12-year-old questioning themselves. I record incidents of oppression to use as evidence should society attempt to erase my community. I remember my oppression as a Black girl as I live through oppression (and privilege) as a Black man.

It takes a village to create change. The doctors are necessary, as are the lawyers and entrepreneurs; as are the dancers, the writers, and the filmmakers; as are we all in a movement greater than ourselves.

When people ask what I am studying in school, I say proudly, “Journalism with a minor in Community Development and Spanish.” I am no longer ashamed to be studying a “soft” science. I know that I don’t need to wear a white coat to make an impact. As a writer, as a social justice advocate, I delve into issues in “more respected” fields. I examine, albeit from a social standpoint, disparities in Black queer healthcare, exclusive laws, and inclusive business practices and create change. Current and future organizations I (will) take part in serve as spaces for Black queer people to exist freely.

We as a Black queer people have been silenced for endless decades, and that will not change with this generation. We are but stepping stones and pseudo-historians, using words and voices to tell the stories of our people and keep an accurate record of time—our time—so future generations know that we were here and we were queer. We lived, we loved, we laughed. We are worthy of the recognition society will surely attempt to deny us. We are inspiring. We are critical. We are here.

(Photo: State of the Re: Union)

Selfies of a Black Queer Boi: 002

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I ended up in Milwaukee on accident. It was an intentional move, at first. The plan was to stay only from July til January, work, save money, and transfer colleges. Work was hard to find and colleges were not cooperating. Soon, January became April. April became May. May became maybe. Maybe became must. Must became August 12, 9:13 AM.

It is August 12, 9:04 AM.

I finished packing bags and boxes of things I really don’t need just three hours ago. Sick of nibbling on pizza and juice, I began to reflect on the past 403 days.

I arrived in Milwaukee with positive thoughts. I am exiting with the same.

I didn’t learn to swim. I didn’t take a fencing class. I didn’t get back into dancing. I didn’t get my driver’s license. Those things, I suppose, will come in due time. I mustn’t dwell on my failures, for they are not failures until I have given up on them. And I have not given up on them. I merely got distracted by other opportunities.

This past year was full of expected misery, but also unexpected joy. I fulfilled old desires, sparked new flames, made new friends, visited three new states, attended a briefing at the White House, met (and befriended) personal role models, spoke on a panel, found myself published for the first time, gained two new brothers and reconnected with a sister, gained three pounds (hooray, 107!), became more bold, explored new types of interactions and relationships, and learned How to Be Black. I also learned how important I am, and how important I am not.

In two hours I will begin putting the lessons of these experiences to test in a new city full of new opportunity. I fear that in such a competitive place, a lazy lackluster boi such as myself won’t make it. But I will try. I will do. And I will not fail, for there is success simply in doing.

Infinite gratitude and love goes to those who helped make this past year survivable.

“Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”

― Judith Minty