Liberation: A Spiritual Call To Action
by Blaire Mazur
Imagine, for a moment, that you are applying to schools to further your education. You are filling out the application for federal financial aid (FAFSA). Then suddenly, you come upon this question that asks you if you had ever been arrested for possession or selling of illegal drugs. If you are honest and reveal that part of your history then you will be denied federal financial aid. Let's try another scenario: you are arrested for having sex in public with someone of your same sex. Suddenly, the sheriff of your town has your name plastered in your local paper. Or consider this example: a young transgender woman is trying to get clean yet no detoxification center will take her unless she wears men's clothing, doesn't talk about who she is, and lives, showers, and eats with the men's community.
For some of us, these are real events that occur for addicts or compulsively-natured people. These are institutional acts of oppression that have helped to foster guilt and shame within us. They have kept us bonded to our often-painful pasts and our addictions. Eleanor Roosevelt acknowledged that no one can oppress us without our consent. By staying invisible, what message are we giving to others about our own human dignity and self worth?
How do we as queer recovering persons help liberate ourselves? James Cone, author of God of the Oppressed says, "Liberation is knowledge of self. It is a vocation to affirm who (we) are created to be. No one can be liberated until all are liberated." In the Bible, Esther's journey as Queen of Persia is in jeopardy because her people are being killed through the manipulative efforts of Hamman. She must make a choice to come out as a Jewish woman or remain hidden in her closet. She ultimately decides that in order to save her people she must be willing to take a risk. A risk that could harm her or save her people. Her choice to take the risk led her and her people to freedom.
Are we, as recovering people, ready to take that same risk? Are we willing to come out as queers in recovery to help make it easier for those who will come after us, or do we feel that anonymity is our protector? If we are, at what level are we ready to come out? Coming out isn't always a fiery or passionate calling. For some, it is a quiet whisper that holds strong faith, dedication and perseverance. Bayard Rustin, a civil rights advocate that worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, said that "when a individual is protesting society's refusal to acknowledge his or her own dignity as a human being, his or her own very act of protest confers dignity upon his or her self."
Some of you may ask, "Why should I bother getting involved?" Did you know that most insurance companies don't cover relapse prevention? Are you sure that treatment for addiction is covered under your policy? How about if your insurance company has a cap on mental health services? Did you know that only two agencies in New York State openly acknowledge that they provide services for lesbians? Are you sure that your treatment center has had multicultural and diversity issue training or does it not have the budget to implement it into counselor training? What happens if you lose your job and you have no health insurance? If states are now mandating laws around HIV disclosure, what makes you think that mandating addiction history is not too far down the road? Audre Lorde wrote in her book The Transformation of Silence into Language, "My silences have not protected me. Your silence will not protect you."
The Stonewall riots, a turning point in queer history, were not fought by the average gay man or lesbian woman. They were tranny boys and girls, sissies, drag kings, street hookers, homeless queers and many others who were too butch or too femme to hide in mainstream America. For them, that night signified a crucial change. It was a night when they would no longer get in the paddy wagon. They had nothing to lose by all materialistic standards. They had everything to gain by their actions. They gained a sense of inner dignity and courage that no one could take from them. This event helped to stop the police raids on bars and significantly marked a shift in queer liberation. As queer people, this is but one example of the spiritual power of community. One single action helped to change how others see our communities. Might your action be to show up at lobby day, or to write to Legislators to demand that changes be made in the healthcare and social services for recovering peoples? Perhaps you could organize a list of queer clean and sober places that our communities may socialize? Maybe your answer to the call to action is to march in the clean and sober contingent for NYC Pride or possibly to join the national recovery movement that is developing throughout the country. What risks for liberation are YOU ready to take?