The Future Needs Queerness
*Copy of speech given at the Annual Affirmation Donor Dinner.
Last night I got a call from a friend who works in artificial intelligence development. His team was preparing to make a sizable financial commitment to a project they had been developing and during their meeting one of the men looked around the room and questioned, “Has anyone asked a woman about this?” There was an awkward silence among the men in the room until my friend said, “I know a woman who’s a transhumanist. We could try calling her.” I was grateful to receive their call and to have the opportunity to represent a perspective outside their personal demographic.
After the phone call, I found myself wondering what would an artificial intelligence be like without the experiences of gender and sexual minorities? We offer a unique perspective that if taken out of the narrative, paints a bleak and dismal future. What if suddenly all the queer people were gone? It can sometimes feel as if that’s what the world wants us to do—disappear or recode ourselves into a caricature that doesn’t challenge the perspectives of the reigning majority. What would humanity look like, be like, sound like, feel like without the philosophy, science, poetry, music, and art of queer people?
Alan Turing, British mathematician, scientist, and inventor of the Turing machine, was homosexual. Imagine the world of computer science without his contributions. Sally Ride, America physicist, astronaut, and lesbian, was the first and youngest American woman in space. Imagine NASA and space travel without her contributions to physics and robotics. What would the field of science and technology be like without our queerness?
Emily Dickenson challenged readers with poetry that blurred the lines of heterosexuality and homosexuality, including ambiguous gender identities. She, nor her poetry, could be defined as either lesbian or straight. Walt Whitman causes historians to wonder if his repeated homosexual themes in his poetry were expressions of his own desires, even though he was married to a woman. James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Virginia Wolf, and many more queer thinkers and writers have graced the world with their work. Artist Frida, my personal favorite, was openly bisexual and polyamorous. American pop artist, painter, and filmmaker, Andy Warhol, was homosexual. Photographer, Annie Leibovitz, is lesbian. What would the face of art, literature, and poetry look like without our queerness?
Actors and actresses have made roles come to life inspiring waves of imagination and social movement. Marlon Brando, The God Father, had homosexual relationships. Alec Guinness, also known as Obi Won Kenobi, was also homosexual. Neil Patrick Harris, most known for his staring roll in Doogie Howser, M. D., is homosexual. Ian McKellen, known for his roles as Magneto and Gandalf, is also homosexual. Angelina Jolie, Zachary Quinto, Ellen Page, Jodi Foster, Laverne Cox, Jazz Jennings, Thandie Newton, and many more. What would the world of cinema look like with our queerness?
Russian composer, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, though married to a woman, was most likely homosexual—a desire he tried to keep private and likely served as a major component of his life-long battle with depression. The landscape of music, both historical and contemporary has been graced by numerous queer artists. Elton John, Billi Holiday, David Bowie, Queen, Halsey, and Sia. What would music sound like without our queerness?
Leonard di Vinci, genius of science, art, and engineering, though he spent most of his life celibate, many historians and scholar agree on his desires for homosexuality. Aristotle, perhaps the most influential mind of philosophy, engaged in homosexual relationships. Joan of Arc challenged the social norms of her time with gender representation, cross-dressing, and gender identity. I do not recommend applying modern terms like sexual orientation, transgender, or gay to historical identities, but these people engaged in behaviors that are undoubtably queer. What would philosophy and history look like without our queerness?
So, I repeat again, what would the world look like, be like, sound like, feel like without our philosophy, science, poetry, music, art, and yes, queerness? I shutter when I think of it. It feels hollow. It tastes bland. It looks gray. It lacks creativity. It’s incomplete.
You don’t get to praise the world we live in and erase all the queer people who helped build it. You don’t get to enjoy our talents and genius while condemning the queerness which inspires our work. We helped build this world. Queerness may seem like a politically charged, new phenomenon, but it’s not. We’ve always been here. It is time for our existence to be valued as a necessary aspect of the human family.
We are a part of the past and we belong in the future. When I envision the future, I see a rainbow. I know it’s a little cliché, but it’s true. I see a rainbow of diversity where each life is a treasured entity and vital part of Divine creation. Queerness is not something to be ashamed of or stamped out, but it’s something to light the way. Queerness represents a space in the human family which celebrates our differences. In that future, queer people don’t contemplate their suicide, instead they contemplate their dreams and how to make them a reality. In that future, queer people chose life over death. In that future, the human family chooses love over fear. In that future, love wins!
When I was younger and grappling with my own queerness, I would picture that future in my mind. I would fantasize that at some point in the future there would be a kind, warm, welcoming world ready to greet me with open arms and that was the world I was supposed to be born into, not this one. I would rationalize that I was simply “born ahead of my time” and I really belonged in the future. Upon further reflection and maturity, it became clear that was not the case. Those picturesque vistas of the future were simply the fantasies of a young girl in pain. That future didn’t exist. At least not yet.
The truth is I wasn’t born ahead of my time. I was born here and now for a reason. I am here to create that world—the one that existed in my dreams. That world would only exist in my mind unless I created it here and now, and it certainly wouldn’t exist if I were dead or wasted my time contemplating my suicide. I don’t want to live in world void of queer intricacies. That’s a world where all things queer, including me, are dead. I want to live in the world I envisioned in my mind—the one which celebrates diversity through love, compassion, and understanding.
All of us here today are in a unique position to create that world. I believe we are here for a reason. I cannot tell you what that reason is, but if it’s up to me, I want that reason to be love.
This is the work of Affirmation. Affirmation understands that the future needs queerness. In our small cornier of the world we keep queerness alive in our Mormon community. While there seem to be insurmountable obstacles ahead, it is my belief that if we work together, miracles are made possible. That is why I am here, tonight. I am building the future of my dreams. I can’t do it alone. I need your to help build that future with me. Let’s build a world where love triumphs over death!