a statement of principle.
[trigger warning for discussion of transphobic and racist violence and self-harm/suicide]
You know, it’s funny. I was going to call this an anti-manifesto. But I’m so tired of being reactionary.
I’m just tired, to tell you the truth.
I’ve always been an insomniac. My most vivid memories of the 80s are the late-night music videos I devoured because I just couldn’t sleep.
I want my em-tee-veee!
But that’s not really what I’m talking about.
Or maybe it is.
I carry so much tension in my jaw. Really, it’s crazy. I’m sure if I ever slept for long enough I would grind my teeth.
But mostly I lie awake at night. If it’s not some material crisis –
did I make enough money this month for my $1000 student loan bill? or my rent? or my tax bill?
– well, then it’s everything that’s wrong.
Some people have an interior monologue. Some others have an interior dialogue. Honey, I’ve got a full-on fucking conversation in my head.
The first détente I ever came to with religion was: maybe whatever you believe is true – for you.
‘Cos even by the age of ten I had figured out that, with a world full of religious people who were convinced they were worshiping in literally the only correct way, there was slim to no chance that there was a right way.
I was that atheist for a long time. You know. The Dawkinsite smug mothertrucker who figured being a jackhat was a surefire way to cure the world of religion. But it didn’t get me anywhere, and it got my blood pressure all in a tizzy.
Religious people would always come at me with the comfort and light religion brought to their lives. And you know, religion’s not my bliss, but maybe that’s their castle in the shit.
Now, I don’t think you should be allowed to knock over any one else’ castle in the shit, and that’s why I still have a lot of problems with religion. But if religion could calm the fuck down and just be individual people’s castle in the shit – well, who am I to judge?
What’s a castle in the shit?
Well, what’s the shit? The shit is the constants.
The commodification of our identities to sell books and tickets to lectures and space in classrooms and cable TV subscriptions.
The volleying of our very lives by suits and the politicians they buy to get people who are scared of us into the voting booths.
Being talked about in the media like an issue, not a person.
Being poked and prodded by undergrads who don’t get that you’re a person, not an issue.
Having people tell you you can feed your kid an organic fair-trade vegan diet on the 290 pre-tax dollars you make a week working two part-time minimum wage jobs.
Paying the same tax rate as your multi-billionaire boss.
Our money being used against our will to kill brown people in other countries so that we can take their stuff (and give it to the suits and the politicians they buy to get people who are scared of us into the voting booths).
Our money being used against our will to imprison poor, brown and queer people while rich, white straight people are given get out of jail free cards.
At least three dead trans women of color this year alone, murdered by and for hate.
Another trans woman of color forced to plead guilty to second-degree murder for defending herself against a hate crime, while the murderer of an unarmed black teenager is touted as a hero.
Vicious jockeying for position and privilege, coming down to using each other as human shields in the culture wars.
Marginalized people slamming doors in the faces of other marginalized people once their own margins shift.
Picking streets to walk down based on lighting conditions.
Tailoring your public affection based on fear conditions.
Looking over your shoulder.
Secretly, quietly passing that same old victim-blaming, victim-shaming advice back and forth because, despite our efforts, the world still sucks.
Constantly defending your identity and your person, from enemies and friends alike, because in the end it’s the only thing that’s really yours.
The shit. You know, the shit.
My dad always said I would make a great UN ambassador. He read me as someone who can bring people together, which I guess is kind of true.
But mostly I just hate the fuck out of conflict, and I will do pretty much anything to resolve it.
I guess that’s why I’m so amenable to these castles in the shit.
All right, I told you what the shit is. So what’s a castle?
A castle is your counter-constant.
It’s the literal or metaphorical square footage where you say, “no, fuck it, this shit is mine.”
I guess the first castle I recognized was religion.
But I didn’t name it until recently.
I’ve had this recurring thought for the past few months: I just want to hole up in my house with my partner and say ‘fuck everybody, fuck theory, fuck how fucking awful everything is and the fact that nothing I/we do seems to change that.’
Fuck it, this shit is ours.
Do you know how scared I was to tell people I was in a monogamous relationship? The shit I internalized that made me feel like a traitor for agreeing, for the time being, to only sleep with one person?
Fuck it, this shit is ours.
Or should I say castle?
The preservation of life is one of the most important principles in Judaism. You’re even allowed to break Jewish law in order to preserve life. If someone is starving and the only thing available to eat for some crazy reason is ham, you can give them ham.
I’ve been living with mental illness for more than 15 years. (What’s that got to do with ham? Stick with me for a second.)
The first time I remember planning to kill myself was when I was ten years old. I broke a toy so I could cut myself with it. That’s how young I was.
I finally got help when I was 16. By then I had become a cutter, an anorexic, a compulsive exerciser, and it turns out I was living with bipolar disorder, severe obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as generalized anxiety.
Getting help is one of the castles other people have kept trying to kick over. Either I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the shit on my own, or I was a victim of the Prozac nation.
Almost no one wanted to hear or let me say that, even though I was put on enough anti-psychotic medication to make an elephant woozy, it stopped me from killing myself. It preserved my life. Getting put on psych meds – even the wrong amount of probably the wrong psych meds – was my castle in the shit.
Staying alive is a constant thread in the output of marginalized people. Kate Bornstein’s hashtag #StayAlive. The Le Tigre song “Keep on Living.” The great Nina Simone song “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life.”
Every time the mental illness starts to win, I have to tell myself what other people (mostly my mom) used to tell me: everything could change tomorrow. You never know what chic vintage chair you might get for your castle in the shit.
All right, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. Maybe six moths or a year from now. And you know I’m not talking about a chair. And you know that I know that you could win the lottery when you’re depressed and not be able to crawl out of bed to redeem your ticket.
But it won’t rain all the time. Or it will super-duper rain eventually, if you feel like you’re in a drought.
And your castle – whatever it is – will be there waiting for you when you’re ready to retake it.
Most of everything is the shit. That’s why our castles are so important.
You will get knocked or pulled or pummeled down into the shit. Our castles are the monkey bars built on top of a huge mound of shit. You won’t always be able to make the next rung, but maybe you can walk over some of the shit when you stand back up and get to another, shinier rung.
We have to stop getting down on each other’s castles.
I call for an immediate ceasefire on other people’s castles in the shit.
All anyone is trying to do is build a castle in the shit. If they’re good and kind and not mean, they don’t want to knock over anyone else’ castle – just to hold their own.
Maybe your castle is your domicile, and you want to grow flowers and listen to Roches records and smoke a little grass and try and forget whatever it is that makes you need a castle.
Maybe your castle is being a lesbian-identified transman.
Maybe your castle is self-deprivation. Or maybe it’s indulgence to the fullest.
Maybe your castle is a bottle of wine or internet porn or LARPing or giving yourself tattoos.
Maybe your castle is not giving a fuck what other trans people think about your transition.
Maybe your castle is remixing Adele songs while wearing a stranger’s dirty underwear.
Maybe your castle is plastic surgery or nudist biking or composting.
Maybe your castle is figuring out where to put your castle someday.
Maybe your castle is moving your castle every day so that no one can pigeonhole you.
Maybe your castle is calling people out on trashing other people’s castles.
Maybe your castle is the liminal space between other castles, or castle-hopping for fun or survival.
Maybe your castle is dying, if all else fails. I hope it doesn’t. Dog in kennel above, I hope you find some other castle.
But I’m not you.
I call for an immediate end to queer-on-queer soul violence perpetrated in the name of the queer culture wars.
I call for a celebration of overlapping and intertwined realities.
I call for recognition that strongly held sincere beliefs that don’t hurt anyone can probably all coexist even if they are seemingly mutually exclusive.
I call on the queer dialectic to knock it the fuck off with trying to define queer, instead choosing to delight in living it.
‘Cos ya know, we can help each other build our castles in the shit. And maybe we’ll start developing some infrastructure, necessitating hauling some and maybe eventually all of the shit away. We could build super castles to hang out in. We could build a ministry of fucking castle-building.
What’s your castle? Part of my castle is knowing that you’re here to read this, whoever you are.
Don’t knock over anybody else’ castle. And don’t remodel your castle for anyone against your will.
-Big Mama Schlomo