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Understanding Your Relationship with Activism


Activist holding a resist together sign.

It has a lot to do with your authentic self and your core values.


Am I “Bad” Activist?

It’s June, which means I’m supposed to be celebrating my PRIDE as a queer person. Only I haven’t felt like going to a parade or a march, putting a flag out, or posting on social media. This should be okay.


But it does not feel okay because for the past three weeks I haven’t been able to walk down a street, scroll for memes, or get through a conversation with a straight person without rainbows throwing up all over me!!! The world is telling me I SHOULD do something to show my PRIDE.


The thing is, I do have PRIDE in my gender/queerness. I am PROUD of all my non-straight humans out there showing up as themselves even though the haters are setting gay clubs on fire, passing laws to stop hearts from wanting what they want, or enforcing the death penalty in at least 11 countries.


But I also have pride in my Blackness, elder millennial status, profession, anxious/distracted/sleepy brain and all my other identities. To make things more complicated, on any given day, week or month I might have more pride in my identity as a psychiatrist or Black person (which is where I am right now). This is the beauty (and stress) of intersectionality: I’m always invited to join the panel on women’s mental health, Black doctors well-being, surviving as queer in America, or neurodivergent in a neurotypical world but I can’t join all the panels, nor do I want to.


So if I don’t put up a rainbow flag in my window, go to the Pride march, or post on social media, should I feel like a bad activist? Of course not.


Right about now you might be wondering whether I think you are a bad activist for not posting, parading, or proclaiming with a flag if you’re not queer? Short answer is no. But if you rarely advocate for a minority identity you don’t share then the answer is yes. (You asked!) See my explanation in the Therapy Takeaway section.


But I can’t help but feel like I should do at least one gay thing this month to show those in the Instagramverse a unique version of queer to up-end their stereotypes!!!


This isn’t a new feeling. It usually shows up on holidays celebrating one of my identities, after atrocities happen to people like me, or when I succeed in a world that treats people like me as failures. “It” is a good ‘ole example of the “shoulds” applied to the obligation to post something on social media, write an article, or parade my countercultural self in honor of diversity. And if I don’t share my story, I’ll risk disappointing all the little Kali’s out there who don’t know they can exist as themselves. The feeling of letting little Kali down fueled my activism for so long, until I ran out of gas and failed at helping anyone, including myself.


Fortunately, after years of therapy I understood that my desire to advocate for people like me was not the PROBLEM. I was self-sacrificing my well being under the illusion that me, as in one human, bore the weight of bettering the world for people like me. Unfortunately, too many folks with marginalized identities feel forced to sacrifice their well-being to shape the world their childhood-self needed. (I wrote a popular article in the Journal of the American Medicine Association about how this shows up in medicine as the minority tax.)


The PROBLEM is that we have a culture reliant on advocacy from the people with the oppressed identity. And quite often, many of us have multiple identities oppressed within the system of white supremacy that intersect in such crazy combinations of blocked opportunities across institutions.


So I remind myself that I can show up as an advocate or activist in whatever way I want without feeling guilty.


I know IT IS OKAY not to do that one thing that shows I support my community despite how anxious I get when I don’t do it. Because I have done so many things and will continue to do so. And when I choose to show support, it feels more authentic.


*Disclaimer: Please do not indiscriminately assume every Black, gender (queer), person with X oppressed identity has the same perspective. Also, showing support on social media is great, but IMHO real activism on behalf of LGBTQIA community (or any community) is more than attending a parade or putting up a flag.

Your Therapy Takeaway


Get to know your authentic self and her core values.

Authenticity is an internal judgment, so when you know you know. You feel good about whatever you put into the world and that it represents who you are at your core. A good way of thinking about it is if you were left to your own devices without judgment from anyone, what would you do and why? I would wear neon colored shorts, tank tops, hats, and shoes everywhere. But because I am an adult, I can’t express this part of my authentic self when I work in the hospital, go to a Black tie wedding, or exist in a Chicago winter. Instead, my authentic self might settle for wearing gold oxfords, a hot pink collared shirt, or a neon orange beanie.


My core values are equity, humility, accountability, courage, openness, and persistence. My attachment to these values come from my experience of being left out of opportunities because of one or more of my intersecting identities. Now here’s how my authenticity and core values relate to my activism: Over time, I’ve learned that authentic me and my values are drawn to advocacy on a macro level. Impacting change on a large scale level feels like the best way to reach all the little Kali’s and all the haters hoarding opportunities from those on the fringes. Also, because I am a ham, I don’t mind parading myself in front of a camera, a stage, or behind a microphone to do so.


Challenge yourself to discover the advocacy approach that engages you the most (protests, donation drives, etc.). But remember, doing something is better than nothing and it is best that the something is aligned with the community’s wants and needs — not yours. Don’t shame spiral because you think you’re a C+ activist. Instead, go do something already.


You may be wondering: How much time should I spend advocating? I have kids, an 80-hour week job, and depression. Am I a bad person if I don’t pressure myself to do something?


Look, I don’t know you or your struggle but you are reading this blog, so I’ll give my opinion. My blanket answer to this question is that you should try to do what you can when you can.


For example, you should do something to help the LGBTQIA community, especially if you do not identify as LGBTQI, and it does not have to be in June. If I had my druthers, that something would be a donation of your time, money, or power. I also don’t care why you donate. I wouldn’t even call you a bad activist if you donate out of guilt, to avoid looking like a bigot, or because you don’t want to be the only one who doesn’t donate.


However, if you’re actually out in the world doing net positive harm for LGBTQI folks, I wouldn’t like you, but I’d accept your financial donation. I only ask that whatever you do is done more than once and doesn’t just happen in JUNE. I consider A+ activists to be those who donate repeatedly, outside of PRIDE month, actually have lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex or asexual friends, or use their power and influence to support the community. A+ activists also do their research so that whatever is done is in service of the most oppressed letter in the acronym (to me, that would be teenage Black trans women).


You should advocate on behalf of communities you are not part of, but you must mind your privilege and your place.


YES. You can advocate for marginalized identities you do not have — though do it from a place of understanding your privilege. Activism from folks with the privileged identity (i.e. heterosexual) can be incredibly powerful, if you understand and monitor that privilege. Especially if your identity grants you access to, or allows you to pass within the white/straight/cis-gender/property-owning conglomerate. You might have a better chance of being heard and changing minds about LGBTIA matters because unfortunately, we trust the word of folks who are like us. So hell yeah get out there.


This even applies to me. Yes I am in the super oppressed identities club, but I have privilege as an American citizen, physician, native english speaker, physically abled, raised Christian, and more. I’ll admit, it can be difficult to decide what or how to give to a community you are not part of because you may not know what they need.


This is where research comes in. I decide what I have to give (money, power, time), whether that is needed for that community, and then give it in a way that feels like Kali if that is an option. Do not dare say you don’t know where to find activism outlets, there are always people in need.


A reminder here to avoid woke activism. Your public declarations of advocacy are better served outside the community in need. Knowing your privilege is key to avoiding falling into this trap.


You got this,

Kali


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