6 Ways to Queer Your Life

“They don't want you to succeed”-DJ KHALED

2016's Patron Saint of Self Care is right. THEY really don't want you--especially if you're female, not white, Muslim, disabled, or queer--to succeed. Especially in the wake of the election, it is imperative that we focus our energy on loving each other and ourselves. It is 🔑 that we build the life we want, demanding what we need from the structures that loom large in our lives. 

 Illustration by N Marie (the author). What better way to represent "queering your life" than a radical nun?

Illustration by N Marie (the author). What better way to represent "queering your life" than a radical nun?

This past year's journey of personal development and going slower has taught me many lessons. One of the best ways I've found to synthesize these learnings is through a concept I'm calling "queering your life." Queerness teaches you to create your own path, to choose your own adventure. It teaches anti-assimilation. Queerness illuminates opportunities for happiness that our hetero-normative, racist, capitalist society purposely obscures from us. 

The following lessons are helping me to build the best, queerest life that I can: 

1. Know that you can work in ANY field you want. Contrary to what the University Industrial Complex tells us, you don't actually have to be expert or academically qualified to start working in most fields -- especially creative fields. You don't need an MFA to make and sell art. You don't need a culinary degree to make inspired dishes. You don't even need a business degree to start a business! And it's okay to have many disparate interests. You don't have to have just one "calling" or passion

2. Identity shifts. Identity can be a difficult thing to navigate, especially nowadays. Please know that it's 100% okay if your identity changes, expands, contracts, or otherwise evolves over time. In fact, it's healthy! It doesn't make those old or new identities less real or true (unless you're Rachel Dolezal. Don't be like Rachel.)  As for myself, I've referred to my sexuality using most of the letters in the LGBTQ acronym, at different times in my life and sometimes all at once. I wasn't lying when I called myself gay, even if now I most often refer to myself as bisexual or queer. Even when I thought I was straight, that was the best understanding of myself I that had at the time. While each shift in my self-concept seems to bring me closer to who I am at my core, I have empathy with past me and know that I will keep evolving into better and, in some ways, truer versions of myself. 

3. Boundaries are critical. This is something I struggle with. As an INFJ, and therefore a counselor type, I am eager to make deep connections with people and I'm generally an "open book."  Unfortunately, these traits have made it easier for me get caught up in co-dependent friendships, including and especially with narcissists.  Boundaries are life-savers, y'all. You need to establish for yourself what you're okay with people saying and doing to you, irrespective of the other person's real or perceived expectations. If you feel connected to someone out of a sense of loyalty rather than love, it could be a red flag indicating an urgent need for boundaries. Also know that, although it's hard to "break up" with friends, it's sometime necessary in order to preserve your own health and well-being. 

4. You are entitled to live your life by your values. This is one of the best lessons I've learned this year. Really, this should be #1 on this list!  I've also learned that while I am entitled to living my life by my values, I am not guaranteed any particular outcome. Likewise, you won't always get what you want, but you have to trust that you've made the best choice for yourself based on your principles--and to love yourself even if the results make your life temporarily more difficult. The long-term consequences of living an intentional and value-driven life are way worth it. 

5. Practicing acceptance helps develop gratitude and resilience. Acceptance is something I've been working through in my mindfulness practice. Western culture demands that you strive constantly. Strive for money, beauty, the prescribed definition of family, and status. It convinces us that happiness exists only in the future, once those things you've striven for have been achieved. Thing is, once you attain what you believe you want, you'll often still find yourself dissatisfied. To be clear, striving in this sense is not the same thing as personal development or growth. Striving causes unnecessary suffering. If you can learn to accept the present moment, you'll be able to find peace and contentment regardless of circumstances. (note: I'm not advising that people should accept, overlook, or romanticize struggle, or poverty, or oppression.) 

6. Health is a priority. It may seem obvious, but in order to practice real self care, you must attend to your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health--even if doing so kind of sucks sometimes. Also, know that these aspects of health cannot be divorced from one another. Neglecting one will inevitably impact the others. For me, meditation, practicing acceptance, paying closer attention to my emotional triggers, and physical exercise are fundamental to taking care of my health. 

Some other recommendations:

- Sort out not just your work/life balance, but more importantly your ideal money/time balance. As Oliver Burkeman recently discussed, we often value money over time, and much to our detriment. I myself have accepted that in order to live my preferred (super queer) life, there is a chance that I won't be able to make much money, since that would likely mean spending more of my time and energy  on my paid job. The things that fill me up actually cost more time than they do money; writing, creating art, connecting with loved ones, are nearly free, but they require time outside the office. I plan to continue shifting the balance in the direction of time.

- Introspect, Introspect, Introspect! No, you're not a narcissist or "navel-gazer" if you love to plunge the depths of your inner life. Introspection helps you understand not only yourself, but your loved ones, your colleagues, and society at large. Introspection is necessary for mindfulness work and it's incredibly healthy. Without regular and intentional introspection, you cannot determine your needs and you cannot queer your life! I mean...would you rather be less, or more self-aware?

- Find community, wherever you can. A sense of belonging is super important for our health and there are myriad reports that evidence this. Even if you have to find your community online, find it. You deserve to feel connected to people like you, especially if you're marginalized. (In fact, community building is one of the primary goals of this blog!). 

- Stay angry. Don't let anybody talk you out of your rage against injustice. Don't let anyone silence you or convince you that you must accept the unacceptable. This might sound contradictory to the above points, but staying woke is actually central to living by your values and sorting out your boundaries. Queerness, in the political meaning of the term, demands wokeness. 

Taking action, including and especially through self-care, will keep a healthy rage from turning into bitterness and consuming you whole. And in that act of resistance you are also prioritizing your health. 

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”-AUDRE LORDE

- Dream. Dreaming and imagining alternative futures is key to staying creative, to living generatively. I have a friend who is about to build an Earthship home in the middle of the woods on a commune with her two precious babies! I myself developed a fantasy of living in a houseboat in the canals of Amsterdam where I would make a living off reading tarot and selling my artwork. Both my friend's actual future and my semi-plausible daydream are major departures from what THEY prescribe for living a "good life." That's the point. You can live however you fucking want. Having  a nice car and a McMansion and a job that I sell my soul to, won't make me happy. Living in a cob house on the side of a mountain more likely would. Neither of these options would solve all my problems, and again, practicing acceptance is key. Also don't let your dreams turn into striving. But how queer are the two "alternative" lifestyles?! 

Thriving is resistance.

So what benefits us? What molds can we be break free from to live our happiest lives? What lies can we overturn through actions of self care, self liberation, and profound self love? What expectations can we unlearn and disassociate from? The answers to those questions will vary for each person, but I'd bet there are some overarching themes. Learning how to thrive on our own terms is one of the most important ways we can practice resistance in the face of oppression. 

What does "queering your life" mean to you? Tell us your thoughts by leaving a comment below!