Opinion: The urgent need for queer joy

Don’t just remember our trauma, remember our joy.

by David Jacobson

I was 16 the first time I experienced joy in who I was. It was around midnight, and I had spent the last hour attempting to figure out how I could use every single makeup product my sister owned on my face at once. At that time I hadn’t realized I was genderqueer, but I remember looking into the mirror and smiling – I had finally felt like who I was supposed to be. Looking back at the photos I, regrettably, took that evening, I still feel that joy – and am extremely grateful I’ve become much better at applying makeup.

I’ve since felt that feeling numerous times, but it wasn’t until recently I finally recognized it: queer joy.

Rita Hester’s 1998 murder was the spark that began what we now call the Transgender Day of Remembrance, but she was so much more than that traumatic night. As NBC reported in an interview with Rita’s family in 2020, Rita was known to be a bright, loud and magnetic person. She kept a cat and a boa constrictor as pets, often leaving her apartment messy but her heart full and open. She deserves to be known as the incredible woman she was.

It’s been roughly a month since the 2022 observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Surrounded by legislators attempting to disassemble and prevent queer people from being who they are on top of angry, armed mobs “protesting” at drag shows, a day tasked with the memory of those passed before us can become even more harrowing. It makes it very easy to only see the many ways LGBTQ+ people are suffering right now. However, I ask that you not only remember our trauma but remember our joy.

The way I’ve continuously seen queerness portrayed is a path from one terrible event to another. The gay journey starts by coming out to parents, them reacting badly, then falling in love with someone who isn’t capable of loving you back before ending up broke and unhappy. Even now we only speak on gay issues when they’re related to our suffering – our queer siblings only making the news when they’re attacked, killed or discriminated against. It is absolutely essential we continue to uplift these voices, but we need to uplift them in their entirety; speak on the discriminations against them and the beauty in their personhood in the same breath and recognize that we are so much more than victims.

In this world, queer people like me are given so many reasons to be unhappy, which is exactly why right now – more than ever – we need to raise up queer joy. The greatest resistance to the narrative that is currently being created around queerness, one of constant suffering and discrimination, is to show how beautiful and effervescent LGBTQ+ can be. So, uplift our radical queer happiness: our drunken dance floor smiles, our poetry we only share with those we’re closest to, our mascara that is unsuccessfully trying to survive the snow. Tell your queer friends (if they’re comfortable) how amazing they look today, how their laughter brings a smile to your face and how their happiness is important to you. Show them you do not see them as a victim of their own identity, that you see them as a person who is only improved by it.

To my fellow queers, know your laughter is as valid as your tears, that your smile speaks just as much as your dismay and that your love can shine with your suffering. I know it’s hard to take pride in your happiness when the society around you is built to only recognize your trauma, but realize that’s only more of the reason to let your joy shine unabashedly. It is gorgeous and deserves to be shown to the world.

To those who have taught me the power of my happiness: thank you. I will forever be grateful to you.

My queerness is so much more than my trauma, and I hope we can all come to recognize the power found in its joy.

David Jacobson is a junior at the University of Minnesota.