Reconnecting with queer history makes our communities stronger

History shows we have always been here

Anne wants to acknowledge the importance of queer history.
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If there’s one thing that studying history makes abundantly clear about our world, it’s that everything must come from somewhere.

The food we eat is grown from crops domesticated over millennia, the water we drink has been recycled in our biosphere for time immemorial, the air we breathe was once shared by mammoths and dinosaurs—each of us has inherited a legacy from an unbroken chain of ancestors spanning back thousands and thousands of years.

Reconnecting with history puts our present experiences into perspective by reminding us of where we came from, what we’ve survived in the past, and the spectacular development of life on Earth. To acknowledge that you had descendants who felt grief and joy just as you do today and found ways to persist despite enormous adversity is nothing short of miraculous.

As a child of immigrants, I’ve always taken an interest in stories about where my family came from, knowing that generations of my ancestors lived and died in a country that I was never raised in. These questions can be readily answered by consulting my parents and grandparents or by leafing through photo albums and historical records.

For many queer people, however, attempting to trace our lineages is not so simple.

Although being a lesbian is an inseparable part of my life, it’s not a trait that was necessarily passed down by blood. Queer people have long understood the value of chosen families over blood relations, and consequently, our most important communities are often not biologically related.

There are no genealogical chronicles of queerness, and our marginalization has left us largely forgotten from the historical record. The HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1970s and 1980s decimated a generation of queer people, and the lasting echoes of homophobia, transphobia, and conversion therapy have left untold numbers of our kind trapped in the closet.

In the wake of such anguish, there are few prominent symbols of queer history left, few figures who can tell us stories of our heritage.

Many of us are left to find each other, unsure of where we came from or who came before us. Until I discovered the broader queer community, I sometimes wondered if I was the only person in the world who felt the way I did.

This absence of an explicit connection to our history by common origin or blood can make it difficult for me and other queer people to situate ourselves in time and space.

Since the legalization of gay marriage in the USA in 2015, queer issues have exploded into the public consciousness like never before.

Homophobic and transphobic media personalities frequently attempt to discredit queerness by portraying it as an invention limited to recent eras, leveraging its apparent unfamiliarity to depict queerness as unnatural and aberrant.

Conservatives stoke panic over recent surges in the number of youth identifying as trans and non-binary, characterizing this phenomenon as a symptom of our society’s modern descent into degeneracy, or as a condition making younger generations “soft” and different.

Even well-intentioned allies can fall into this trap by assuming the concept of queerness is universally foreign to older generations, overlooking our rich and storied past.

Such beliefs are untrue and profoundly ahistorical.

Queer people have been around since the dawn of humanity, weaving lively legacies of love and resistance wherever they were found. Our growing visibility in the public eye is only indicative of the fact that we’ve been here all along.

Queerness is not a contemporary development; it is ancient and as natural to this Earth as the rivers, mountains, and tides. Peel back the geological strata of this planet and you will find the bones of queer people, buried but nonetheless present, bearing physical evidence of a truth that cannot be erased.

Connecting with the queer history of the places I inhabit reminds me my queerness is rooted in something far older and wiser than me.

By claiming my queerness, I recognize the rich legacies of activism, resistance, and care forged by those who came before me—and my own responsibility to carry those traditions onward in my life, study, and work.

Queer history also encompasses the contributions made right here at home.

Organizations like Trellis HIV and Community Care (formerly HIV/AIDS Regional Services) have been combatting stigma against those with HIV/AIDS for 34 years now, providing vital services for the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Kingston and beyond.

Knowing every square inch of soil on Earth holds the potential to have witnessed the beauty of queer love and life is a powerful antidote to the loneliness that can sometimes suffuse our experiences.

When I walk across campus or through the streets of downtown Kingston, I do so with the recognition that I am retracing the steps of hundreds of queer people. When tour guides remark on the historical importance of Kingston’s many landmarks and memorials, I wonder what untold queer stories unfolded in those same locations.

Today, intergenerational connections between queer youth and elders are rare and precious. Queer elders represent important reservoirs of lived experience and institutional memory; queer youth represent the multitude of possibilities that lie on our horizon.

Despite this, meaningful interactions between the two groups are few and far in between. There’s no shortage of articles lamenting the supposedly intractable divides between Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers.

When we assume these generational gaps are irreconcilable, we forget what we owe to our predecessors. As our experiences are left to diverge, our communities face the risk of social isolation, the loss of our culture and history, and the development of misunderstanding and prejudice across ages and experiences.

Our society tends to portray growing old as stagnancy, but queer elders are far from impotent—they are living proof that we have been and always will be here.

Older and younger queer people have more in common than not. Our lives are constantly shaped by our ongoing struggles for liberation; our fierce and brilliant ways of being, loving, and connecting; and of course, the understanding that the movement does not end with us.

There are queer children yet unborn, queer history yet to be made, battles yet to be won. When we reconnect with our history, we make the future possible.

History tells us that change—radical change—has precedent. It illuminates stories of incredible courage and perseverance, unveils worlds of possibility, and reminds us things haven’t always been the way they are today.

When I look for queer history in the places I visit every day, I’m reminded all this exists only because someone was brave enough to make a difference in a time and place that would have once thought our success to be impossible. Someone else was brave enough to preserve the evidence so it would not be lost.

Queer history makes it painstakingly clear our oppression is not inevitable, but rather an elaborate construction shaped by beliefs and power structures that have changed over time.

In this realization lies a crucial glimmer of hope: anything made can one day be remade.

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