I am in rural Vermont, on the Canadian border. Woods everywhere, and in the night, this lush landscape is gothic. All the forests go deep dark and only stars brighten the sky. Sitting in the blackness, I listen for the tiptoe walk of deer, or maybe even the call of Eastern coyotes—we called them "coydogs" when I was young, although my father tells me that they are now called "coywolves." But all I hear is the haunting wail and tremolo of a loon across the lake.
Night is literally and metaphorically the dark side, a landscape of wild sounds, but also, for some, home for spirits, phantoms and fairies. The dark nutrients of night nourish me after the decisions by the North Carolina House and Senate to move forward on the anti-marriage/ domestic partnership/ civil union amendment. The religious right held prayer rallies, hoping to banish the demon of homosexuality and its various bad seeds. So it was no surprise that during the GOP debates on Fox News, audience members booed a gay soldier. After all, what do bogeymen say? "Boo." Sadly, the state government fell victim to the fear of "boo"—fear of democracy, fear of not being re-elected and fear of their own conscience.
When the fight gets frustrating—when you work hard for change and then hope feels dashed on the rocks of fear—it helps to remember larger things: that there is more to this life than identity claims, such as "I am transgender." Struggling for social justice is righteous work, but sometimes the ferocity of "me and my people" enables us to forget that identities are processes, not static affirmations.
We shape one other's identities. So when socially conservative politicians assert that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders do not deserve equality because they are "unnatural" or "controlled by demonic spirits," they are merely projecting their imagination of themselves and of LGBT people. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult for disillusioned people to distinguish their reality from politicized fantasy. It is exhausting, and yet we try anyway.
However, as I anchor myself in relation to false assertions ("I am not abnormal" or "I am not evil"), on some level I am also allowing the falsehoods to constitute my identity. Identities are something we do together, to ourselves and to one another. I am not saying identities are bad, but they often force us to see ourselves as an identity rather than a process.
Americans are constantly shaping and reshaping the sticks and stones of gender, race and sexuality. The night reminds me of these truths, especially after I have been demonstrating in the streets. Let the night remind you that when we lose the struggle, we do not lose ourselves.
NPR did an interesting story on the rise of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a religio-political movement that has helped orchestrate Rick Perry's campaign, but more generally the tea party. NAR is a form of Dominionism, which says Christian nationalists should control secular government and banish evil from the "seven mountains of culture": education, art, media, government, family, business and religion. As strange as it seems, they believe that demons are controlling these "mountains" and it is their job to secure them for Christ's return.
OK, this is nutty, I mean really crazy. I worry that even mentioning Dominionism legitimates its absurdity, but when you live in the U.S. you witness the irrational anxiety that homosexuality brings to conservative Christians. You see signs like "Three Gay Rights: AIDS, HELL, SALVATION"; "Homosexuals Are Possessed by Demons"; "Homo-Sex is a Threat to National Security." This sort of nonsensical zealotry reminds me of the effects of poverty in rural Vermont, where I was born.
My mother had me when she was 16. We had no money for day care, so my sister and I were shuffled around from grandparents to aunts and uncles. My father worked at a veneer mill and my mother cleaned rooms at a local motel. They were the first generation to leave farming. Vermont farms had begun to disappear, replaced by more commercial enterprises or gone altogether. WIC food packages of cheese and milk, and food stamps supplemented our family income. We had no indoor plumbing. We used a metal sap-bucket as our toilet and would fill milk cans with water to drink, bathe and wash dishes. We had a woodstove to keep us warm when the temperatures dropped below zero; my mother would make us wear snowsuits to bed so that we didn't freeze.
What my family lacked in money, we had in stories. Our nights were filled with accounts of ghosts, ghouls and spirits. My mother's favorite tale, and maybe her most bizarre, was her encounter with a demon that resulted in the pastor coming to our house to do blessings. She described the entity as a statically charged shadow that roamed the periphery of her vision.
My grandmother, a devout Christian, also experienced the phantom presence and worried that the demon might possess me, a susceptible child. Many years later, when I told my grandmother that I was transgender, she wondered if it was possession and prayed. I held her hand and said I loved her and that I was happy. Luckily my grandmother believes in love more than fear.
My grandmother's fear of queer devils was deeply tied to the restraints of poverty. While we had no money, Christianity promised streets of gold. Heaven was our retirement plan, so we might be poor here on Earth, but we'll be rolling in it when we die. Best not risk your holy pension; you better follow the straight and narrow. It is hardly shocking that the current economic crisis should jolt American politics religiously right. Some Christians are simply afraid that their beach house inside the pearly gates might go into foreclosure.
My family's re-enactment of The Exorcist taught me that the imagination is an amazing resource. The effects of an unruly unconscious can construct a wild republic of intensities and unholy forces that press into the present. The appearance of demons is nothing more than the consolidation of fear. And when you are struggling, it is easier for strange energies to take up residence in your home. At least evil spirits make house visits, while bankers and health insurance supervisors are ephemeral, an unseen power wreaking havoc on everyday life.
On the border it is 3 a.m., the so-called wolf's hour, when the body is at its lowest ebb. Through our dreams or sleeplessness uncertainty can creep into the mind during this hour, amplifying the fugue in our heads. But just as certainly, I know that right before sunrise—that hinge between day and night—I will begin to pour outward and my day will commence. Circadian rhythms are tidal, just as fear and joy are wave sensations, and amazingly humans and other animals share these patterns. The barred owl, the rabbit, the loon, the coyote and I respond equally, if differently, to the length of night. Isn't this beautiful?
So do not be a night resister. Do not pray against the dark and its inhabitants. Listen to Frédéric Chopin's nocturnes and other night music. Turn the lights out on purpose. Let the night teach you about the dangers of taking yourself—particularly your identity—too seriously. Notice your surprise when your lover reaches for you in the dead of night. And as All-Hallows-Eve approaches and leaves begin to blush autumn, see ghosts and demons for what they are: the exuberance of the imagination and an attempt to bring order to a life that has become too expensive to live.
If you can, go to the farmers market and get some squashes and root vegetables. Pumpkins, beets, acorn squashes and red turnips store solar energy in their darkness; they fold light into themselves, little dark suns that hold inward their own molten nutrients. Night is rejuvenation; allow the night to rinse out your obsessions so that your next day might be wilder.