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  • Reflections on Nex Benedict from a Grieving Queer Therapist

    Nex Benedict is dead. And they shouldn’t be.

    Last night, I attended a candlelight vigil for Nex at Auditorium Shores in Austin, TX. It was beautiful and intimate, with heartfelt, fiery, impassioned speakers grieving the snuffing out of yet another joyful queer light. A child’s light. I look at the picture of Nex in their vest with the hidden dimple in their cheek and all I can think is, god, they must have been wonderful; you can’t capture a picture that radiates that much joy and love without being wonderful. 

    We all were grieving. Mourning the hateful, senseless death of a child. Mourning the fear we feel every day as visibly queer people operating in a world where elected officials and community leaders refer to our existence as “filth” and legislate our bodies and identities into non-existence. Mourning our own childhoods spent in hiding, masking until a day we could escape to a place of safety and acceptance. Mourning the ridiculously high rates for hate-fueled violence, suicide, self-harm, and addiction in our community. Mourning that while systems failed at keeping this beautiful child safe, they were working exactly as designed.

    Here are some things from last night’s vigil that are on repeat in my head:

    • A Black trans teen speaking from the heart, expressing the need for more and bigger services for the queer community, especially for queer youth. I agree wholeheartedly, and I can’t help thinking that I’d love to live in a world where these services weren’t needed. I’d love to live in a world where Prism Integrated Health existed as a means of joyful connection rather than life-saving obligation. I’d love to live in a world where we weren’t needed in this way at all.

    • A long-time community organizer and activist talking about how transphobia is the nexus of sexism and racism and how we have an obligation to protect our trans and nonbinary siblings of color. That same organizer going on to tell a story about how a queer teen complimented them on being a queer adult with such a cool job. Reflecting on the complicated and simultaneous relief and grief that they lived to grow into adulthood at all.

    • A 16-year old speaker reading not just Nex’s name, but the names and races of all the trans and non-binary young people who have been killed since January. Calling cis/het and queer adults to do better in protecting our trans and nonbinary young people of color.

    • A 16-year old in the crowd wondering at how much they and Nex had in common, simultaneously believing that they could have played Minecraft together and disbelieving that now they’re standing at Nex’s candlelight vigil mourning their death.

    • A 22-year old lamenting “We told you so,” in response to Nex’s murder as the natural consequence of continued and escalated hateful and bigoted rhetoric and legislation against the queer community.

    • The mother of that 22-year old grieving the loss of a child who, for all intents and purposes, could have been hers. Calling to action all allies to do the heavy lifting and to carry the emotional burden of basic human safety, dignity, and rights for queer, trans, and nonbinary folks.

    • A cis-lesbian community leader reminding us that transphobia exists within the queer community, and that we need to grow beyond it because this fight requires the full connection and support of our community. She stated that a place isn’t a home if it doesn’t feel safe, and that even if many of our young queer folks have places, they don’t have homes; it is our responsibility as a community to create safety, to build a home.

    I am a social worker, a therapist, a small business owner, a partner, a parent, a person. I am queer in all of these things. And I am in my grief.

    I grieve for high school Max who could have been Nex, getting name called and bullied by kids who saw that I was different even when I didn’t understand myself.

    I grieve for adult Max who is forced to be hypervigilant everyday because I will never pass (and I don’t want to), and that makes me and those around me a target. 

    I grieve for my own kids, knowing that my existence as their non-binary parent puts them at risk of violence and hatred that they didn’t choose.

    I grieve that I live in a state that requires an exit strategy for queer families.

    I grieve that my business and profession are necessary in my own healing process, but also necessary in providing safety and support for my community.

    I grieve that the laugh lines around my eyes are a privilege.

    I grieve that my little family of two people, two kids and a dog feels unattainable and inspirational for queer kids.

    I grieve that schools haven’t been safe for a long time, but now they’re places where you can be literally beaten to death for simply existing genuinely.

    I grieve that there are opportunist conservative politicians exploiting Nex’s death to propagate a message of violence veiled in Christian values.

    I grieve that this will happen again, and again, and again.

    I am in my grief.

    Something about Nex’s death has me thinking a lot about the birth of my own kids. The thing I keep returning to is the very moment a baby comes out of the womb, they are seeking love and connection. They are reaching for someone solid to hold and comfort them. And we give it to them. We do skin-to-skin. We try to get them to latch and nurse. We coo and smile and comfort and cry tears of joy because how could we not?

    And they look up at us with adoration, their tiny amazing brains capable of learning 300 languages and all they really want to do is fill them with love.

    We are not born hating. 

    We are born reaching for love.

    Hate is taught. 

    Just like an invasive plant species, hate is seeded young, it is nurtured and propagated, it is fertilized to grow bigger and faster, sprayed with insecticide to repel the “pests” that may try to uphold natural law by keeping it in check, and then it takes over – strangling and killing the naturally occuring indigenous species. And for what? To strip the land of its resources, leaving destruction in its wake. (Sounds a lot like colonization to me…)

    In an interview with Billy and Liam Lezra, renowned non-binary poet, author, and comedian Alok Vail-Menon says about their poem Your wound / my garden, “Your wound / my garden. The things that you hate about yourself / I love them in me. That doesn’t make me wrong (or even right). It just makes me, me. And, perhaps, makes me…queer. Queerness is about the perennial, stubborn attempt to reclaim and inhabit the places within us that have been colonized by shame.”

    Nex refused to be colonized by shame.

    They were an indigenous queer kid shining so bright that the only way to dim their glow was to kill them.

    So what now? Where do we go from here? How do we grieve and mourn Nex, honor their power and brilliance, and prevent our own lights from dimming? How do we – the native plants – stay rooted and outlive the invasive species?

    An Action Plan (order of operations based on social capital):

    1. If you are a White trans or nonbinary person, spend your privilege and wrap up your Black, brown and Indigenous siblings. Call or text them. Check on them. Raise awareness. Share antiracist and decolonizing information and content on social media that might get you sideways glances from your racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic White peers. Correct racist bigotry from other White folks in real time rather than relying on folks of color to do it because it’s not their burden to carry alone. Inaction is also an action, and at this point, it translates to condoning violence.

    2. If you are a cisgender female queer person, check on your trans and nonbinary siblings. Get names and pronouns right – and if you fuck up, make a point of correcting yourself in real time. Use your cis privilege to infiltrate transphobic spaces and interrupt racist and transphobic rhetoric. Use your increased access to public spaces to share information about love, diversity, equity, and inclusion (not to be confused with assimilation). Question the Devil’s Advocate – asking “what do you mean” or “tell me more” are two really great ways to let someone really reveal who they are.

    3. If you are a cisgender male queer person, do all of the above AND ALSO interrupt sexist rhetoric and assumptions about female people among your peer group.

    4. If you are a White cisgender heterosexual person, I begrudgingly acknowledge that we need you the most. As one of the speakers last night said, we need you to fill in the gap – to be the protective barrier between the increasingly violent and hateful rhetoric and actions toward Black, brown, and Indigenous trans and nonbinary folks. We need you to examine your own privilege and sit in the discomfort and accountability of the harm your complacency has caused, and then we need you to make a change and do the repair work; we need you to step up. We need you to get our names and pronouns right. We need you to correct the people who don’t. We need you to be the advocates we’ve been for our entire lives. Because this isn’t just about knowing a trans person or having a queer family member. This is about valuing all people the same, reaching for love and connection; and if you can’t do that – or begin the unlearning process to get to that place – then you’re causing harm and you’re in the way.