Today is eight years since my younger sister, Wendy, died at the age of 24 – she would be 33 in a few short weeks’ time if she had in a moment made a different decision about the value of her life. I really don’t think she had the appreciation for how much impact her absence would have – that we would notice, that she would be missed, and even though time has moved on, the world would be irrevocably different.
But since that day many years ago, I have been entertaining a thought that has done nothing but grow. It wouldn’t be unusual for me to be accused of being idealistic, I can hold a clear vision about how I think things should work, and I can get a little stuck.
The thought was; not only do we all long for a place where we can feel safe and belong and experience being our authentic self, but that such a place is critical to our wellbeing and without it we lack the support we need when our own internal resilience isn’t enough.
For us who are LGBTI, who have a body, gender, sexuality or relationship that is considered 'different' this place can be extraordinarily difficult to find. The places where most people find this, in their families, their culture, their home town, their faith, are often closed off to us because of narrow-minded stigma, prejudice and bigotry that leave us excluded. So we dream big about a QUEER community that we will find and it will fill this void and be the family that we are longing.
And, even if we find one of those places that has the feeling of a community, perhaps in the presence of the collective, numerous individuals with a common story, coming together in a common place, wearing a common uniform, for a common purpose providing an illusion of community, that this will be the place where we find belonging. But having fought long and hard to firstly find this community, there then seems to be the second battle to find our place and acceptance within it. But it isn’t really there the way we envisage it – and it doesn’t really meet our needs and over and over we hear ‘community wasn’t there when I needed it’, ‘the community isn’t supportive’, ‘there isn’t a community any more’.... 'community is a myth'.
Despite these experiences myself, feeling isolated in a room full of people who were just like me, being excluded by those who were supposed to understand my experience, I couldn’t let go of my thought… Is there something that we are missing? How do we find community when we are so invisible and isolated? And if we do find this community, how do we connect and foster belonging? What can we do to develop a sense of community and sense of belonging that is greater than each of us alone?
A short while ago, I stumbled across a paper by Ingrid Burkett that really captured the key concept to my ponderings.
She explored that we have come to see community as a fixed object that has fixed characteristics, spaces and structures where we idealise experiences of harmony and closeness – but that with time these spaces have been lost or damaged by those within it and essentially we see community as something that existed externally to ourselves.
However, what if we see community not so much as an object or as a noun but rather as an action, a series of ongoing processes, an act of creating meaning - community is a verb, a ‘doing word’, indicating action, process and change.
From this perspective community can’t be a given or taken away – but is something that is in each of us and is the result of us actively creating and recreating our experiences directly with other people. Interpersonal interactions become fundamental to the understanding of community.
With this, I came to understand that community isn’t out there, it is in each of us. We are the community we long for.
Wendybird was inspired by one person’s story of isolation and disconnection, that is common to us all, but what has been key to our success has merely been the extension of an invitation for us all to take up the action of community.
Thank you all for being on this journey with us. I don’t doubt that Wendy would be proud of what we all have created together.
If you need to connect with someone quickly or before our next event, please remember QLife is available from 5.30 to 10.30pm on 1800 184 527 or https://qlife.org.au/
Burkett, I. (2001). Traversing the swampy terrain of postmodern communities: towards theoretical revisionings of community development, European Journal of Social Work Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 233–246 .