I vividly remember my first trip on an airplane. After months of saving up – from bake sales, pledge drives, and more – four other eighth graders, myself, and a very trusting teacher traveled to Europe in the summer of 2004. Dragging my cheap department store luggage through the airport, I remember walking past an Asian-American woman with a surgical mask. It confused me and, quite honestly, offended me because I thought, “How dare she judge me! Assuming I would get her sick! I wash my hands and cover my mouth!”
It took me many years, humbling and poignant intercultural experiences, living away from home in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Belize, Central America for the Peace Corps, and understanding my own cultural lens to begin grasping the depth and breadth of how to live in community.
A mere three months ago, I finally learned more about the surgical mask phenomenon I had witnessed in public settings. Whereas, American culture (and according to many studies, Washington being in the top ten of most individualistic states) is individualistic: valuing personal independence; putting an emphasis on personal responsibility; having a freedom of choice. Individualists tend to see themselves as unique from others. Many Asian cultures are collectivist. Collectivists feel a sense of duty to group, interdependence, harmony, and working with the group. Or, valuing the “common good” approach to community over individualism.
The surgical masks finally made sense.
Putting on a blue, 3 ply, paper surgical mask denotes that the person has come down with something – and in care for the common-good or community – uses the mask so as not to get anyone else sick. In that moment – the precise moment I learned the reasoning behind surgical masks – I recognized an imbalance. An imbalance in our individualistic approach to community.
So, Mosaic, a new program created at Gay City, exists to create unique opportunities for LGBTQ and allied individuals to pursue community through conversation, dialogue, forums, and workshops. Our inaugural event, Smear the Queer: Queering the Definition of Community will invite participants to discuss how the queer community is defined, how it defines itself, and how to develop a definition of our community that takes all of our unique identities into account. These events value constructive communication, inclusion, innovation, celebration, and a long-term vision for our queer community that is welcoming to all.
When people talk about community, they often define it as looking and feeling a lot like themselves. Our hope is that Mosaic and similar events, like Smear the Queer, will help us practice being in community with one another. Oppression’s greatest accomplishment is dividing all of our communities – we must begin to heal and reconcile that imbalance. Mosaic events will commit to a higher level of inclusion, engagement, and intersectionality. When we begin to bridge differences, hold the tension of positive and negative experiences, confront the complexities and deep needs of our world with each other, we can truly create community that makes us all proud.
I can’t help but think of all the times I imagined culture and community from my own lens. Smear the Queer will allow us all to generate new definitions of community for ourselves – with each other.
When that woman walked past me ten years ago, I assumed she was judging me. Because until that point and for the subsequent six years after, being judged for who I am as a gay person became normal. Thinking she judged me pushed too many emotional buttons and triggers. Engaging with those moments of discomfort at the growing edges of myself means I can better pursue community with others. So, when I participate at Smear the Queer: Queering the Definition of Community, I will take part in establishing a more inclusive definition community with others committed that will make us all proud.
Smear the Queer: Queering the Definition of Community
Wednesday, May 7 / 7pm – 9pm
Calamus Auditorium at Gay City Health Project
517 East Pike St
Smear the Queer: Queering the Definition of Community is part of a community conversation program called Gay City Mosaic. Mosaic was created to facilitate larger discussions about how the queer community is defined, how it defines itself, and how to develop a definition of our community that takes all of our unique identities into account.
Zachary Pullin (Chippewa Cree tribal member) is the communications coordinator for the Krista Foundation for Global Citizenship, and a member of the the Capitol Hill Community Council, Gender Justice League, and Northwest Two Spirit Society. He enjoys refreshing mango smoothies and has an addiction to guacamole. (Editor’s Note: Mr. Pullin has also been honored as a Marshal for the 2014 Seattle Pride Parade happening on Sunday, June 29, 2014.)