That ontological(*1) formulation of reality was popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre with the help of Simone de Beauvoir (although she is almost never credited). Both were atheist existentialists who believed that there is no given meaning to life nor morality. They both argued that existence precedes essence; in other words, since there is no god(s) humans have no given purpose. However humans are peculiar in the sense that they are conscious of their existence. Thus humans have the task to define humanity through the choices they make.
That's existentialism in the most condensed form.
I believe that the queer community can benefit from existentialist thought (your milage may vary). Although let me address something before I give my reasons for Queer Existentialism. I certainly do not believe that queer people have a choice in their sexual orientation and I also believe that human sexuality will not be fully explained anytime in our lifetime (I will talk about the ungraspable "truths" of human sexuality soon). IF, and it is a very reluctant IF, it is a choice, it shouldn't matter; as long as it makes you happy to me that is enough. Bigots have no right in telling you how, when, and to who you should express love. If you need some clarity comment or shoot me an email ;)
Confronting Homophobia: Choice and Anguish:D Now back to the issue at hand! I've been thinking how I could tie existentialism with the queer community and I think I have a few suggestions. Incidentally, during our last discussion in Peers for Pride I started thinking about it some more. Last week a colleague brought up the topic of choosing to confront homophobia or not when our livelihood would be threatened. When such a situation arises we are in anguish, torn between standing up for ourselves and our cause or ignoring it. That situation makes us realize the freedom we have in our lives. It is analogous to standing on the precipice of a cliff with nothing to hold us back from jumping but a small film of air. When we are in a dangerous situation like that we have to reflect and not let our emotions get the best of us, after all it is a choice to be angry.
I also think that we must give value to our convictions and to the situation at hand. Would telling a drunk guy at Jack in the Box that screaming faggot at the cashier is inappropriate and disgusting? Humans are temporal beings, we are capable of understanding how a situation will progress. Humans are aware of the past and the future and if I confront the drunk bigot about his word choice I am perfectly capable of predicting what may happen next: He will retort verbally (and procede to hit me) or he may apologize (would he even remember if I do confront him?). In making my decision, an existentialist would say, I am deciding for queerkind. If I chose to confront the drunk bigot I may believe I am brave and I have defined braveness to queer people as confronting the opressor at all costs even if my livelihood would be at peril. I suggest to all queer folk and allies to be wary in your decision-making when confronting homophobia and heterosexism. You are indeed shaping what it is to be human and that burden should not be ignored, your anguish should not be either. There is no right or wrong answer just remember what your values are and if it is worth confronting.
Authentic Living and Being Aware of Freedom
Existentialists believe that people are thrown into the world: They have no say in the time or place of their birth, their disabilities, their sexual orientation, their family history or their physical birth; this is facticity. Queer people feel that they are born as who they are (and so do many people). Sartre suggests we should work with what we got and be aware of our choices and NEVER deny their existence. Although existentialists may argue that this is not ethics but rather a phenomenological approach to ontology (*2). To many existentialists, there is no excuse. You cannot blame your upbringing, your emotions etc. for your choices and indeed this is hard to accept or stick to, you must also overcome your facticity realistically (for if you are manic depressive or are in a dire situation you can't control, this may be difficult, but in the end you still have choices).
A fellow colleague wrote on their blog how trans people should start writing and make themselves visible. I took this as transcending facticity and adhering to their will to power (*3). Simone de Beauvoir in her book The Second Sex stated, "it is not women's inferiority that has determined their historical insignificance: it is their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority." Was this what my fellow colleague wanted to say as well?
I would continue on but I don't want to flash flood your mind with so many concepts. I will continue on this subject later on!
*1: Ontology is the study of being and reality http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology
*2: Phenomenology is the study of conscious and how it grasps experience. So, existentialists recognize that reality is full of freedom of choices and they explain how human consciousness understands choices as an abstract object.
*3: Will to power was coined by Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra and first mentioned by another name in The Gay Science ;) Will to Power is the power to destroy and create new concepts, and in this case trans people destroying homophobia, heterosexism and cissexism and creating something new.