A Reclamation of Our Personal Rights as Working-Class Queer Women

A person with long braids is smiling and holding two chains, leaning back into a swing.

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I am calling out to all of my fellow working-class queer women. I want you here with me, right now, in these words.

Because you’re my people. You’re my community. And we’re suffering.

We’re the queers waiting for an LGBTQIA+ rights movement that sees cis women, trans people, and gender non-binary people as much as it does cis men. That thinks about class more than it does corporate sponsorship.

We’re the women harassed on the street and at work. We are the working-class folks fighting for a raise on the minimum wage, for equal pay, and for safer workplaces.

We are the people struggling to survive while piecing together our identities in fragmented communities.

We are living in the crosshairs of oppression, at intersections of countless marginalizations, in a land rife with microaggressions and social exclusive hierarchies.

This culture has taken a lot away from us. We’ve been priced out of queer events. We’ve been erased by feminist discourse. We’ve been marginalized by sexism, by homophobia, by classism.

Our resilient existence is an affront to so many, especially when we are brazen and loud and proud.

We are living, breathing acts of protest against a capitalist system that tries to break our spirits and a heterosexist society that tries to silence our experiences.

We deserve better.

In the face of oppression, these are the truths which we hold to be self-evident. I will list and unpack those truths below.

Without apology, and without explanation, I encourage you to remember them and invoke them and shout them at the top of your lungs as often as possible.

These are our rights.

1. You Have The Right To Be Recognized in Your Communities

It’s all too common that folks living at the intersections are rendered invisible by the communities they exist in.

Too often, people like us are forced to pick and choose our identities in order to find our liberation.

We must go to working-class spaces to find working-class people. We must go to feminist spaces to find women. We must go to LGBTQIA+ spaces to find queer people.

Not being able to recognize our entire selves in any one space is isolating and frustrating, not to mention disempowering.

We feel erased, as if nobody else like us exists. But we are not alone. You should not feel alone.

You have the right to enter into women’s spaces, gay bars, and the places in your own working-class community without being questioned, without feeling alien, without parsing yourself out until you’re no longer whole. You have the right to go to a gay bar without leaving your working-class roots at home.

You have the right to enter feminist spaces being queer as all hell and never feel weird about it. You have the right to show up at your place of work as who you are and still be treated like part of the team.

Being queer doesn’t make you less of a woman. Being a woman doesn’t make you less of a queer. Being queer and female in working-class communities doesn’t make your story any less salient.

Any space that claims to serve you should serve you — all of you. Any community that claims you should recognize you — all of you.

And other people who exists on similar margins as you. Find your people. Bring them with you.

Find allies. Take up space. Fuck shit up.

Being outnumbered means everyone else in that room has work to do, and that you are well within your rights to demand that they do it.

Show up. Make yourself at home. Demand to belong.

Your communities belong to you just as much as they belong to those who don’t look like you or love like you or live like you. Know that. And fight like hell until everyone else in your communities knows it, too.

2. You Have The Right To Feel Centered In Your Movements

You have the right to refuse to settle for activism that leaves part of you invisible. You have the right to refuse to settle for movements that cater to your privileged counterparts but disregard your own humanity.

Feminist discourse must encompass you. Queer discourse must encompass you. Labor discourse must encompass you.

Too often, social justice movements operate in silos. That kind of methodology isolates the people who need these movements the most: people like us. People at the intersections.

When the feminist movement focuses on equal pay but not the minimum wage, we are the people left behind. When queer activism centers on the experiences of affluent men, we are the people left behind. And when labor movements are advocating for better workplace practices but not fighting for non-discrimination protections and accommodations for pregnant workers, we are the people left behind.

It’s time for a new way forward. It’s time for every movement that fights for us to fight for all of us. And it’s your right to challenge those movements to move forward with you.

When you feel erased, you have the right to speak up. When you feel like your own liberation is taking a backseat to someone else’s struggle, you have the right to speak up.

You have the right to push to be prioritized. You have the right to criticize those with good intentions, or those who share one or more of your identities. You have the right to defy even those who have helped you the most.

You have the right to engage, without guilt, in the most pure essence of social justice: Wanting more. Wanting something better. Wanting something bigger. Wanting a movement that encompasses all of you, whether it’s one for labor rights or women’s rights.

Social justice is about solidarity, and you have the right to demand it — not just the imperative to offer it.

Stand up for those who do not do the complex math of finding their place in this culture the same way you do. Stand up for the people who withstand less than you, and know that in return you deserve to have them come together and rally for you in your moments of need.

You deserve to see your straight friends at the gay rights protest. You deserve to see gay men advocating for your liberation, too. You deserve to know that union leaders and labor leaders have your back — not just as a working-class person, but as a woman who earns less than men and a queer person who might not be able to be out and safe at work.

Feel free to take back as well as to give. Feel free to ask and demand and shout more. Feel free to both recognize good intentions and advocate for greater action.

3. You Have The Right To Be Successful

You have the right to live in a country where the law upholds your value — at work, on the street, and at home. You are entitled to live under the same rules as the rest of your fellow Americans. You have the right to be out and keep your job, to be paid the same as any man, and to make a living wage.

You should not have to choose which of these things are most important. You should not have to work three times as hard as everyone else to advocate for yourself.

You have the right to a fair shot.

You have the right to be considered for a job even though you’re openly queer. You have the right to come out at work — without fear and without apprehension. You have the right to request flex time or paid leave when you’re sick or your child is sick or your partner is sick.

You have the right to work and escape poverty, not to work and remain stuck in the thick of it.

You deserve to be compensated fairly. You deserve to be recognized for your work. You deserve to go into a meeting and look around and see a face that looks like yours. You deserve to leave that meeting without ever once being asked to make the coffee or take notes.

You should never feel guilty for wanting these things, and you should never feel hopeless that they will happen.

You deserve to work in an accepting and welcoming environment. You deserve for every workplace to be that environment. You have the right to a workplace — and an entire economy — centered around making your possibilities truly possible.

You have the right to be ambitious, no matter what anyone says about it. You have the right to be bossy.

You have the right to be out, loud, proud, totally weird, gainfully employed, and looking ahead at a future so bright you have to wear dollar-store shades just to deal with it.

4. You Have The Right To Love

In our culture, people like us — queer people and women — are socialized to deem ourselves unworthy of affection, appreciation, and warm, fuzzy love. And working-class people are often stretched thin trying to keep love afloat: Trying to support their children, or their partners, or their parents.

You have the right to the most basic unit in our lives, the most immeasurable source of our strength: You have the right to love, and to be loved, without apology and without caveat.

And you deserve to live in a culture that honors that love in all of its forms, and that fights like hell to keep it alive.

You have the right to a relationship that fits, no matter what that means. You have the right to monogamy or polyamory or neither or something in-between. You have the right to marry whoever you want, or to choose never to marry anyone.

You have the right to a relationship where you’re safe, happy, and supported. You have the right to be loved the way you always wanted to be loved. You have the right to revel in your love, to a culture that celebrates your love, no matter what it looks like.

You have the right to be aromantic. You have the right to find closeness and connection in the way that best fits who you are.

You have the right to a family. The kind you always imagined, or never dreamed would come. One where you are accepted as you are.

You have the right to wish, hope, and fight for a world in which the family that raised you will love you enough to love all of who you are. And you have a right to define who your families are — blood or chosen — and devote your energy to those who love you most, or as most as they can.

You have a right to give up on your small-minded families when you want to. You have a right to forgive them endlessly as well.

You have the right to raise children, no matter how much money you have or what the sex of your partner is. You have the right to demand that your children are treated fairly, and that they have the same opportunities as the rest of ‘em, no matter their socioeconomic status or the sexuality of their parents.

5. You Have The Right To Light

You do not have to suffer endlessly. You do not have to approach the world with cycnicism, or return to it all of the hurt and pain it has unleashed in your world.

You do not have to take an eye for an eye, even if it seems the entire world can’t see you anyway. You do not have to wake up and get angry. You do not have to be angry.

You have the right to laughter. You have the right to good vibes. You have the right to pleasure.

You have the right to light.

Living at the intersections can be hard. Marginalization compounds and intertwines in your life when you do, and the stress of carrying all of that societal weight can break your back, your heart, your soul, your faith.

And you have the right to be angry about it. You have the right to be indignant about it! You have the right to yell and rail and fight and rally and push and push and push until you can’t anymore.

But you also have a right to keep on keepin’ on. You have a right to experience joy and peace.

You have the right to pursue being okay and being well, no matter how much it costs or what anybody says.

You are allowed to laugh in the face of your oppression.

You are allowed to be just as passionate about a shitty sitcom as your reproductive freedom. You are allowed to develop survival systems and coping methods that make it possible for you to face the day despite what’s on the news, or all over your Twitter feed, or happening on your front lawn.

You have the right to skip a protest to go to brunch. You have the right to spend all of the money you made at your law-paying job on a night out.

You have the right to wake up and drive into the desert and take one minute or four hours or a weekend away from thinking about the systems that are trying to destroy you and your communities.

None of this makes you a bad feminist, or a bad queer, or a bad activist, or a bad poor person.

Remember: We are the culmination of sacrifice.

We are the children of single parents, working poor parents and destitute parents, uneducated parents, immigrant parents, and parents fallen from grace.

We have been taught to extend ourselves as far and as fast as possible as women, and as poor people, and as queer people. We have been socially conditioned to do all we can to make men and non-queer people as comfortable as possible, even when their very existence endangers ours.

We have been instructed to suffer as much as possible to deserve sympathy, even as we work and hustle and give things up to make it out of this economy alive. But you have the right to put yourself first.

Not once, not just on weekends, not just for an hour in the morning, but all day every fucking day.

You have the right to live on your own terms, to let go of normalcy and respectability and embrace shame and stigma and struggle. You have the right to practice self-care, or to shape your entire life around it.

You have the right to be absent, or imperfect, or limited in your capacity. You have the right to fall short and be imperfect and revel in empathy anyway.

You have the right to choose happiness over pain. You have the right to choose light even when you’re deep in the tunnel. And you never have to apologize for it or explain it, no matter what they say.

6. You Have The Right To Survive

You are under constant attack, and you have the right to escape society’s crosshairs.

You have the fundamental right to exist. To take up space on the train and in the boardroom and in the media and in your community. To be well-fed and well-loved and well-represented.

You have the right to survive. To live without fear. To live without an extra burden. To find relief and salvation. To feel entitled to relief and salvation.

This world will tell you, over and over and over again, that your survival is secondary. That in exchange for your hustle, for your strife, for your struggle, you’ve won no right to truly live.

That what you are is not enough to be worthy of thriving. That who you are disaqualifies you from the fullness of life and the richness this world has to offer. That no matter how hard you work to define yourself, you will always be a trope, or a token, or an outlier.

The world will always be wrong about this.

You have the right to survive. You have the right to exist. You have the right to thrive.

You are queer and you have the right to survive. You have the right to kiss your girlfriend in public and survive. You have the right to come out to your family and friends and congregation and colleagues and survive.

You have the right to go to the bathroom and survive.

You are a woman and you have the right to survive. You have the right to walk down the street alone in any neighborhood and survive. You have the right to travel alone and survive.

You have the right to feel beautiful and survive.

You have the right to control your reproductive health and survive. You have the right to have sex and survive.

You are working-class, or poor, or financially insecure and you have the right to survive. And that right to survive means a right to survive without scrimping and sacrificing, without exploitation, without mountains of debt, without giving up food or shelter or even your common luxuries.

You are a working-class queer woman and you have the right to survive. All of you. Every single part.

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Carmen Rios is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She splits her time disparately between feminist rabble-rousing, writing, public speaking, and flower-picking. A professional feminist by day and overemotional writer by night, Carmen is currently Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminism and Community Editor at Autostraddle. You can follow her on Twitter @carmenriosss and Tumblr to learn more about her feelings.