If They Take You In the Morning
...they will be coming for us that night.
I was was halfway into recording today’s voice-note before I realized the depth of my feelings.
Visiting Owens Community College yesterday and reading from the opening chapter of How We Fight for Our Lives was great. In many ways, it was just like any other campus visit. The students and faculty were welcoming, excited and passionate. In addition to questions about coming of age and writing about family, students were interested in my thoughts about traveling abroad or going to school out of state. I loved it.
But also, in the back of my mind, I felt a bit heartbroken that a memoir chapter about nervously going to Lewisville Public Library looking for answers in 1998 hits VERY differently in light of book bans and various “Don’t Say Gay” bills being introduced and passed in states across the country. Based on several questions from the audience about those bans and bills, I wasn’t the only one in the room thinking about all of this.
I didn’t write that book chapter thinking “yep, this will definitely still be how it feels to be a queer teenager in 2022.” I had hoped this memoir would be an artifact. Beautifully written, nuanced, moving, but—crucially—of the past.
Here’s the end of James Baldwin’s 1971 letter to Angela Davis:
“If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.
If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.”
I wonder how Baldwin would feel if he knew that a hallmark of his legacy would be the tragically contemporary resonance of his writing.