Blog, Social Justice

Brandi Carlile’s Sermon – Queer Joy in the Face of Authoritarian Crisis


Brandi Carlile sings and plays guitar on a stage

On Friday, June 24th, I had tickets to see Brandi Carlile, lesbian musician and author of Broken Horses, at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles.

On Friday, June 24th, a group of five unelected justices made the decision to renounce a nearly 50 year precedent and repealed Roe V. Wade. It is, quite literally, a death sentence for millions of Americans, since it is statistically proven that restricting access to abortion does not reduce the number of abortions. On the contrary, restrictive measures only reduces the number of safe abortions, increases the number of unsafe abortions and coinciding maternal health risks, forces more families into poverty.

Because Justice Clarence Thomas made it clear in his written opinion that he takes particular concern with related precedents, such as the right to contraception, the right to privacy when engaging in sexual acts, and the right for same-sex couples to marry, this decision, which came in the last week of pride month, is an absolutely devastating harbinger for what’s to come for this country.

Everything in my queer, non-binary, menstruating body wants me to shut down in grief.

But I can’t. Because I am needed in this fight, as a writer, as a protestor, as someone with racial and class privilege.

And because I have already wasted too many years of my life shrinking my existence.

But how do I live in a country that wants me to die?

Thursday night, all I could think about was seeing Brandi, the spiritual leader of lesbians everywhere.

Friday morning, all I could think about was crawling into a hole because my spirit was crushed.

Going on with my life feels impossible; acting like nothing is wrong is a slow poison that grinds your bones into a fine nothingness.

Going to work, trying to eat healthy, trying to exercise, going to a concert and acting like everything doesn’t hurt is a form of gaslighting, and it’s an all too common experience for marginalized folks right now.

But since Brandi Carlile once healed my broken heart in 2019, I knew being with her in concert was where I needed to be this weekend.

When she took the stage, I sobbed. I sobbed and I sang and I shouted and I cheered all night.

Before she sang one of her most famous ballads, The Mother, she made note of her sorrow in singing a song about her motherhood when so many in this country just lost control of their decision to be a mother. “My wife and I made a conscious choice to become mothers,” she said. “This can be undone.”

It’s a specific form of phrasing. It acknowledges that something has happened, and it gives us a call to action.

According to my friend in a row behind me, she saw several groups leave the audience while she spoke about her heartbrokenness over the SCOTUS decision.The rest of us stayed and cried together. And we watched a lesbian country singer talk about her toils and her triumphs, offering hints of relatability that the queer community is too often deprived. She gave us laughter, and song, and release.

This fight is long, it is exhausting, and it is constantly threatening to demoralize. Which is why when we find moments and spaces of joy, we should take advantage of them – because joy is defiant.

It does not end with a singular court ruling for abortion rights; it is a lifetime of acting out, speaking up, and advocating real justice.

I know it seems like there is too much to care about. It’s true that a radically feminist future means more than fighting for women – it means fighting for abolition, advocating gay and trans rights, counteracting the state sponsored cycles of poverty, upending a culture of white dominance.

It is a fight that requires a fully embodied participation at all times.

And so it will also require us to embody our own rest, healing, and joy.

It means crying in a crowd of people who care so that you can get up the next day and know and love the humanity you fight for.

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