By Marsha Philitas
Earlier this month, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health sent out a press release with the following startling headline: “LGB individuals living in anti-gay communities die early.” In the release, a team of researchers at Columbia presented data that gave concrete support to what we in the queer community already knew to be true: the stress of affirming our humanity in the face of constant oppression is slowly killing us. According to the study, LGB people in anti-gay communities die 12 years earlier than their straight counterparts.
For queer women of color, the Columbia study only presents part of our emotional struggle. Further reports say more about the realities of our well-being. Asian-American and Native American women have the highest suicide rates among youth aged 15 – 24. “Caucasians experience depression more often,” reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “but African American and Caribbean women experience greater severity and persistence.”
While we typically focus on policy and legal-based activism as our way of battling injustice, these sorts of reports urge us to broaden our definition of activism to include actions that reaffirm our worth in a world that still actively resists our attempts to thrive. If we ignore the mental, emotional and spiritual injuries caused by discrimination, how will we survive and thrive once our marches and protests are over? Micro-aggressions leave paper cuts on our soul that can only be healed by self-care.
When I speak of self-care, most people immediately think of big ticket items like spa retreats or indulgent vacations in Hawaii. The commercialized image of self-care typically doesn’t include us as queer women of color and it definitely does not include those of us who are struggling financially. But the definition of self-care that I use for my own life and with my life coaching clients has nothing to do with high-priced yoga classes or an “Eat, Pray, Love” romp in Indonesia. Instead, I reach to the definition implied by the Audre Lorde quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Self-care is an act of sacred activism and includes any action that reminds us of our Divinely given self-worth.
As queer women of color, we can’t afford to consider self-care as something we think of when all of our work is done or something we’ll do in the future when we’ve entered a certain tax bracket. Given the spiritual and emotional onslaughts we deal with on a daily basis, at our jobs and on the street, self-care is a spiritual necessity. It’s something we need to make a priority in our daily lives to make sure that we thrive as individuals and as a community.
Each day, ask yourself the question, what do I need to do to tap into my Divinely given self-worth? Use this question to build a self-care routine that is uniquely yours. You’ll find that most of the answers that your soul provides don’t cost a thing. Maybe your spirit is asking for more time with a good friend or 30 more minutes in the morning to make yourself a nourishing breakfast. No matter how simple the answer, honor whatever your spirit needs. Remember, every act of self-care is an act of activism that leaves our community that much stronger.
Marsha Philitas is founder of The Trifecta Tribe, an organization based in New York City that offers sacred retreats and life coaching to queer women of color.