Hey, it’s Omaralexis but, you can call me Lex. I was SO excited to finally get my hands on this book: The New Queer Conscience, written by Adam Eli. It was released on June 2nd, 2020 as part of the Pocket Change Collective series published by Penguin, and Adam Eli is one of six incredible advocates/authors writing about social justice and social responsibility. His counterparts within the Pocket Change Collective include community leaders like Kimberly Drew, Amyra Leon, Xiuhtezcatl (Shoe-Tez-Cut) Martinez, Alok Vaid-Menon (Uh-loke Vad Menin), and Hannah Testa.
I got this book on the day it was released but only just had the opportunity to read it and put my thoughts together, so that’s what I want to share with you today.
About Adam Eli
As some background on Adam Eli: he is a writer and community organizer based in New York City. He identifies as queer, and is of Jewish heritage, advocating for the empowerment of intersectional minorities. Adam also founded Voices4, which is a non-violent political action group fighting for queer liberation around the world.
His latest book, The New Queer Conscience is a pocket-sized, 30-minute read, which outlines what he believes is our moral imperative as queer people to come together and advocate for each other anywhere in the world. He calls this the “Global Queer Conscience” and summarizes it in just one phrase: “Queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere.”
The New Queer Conscience
This is an incredibly powerful phrase that I want to break down a bit. Eli begins his book by talking about a mass shooting at a Jewish synagogue that occurred in 2018, and killed 11 people. He uses this tragedy to exemplify how, following this targeted attack on Jewish-Americans, in Pittsburgh, the global Jewish community rallied in support. Adam Eli cites that not only did the global community raise funds to cover funerals, but also came together to mourn in vigils held around the world, and some even flew into Pittsburgh to offer volunteer services to the community. He states it best: the global Jewish community came together at that moment to say that an attack on one is an attack on all. This is the future that Eli is calling for in his book, and he lays out 10 precepts to guide members of the queer community along this path to an elevated collective consciousness, like that of his Jewish community’s.
The Global LGBTQIA+ Community is a Diaspora
Before discussing how these precepts can bring our community together, Adam Eli first gives us an anecdote to summarize what he believes to be the biggest obstacle to our unity: the fact that the queer community, like many ethnic groups around the world, is truly a diaspora. This is the first time I’ve considered that, yes, our community is decentralized; we have no “homeland,” and we crop up in every far corner of the world like weeds. (There’s definitely a more empowering way to phrase that, but you know what I mean!) The members of our community are scattered like stardust, but never truly alone.
Eli shares a story of himself, closeted in early high school, crying in a bathroom when he confronted himself stating, “I am gay.” It wasn’t until college when Eli made his first gay friend, that he realized he was never alone in that moment; his friend, Will, also cried in a high school bathroom within a week of him. Adam Eli poses that the two of them were never alone -- simply separate. Eli goes on to state:
“Queer people are never alone because we are a part of something greater than ourselves. There were and are queer people all around us at all times. Silenced queers of the present sitting across from us in the classroom. Empathetic and strong queers of the past rooting us on, guiding us. And, most of all, our queer friends of the future, eagerly waiting for us to arrive.”
Wow. That is such an empowering, and hopeful statement, but what’s better is that in being part of this greater queer community, Eli contends that we individually contribute to an untapped power to change the world. Picture a world where young queer people do not need to grow up with shame or self-doubt, but rather confidence and self-love; firmly rooted in a rich queer culture that reinforces the idea that being queer is not wrong or weird. This is the world that Eli believes his 10 precepts can help us in getting started.
Adam Eli’s 10 Precepts for a New Queer Conscience
Rather than list out all ten of Adam’s precepts (as I definitely think you should check them all out for yourself), I chose three of what I felt were the most profound to me, and things I certainly want to implement in how I navigate the world, and treat other queer people around me.
Recognize that the Playing Field is Not Equal
To start, Adam Eli’s fourth precept is: “Recognize that the playing field is not equal.” When it comes to how queer people navigate the world, there are varying degrees of privilege we have layered atop our queer identities which determine how we are treated, and what obstacles we may face as we go through life. We must acknowledge these differences and lift each other up with varying kinds of support, even if that support is simply silence and empathy.
Eli shares with us a story of his cousin, Madison, who is a transgender woman. He recounts a visit to the Audre Lorde project where Madison sought to begin hormone replacement therapy. Adam expressed happiness for her and her transition, but this wasn’t very well-received on Madison’s end. Rather, Madison told Adam he simply “doesn’t get it,” in reference to her struggle, and at first Adam was confused, if a bit defensive. He struggled to understand how Madison could suggest he didn’t “get” her struggle, as he was queer, too!
As Madison completed her medical consultation, answering the doctor’s questions, providing consent, and serving as her own agent at only age 17, Adam realized that he really didn’t get it. He acknowledged that his queerness did not call for him to change his body, or seek counsel without the permission of his parents. He has not experienced the fear and anxiety that comes with that, and in some way, his attitude may have invalidated Madison’s feelings -- something he certainly did not mean to do, but his lack of understanding caused.
While we as queer people may share an identity as being “other,” we do not share the same experiences as a result of our intersectional identities; things like race, gender identity, and socioeconomic status. The experience of a cisgender, white, straight-passing gay man (like Adam) may have had its hardships, but none to the same degree as Madison, a transgender woman. Adam finishes that while he can empathize, he could never “get it.” The only support he needed to provide Madison with was silent solidarity and validation of her fears.
Queer People Should Work in Solidarity With All Oppressed People
Adam Eli also posits the following precept #7: “LGBTQIAA+ people should work in solidarity with all oppressed people.” This sounds like a typical “rising tide lifts all boats” aphorism, which is true, but Eli actually proves to us that you cannot be a true advocate for queer people, if you are not also standing against all oppression.
He proves this by illustrating how former President Donald Trump’s 2017 “Muslim Ban” was, on the surface, an Islamophobic policy, but had broader implications that directly harmed queer people. Specifically, his list of banned countries comprised of Muslim-majority populations, many of which had severe punishments for homosexuality, including death. By banning all refugees and asylum-seekers from these nations, former President Trump inadvertently harmed the countless queer men and women seeking to escape their oppressive situations. It is therefore impossible for someone to claim they are an advocate for queer people, while placing asterisks on this support when standing by or even supporting xenophobic policies such as these.
Anyone Can Do This Work (Including Straight People!)
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Adam Eli’s final precept states: “You can be closeted and still do this work. You can be straight and do this work.” Although Eli’s book is titled “A New Queer Conscience,” it is truly a manifesto for any member of our community -- including our straight allies. This work will one day create a world that is safe for queer people everywhere.
For closeted members of the queer community, doing this work to embrace a new queer conscience can mean simply showing kindness to out members of the community. Eli shares a story of sleepaway camp, where he witnessed the relentless teasing of a known queer kid. Even though Adam was closeted at the time, and it would have been difficult for him to stand up for the kid, he laments that he had no reason to actively join in on the teasing. Solidarity doesn’t have to be big. Solidarity can be small gestures that don’t place anyone in dangerous or uncomfortable positions, whether or not they are ready to come out of the closet.
As for straight people, Eli shares that you do not have to be queer at all to do this work. Educating oneself on what it means to be queer is an easy way to embrace solidarity with the community as a straight ally. More so, you don’t need to be queer to display kindness and compassion for queer people, or to vote for queer-affirming politicians. Straight allies are a necessary backbone to advancing queer liberation around the world. They create safe spaces, and advocate on our behalf; reinforcing our presence everywhere, and uplifting queer leaders to enact meaningful change.
Queer People Must Channel and Direct their Collective Power
Our LGBT+ community is diverse and powerful. Each member of our community contributes a wealth of knowledge, experience, and agency -- all of which can be leveraged to uplift each other through acts of kindness and solidarity. Whether that is through a silent show of support, or even a referral to a new job. Adam Eli contends that when we channel and direct this power through the use of a common understanding -- a queer conscience -- that we maximize our strength and create a better world for the queers that come next. I, like Adam, challenge you to do the work of uplifting your fellow queers. This book is simply a guide for how we can be intentional about creating this new world, but ultimately, Eli’s new queer conscience boils down to this: “Queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere.”