Keep screaming

By Rev. Theresa Ninán Soto

The cry of the cicada
Gives us no sign
That presently it will die.

With [The cry of the cicada] and its single image, Basho combines the sound of summer, the sense of screaming, and the distinct reaction that one may have to the unyielding presence of insects or the larger embrace of nature, untamed. I read this poem in the high, hot middle of summer and imagined that this one moment, in the life of the cicada, unabashed, full-throated, has wisdom for us.

What are queer and trans people called to in this moment? Maybe we have a call to sing out, and beyond that, to scream a song of survival, of connection, and of joy, inseparable from its twin, grief.

Basho was born to a family descended from samurai in 1644 and made contributions to poetry with forms focused on rhythm, like renga, a collaborative exercise with haiku, and haibun, a form combining haiku and prose. Basho was also known to have homosexual connections and experiences throughout his life.

With new forms, Basho illuminates an old theme: while around us, circumstances are difficult, within us, entire universes of melody and counterpoint exist. We are queer and trans in a world that is learning to recognize the glory of queerness and transness.

This is a blooming knowledge in our communities, families, and lives that coexists with a world in which there have been more than 175 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in thirty-two states this year. But further than simply the invitation to screaming, to sharing an unashamed, technicolor song of survival, we are called to a moment of mystery. That is, the poem suggests that the song or scream does not convey that it will end soon. Does it matter more that the song might end or that it is still loud and long? Your song matters; your survival and thriving matters. Your means of survival doesn’t have to be perfect to be awesome. No matter how complex our circumstances might be, you are invited to keep screaming the part of the song, or the wail, that only you can bring.

My friend, Rev. Alex Haider-Winnett puts it this way: “Cicadas don’t just scream. They hiss wildly, while their whole bodies vibrate. It is a violently aggressive action from a creature we generally deem as invisible.” It is that full-spectrum of engagement with the moment of life that intersects with the multicolored, multivalent beauty of queerness and transness.

What if you’re tired of screaming? There have been so many ways that the pressure of extractive capitalism and the demands of the cultural production of evil are enforced on the lives of queer and trans folks. When it gets to be too much, let your silence and your rest also contribute to the collective lament that we create.

Cicadas remind us that part of what it takes queer and trans folks to survive, in addition to screaming, is sticking together. Cicadas are not faster than their predators, nor skillful at confusing them. Instead, they avoid being eaten by staying in as large a group as possible. Staying together is how we engage with the uncertainty of the world around us. When there is no sign of what comes next, we signal to each other that we are still here, still moving together.

There will someday be an end to the song that humanity sings together, but it is the screaming and the silence, of our hearts and our resistance, that reminds us that as long as we have a song, we continue to create the space in which the song of the future can arise. Keep screaming.

Rev. Theresa Ninán Soto is the lead minister of the First Unitarian Church of Oakland. They have served on the Journey Toward Wholeness Transformation Team Committee of the UUA. Pastor Ninán wrote Spilling the Light: Meditations on Hope and Resilience in 2019. They are married to the Rev. Sean Parker Dennison. Pastor Ninán enjoys Detroit pizza and playing with Pico the rescue pup.

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