for Amanda “Arkansassy” Harris and All Of Us
Strange isn’t it. How the sound of her name holds a new weight. As if it were an incantation. Or a lament. Strange how the whisper of her name can sometimes feel like a scream.
That’s what grief does. It transforms. It disfigures. It makes new again.
It can be an agonizing process. Whether we knew her well, or not at all, we can each feel the knot in our stomachs that her death has left us with. A knot that some of us might be afraid of pulling apart. Afraid it will all come undone and we will be left with the very thing we fear most, nothing. Absence.
No more struggle. No more grief. Like we have forgotten her.
Maybe we are afraid that we might be left with an understanding. An understanding that can feel too much like acceptance. Acceptance for something we may not wish to condone. Acceptance that Amanda is gone, that she won’t be coming back, and that she chose to leave.
If we were to accept that, what are we left with?
I’m sure that over the last 5 months many of us have been reminded that grief is not linear, rational, or sometimes even fully conscious. It sneaks into the crevices of our life. Bursts open when we least expect it. Stays silent when we do.
For months I’d had an outfit planned for NYE. But that night it just didn’t feel right. So I ended up leaving the house in one of my tightest, shortest, dresses.
I told my date about the fashion crisis and how the only earrings that felt right were the ones with the animal print. They were trying to calm my anxiety when out of nowhere I blurted, “I think I’m having some grief feelings”. It came out fast and fevered, more like “ITHINKIMHAVINGSOMEGRIEFFEELINGS”. I’d barely gotten the words out before the tears came.
I sobbed as we drove down the highway. Nothing could stop it. And I hadn’t seen it coming.
There was something so final about the turning of a year. One we will share no part of. It made her feel further away. Like it was only then that she became something we couldn’t get back.
I tried not to smear my eyeliner and I realized that I had dressed for Amanda. Tight dress, for her. Black cowgirl boots, for her. Animal print earrings, for her. Red lips, for her.
I wonder if she can see it happening? I wonder if she can see the ways that some of us are trying on leopard print for the first time, buying lingerie, choosing fringe?
We are searching for a way to keep her with us. We are yearning for a way to carry her forward. We miss her.
She left 5 months and 3 days ago and my grief is just beginning. Our grief is just beginning.
A week before she took her life Amanda was at my house. We sat in my hot tub. She sipped honey whiskey. We sang Deana Carter. We talked mental health. Home. Femme. Heartache. We talked grief. Alot about grief. About how impossible it is.
In fact, in the 5 or 6 hours she was at my house it was grief that we kept returning to. Her heart still shattered by the loss of Taueret and Bryn. She talked about how she just couldn’t shake it. How grief seemed to be piling on top of grief, both little things and big. How she wished our society was better equipped to help us *truly* process our grief.
I’ve thought alot about that since then. Now that we are grieving her.
How do we grieve honestly and all the way?
Is it even possible? Can we allow our grief to be unconditional? Meaning that we are allowed to grieve no matter how close we were to her. No matter the last time we spoke to her. Or if she was angry at us when she died. Meaning we grieve her fully not just because she was brilliant and talented and kind, but because she was imperfect, challenging, and broken. Meaning we understand that some of what made her impossible, also made her glorious.
She doesn’t have to be a saint to be worthy of our sorrow, our anger, our pain, our sadness. And making her a villain won’t protect us from our grief. She doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of grieving. We can love her exactly as she was. We can grieve her humanity. Her life both incredibly public, and incredibly private.
In the final months of her life Amanda battled a beast that she had met before. It was a battle that only a few bore witness to. It happened in private. The rest of us saw her awards, her art shows, her snapchats. Maybe we looked up to her. Maybe we even envied her. It can feel confusing. How did we get here?
In the months since her death countless people have talked to me about their own suicidality. The ways it has increased or decreased after Amanda’s suicide.
Suicide is scary. Particularly when we cannot know what took the person from contemplation to completion. It makes us wonder if we are standing on a ledge we can’t see. It makes us wonder if we can we trust ourselves. It makes us wonder if we can trust each other.
It creates a contradiction. We become hypervigilant. Worried that every phone call or text is an emergency. Or that every vaguebook post is a call for help.
But we also become exhausted. So we disengage. We don’t respond to people as quickly as we’d like to. Or we hole up in our room with Netflix.
We worry. That people will leave and that if we try to help it will only make it hurt worse if they do. So do we protect them? Or do we protect ourselves?
It’s not a choice we should ever have to make.
Alice Walker wrote a poem that I find myself coming back to again and again. Part of it reads:
“In my house
I will keep
It is now
I will keep
I will keep
I will keep
I will keep
It reads like a promise to me. A promise to stay. A promise to keep each other. A promise that we can be both broken and adored.
In Japanese culture there is a concept called Wabi-Sabi. There is no real translation or equivalence in English or in America. The easiest way to say it is that it is the art of finding beauty in imperfection. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. It allows you to be both beautiful and broken.
A practice called Kintsugi was born from Wabi-Sabi. It is the practice of restoring what is broken with a sort of lacquer that is mixed with gold or other elements. So if a tea cup slipped from your hands and broke you wouldn’t simply throw it away. Instead you would bind the pieces back together. And you wouldn’t try to make the cracks invisible. You wouldn’t pretend it had never been broken. Instead you would celebrate the cracks. Make them decadent and gold. I heard it referred to as a “philosophy not of replacement, but of awe, reverence, and restoration”.
It is an ancient practice. A spiritual practice.
And, for me, there is something very Femme about all of it. The idea that adornment is a form of reverence, of binding together. The notion that our cracks, our wounds, can be beautiful too.
So much femme labor, femme love, comes from that place of breaking. It is what teaches us how to see each other. It is what teaches us how to see you. And in learning how to heal we have also learned how to mend. We take what is supposed to go unseen and amplify it, make it too much, put gold on it.
And the tricky part is that sometimes we adorn it because we understand that beauty is powerful, and sometimes we adorn it because we don’t believe anyone would look at us otherwise. That if we are too raw or too wounded or too messy, we will lose our place in community. Sometimes we think we have to be finished healing before we can be worthy.
A month or so ago a friend sent me a good grieving song. In it there is a line that says, “let our hearts hold to the good parts And our wounds scar in good looking ways”.
Amanda was broken. And beautiful. She was beautiful. And broken. Just like us.
I was 17 when I tried to take my own life. I say tried not because I came to my senses, simply just that it didn’t work. And I know I’m not alone in this room.
It is a hard thing. To find a way to name that too many of us have considered taking our own lives. While also pushing back against the idea that it is somehow acceptable, or normal, for queer and trans people to die by suicide.
That is not a narrative we have written. It is a narrative written about us. It is a narrative written by those who don’t know how precious we are. Our early deaths are not inevitable.
We are not wrong for struggling. And we are not alone in it. But we deserve support. Struggle should not end our lives.
Before the coroner took Amanda’s body I offered her a blessing. It was emotional and rambling and imperfect. But it was on purpose. They brought her out on a stretcher wrapped in a periwinkle blue blanket, and we stood beside her, Coal, Kelley, and I. In our hands we held angel trumpet flowers. They grew in Coal’s backyard. They were beautiful and fragrant. They changed the very air around them. But they were also poison. And they were also medicine.
We are rarely just one thing.
Before they took her I told her that we loved her unconditionally. That no choice she ever made, including this one, would change that. I told her that we forgave her. That we would try to understand. I told her that I believed all that is divine loved her too, had always loved her. I prayed for her peace and the end of her suffering. I asked her to watch over us and to make us laugh when we were taking ourselves too seriously. And then I blessed her in the name of all that is holy and in the name of Trisha.
We laid each of our flowers on her chest, so they fanned out across her, and I walked beside the stretcher as they loaded her body into the coroner’s van. The pale yellow white of the flowers against the periwinkle blue of the blanket. A blessing. An adornment.
The pain of her passing, the pain we carried before she was gone, it won’t leave us unscathed. It is not supposed to. But together we can help each other notice where and how we have been broken. Together, lovingly, we can allow grief to gild us. Adorn us. We can trust the alchemy of witnessing. We can transform what is broken into the thing that keeps us together.
We can be beautiful and broken at the same time. We can keep broken things. We can keep each other. But we have to be honest about our cracks.
Amanda’s death is a crack in our community. Just like Taueret’s and Bryn’s and so many others. And we cannot ignore it. We must tend to it. We must keep it from breaking us further. We cannot gloss over it with oversimplified sound bites. They deserve more from us. And we deserve better.
We have to do the deep work. The heart work. The soul work. The communal work. And we cannot be afraid of nuance. We cannot be afraid of complexity. We must be allowed to be more than one thing.
We have to make room to marvel at one another while we are still here. We must be willing to see the cracks AND the beauty at the same time.
Together, as a community, we can make a commitment. We can chose to keep broken things. We can choose to keep each other. We can chose to make more space for the many ways this world can break us. But it will cost us. It will cost us our villains. It will cost us some of our preciousness. It will cost us a bit of our comfort.
It would mean living into a truth that we so often try to impress on the outside world: we are not disposable. We have to mean that.
Let yourself feel the weight of her.
Let yourself feel the weight of her loss.
Let her be an incantation, a spell, a scream, a joy.
Let her loss call you back into life.
She was not disposable.
You are not disposable.
So repeat after me:
I will keep
I will keep
I will keep
I will keep
I will keep
I will keep
❤ ❤ ❤
Resources If You Or Someone You Know Is Considering Suicide
Bay Area Suicide Prevention
Serving: Transgender People
Serving: LGBTQ Youth
Text: write “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
The Icarus Project is a support network and education project by and for people who experience the world in ways that are often diagnosed as mental illness. We advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation. We transform ourselves through transforming the world around us. http://theicarusproject.net/resources/