This painting, “The Belly of the Beast,” evolved out of my actions as a “professional protester,” which began for environmental issues over twenty years ago. I came out later in life, and as enlightening as it was to be initiated into my new community, I was appalled by the effects or PTSD of discrimination. A woman in my coming out group huffed, “Environmental protest, what’s that?” as if only protests for LGBT and women’s rights mattered. It goes without saying that those battles matter, but without a planet on which to fight for our rights we’d be as doomed as the environment.
Twelve years ago, I moved to the Hudson Valley of New York where environmental issues loom large. I was admonished after a major spine surgery while pumped up on pain meds to make calls to oppose fracking. I explained in as many words as I could mumble that I’d fought my fair share of political battles. My protest signs against the toxic West Nile Virus spraying and to oppose the war in Iraq have appeared in The Daily News, People, and Audubon magazines, and even on Italian and Japanese television. But it was time for me to take care of me and to save the planet on another, less agonized day. From a total dis of my protests to pressure from the opposite, earthy camp, I needed to find a healthy middle ground!
For me, protest or resistance, which takes many forms alongside carrying signs and shouting in the streets, has always meant picking my battles—the battles I’m capable of handling and those that resonate most deeply. Protests against environmental destruction and protests against discrimination are equally valid, and so are my choices about resistance.
Speaking of choices, I grew up surrounded by woods with a pond to swim and skate across and five treehouses from which to pick and choose. That environment, a habitat aligned with my formation into adulthood, slowly eroded into a concrete jungle. Just like the creatures of vanishing natural spaces are displaced, I mourned the displacement of a vital part of my childhood. I found healing in my ingrained perception of myself as an artist and drew so much I joke that I was born with a pencil in my hand.
Artists tend to grasp living as an outsider young, and I was ever-conscious of my distinction from a pragmatic world where I was expected to become a secretary, a housewife, or both. Only my rebel grandma, a hippy before her time, and my Jewish art teacher in Catholic high school told me my art was a gift. No surprise even as late as I came out, I’d instantly embraced a community marginalized by outsider status.
I also quickly learned that not everyone embraces that distinction. Some folks battle discrimination head-on, some battle with more subtle, everyday heroism, and some, in a kind of self-loathing, project outrage onto their community. An ex or two of mine expressed the pain of having been bullied in the form of foul tempers toward lovers, including me. their pasts may have been a romp in the playground compared to mine, but they hadn’t progressed with their identities. The beast that’s potentially inside us all lurks in the shadows of internalized darkness. Despite its armor of invisibility, the battle against the inner beast who threatens to devour the inner child is also vital.
The Beast in capital letters—if an agnostic might venture a Biblical analogy to the current political climate of the U.S.—is a terrifying threat to our planet and humanity. We can’t measure our planet or our humanity as surpassing one or the other in significance. It’s an outrage that the Paris Climate Agreement was rejected by the current White House and that the head of the EPA lives in the pocket of self-serving big businesses. It’s equally outrageous that citizens are being systematically lumped into outsider categories. Do Jewish ghettoes ring any bells? Added to that volatile equation, the attack on innocents in the “friendly fire” of our military makes our president a bully to the world. The earth matters, and all peoples around this earth matter too.
Picking our battles among so many battles can become a battle in itself, and we might easily feel eroded by global chaos. Simply being human is a juggling act with how much we are able to sacrifice in this warfare under—let’s call it for what it is—a growing dictatorship. The hopeful word is growing, which we cling to like protest signs that shield our being swallowed into the belly of the Beast. Growing means we haven’t faced a full-fledged destruction of our environment nor have all of our freedoms been devoured by tyranny. Countless members of our community are standing strong, particularly on the front lines against what’s been called the American Taliban of fanatical Christianity. Our opposition is still being voiced and heard.
Each and every battle strikes as close to home or at the very heart of our identities as it can possibly resonate. In the thick of our battles, we need to remind ourselves to self-nurture and heal from the caustic effects of barbarous times. However we choose to protest and however much it’s within our powers to resist, pick a battle, any battle. Then resist again, rest, and repeat.
Doreen Perrine’s novels are published through Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company, and her third novel, Kid, about a lesbian mother’s custody battle for her daughter, has just been released. A recent finalist in South Africa’s Bloody Parchment Literary Festival and the recipient of a PEN Writer’s Relief Award, Doreen has published her stories in numerous anthologies and literary ezines such as The Copperfield Review, Lacuna, Raving Dove, Harrington Lesbian Literary Quarterly, Sinister Wisdom, and Queer Collection. Doreen, whose plays about hate crimes have been performed throughout New York City, is also an artist and teacher.