Power and Peace: Late Activist Diana Hemingway

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Diana Hemingway (left) with LJ Woolston at the inaugural LadyFest in 2014. © Photos by LJ.

Truly, how does one capture the life of your love, the love of your life, a trailblazer, a devout friend, a rescuer, an advocate, an activist, an artist, in mere words? When my partner, Diana Hemingway, first died by suicide on December 20th, 2016, I wrote fervently about her in the days that followed. The words flowed easily, as it felt like she was still here. I could still see her sitting across the couch from me. I could still see her eyes, as I stared into them from where my head had time and again rested in her lap. Most of all, I could still hear Diana's voice in my head, her words so often filled with frustration and angst over some form of oppression or act of injustice.

Losing Diana has felt like a colossal injustice to me. I lost my love and our community lost a hugely powerful and influential activist. In fact, Diana's first love in life was activism, so much so that she dropped out of school at just 16 years old to work for Greenpeace. For Diana, her activism was one of the ways in which she loved the many communities that she belonged to. Furthermore, her love for others was also a form of activism, for Diana so deeply loved and affirmed individuals that others often did not, could not, or would not.

On March 2nd, 2016, Diana wrote on Facebook: "Thank you to all my friends. I'm grateful to have you in my life. I may not always share your optimism for the future or your views, but I do share our love for each other. If anything can give us a chance at a bright future, it's genuinely loving others."

At just 46 years old, Diana loved with the heart of someone who had lived four or five lifetimes. No single article, no few paragraphs on a page, could adequately capture Diana's love for others, her activism, her intensity, her depth. Diana was an absolutely brilliant, queer, non-binary transgender woman who was also on the autism spectrum. She was a well-known, multi-issue activist who tackled trans and queer rights, racism, disability rights, neurodivergence, economic justice, mental illness, issues impacting the kink community, and end-of-life decisions.

2015 10 14Diana's activism was made more powerful by the fact that she faced so many systemic struggles (many of the same struggles that other trans people with intersecting identities face) – difficulty accessing quality health care, societal rejection, family rejection, community rejection, job rejection, ongoing economic challenges, and multiple episodes of homelessness. Although Diana felt empowered by her ability to choose when and how to end her life, there is no doubt that many systems of oppression, "-ism's," and traumas loaded Diana's gun – transphobia, whorephobia, respectability politics, ableism, misogyny, sexism, body shaming, ageism, capitalism, rape culture, the criminalization of sex workers, non-profit industrial complex politics, and dilapidated mental and physical health care systems.

I could go on.

As Diana's love for me was part of her activism, and her activism a part of her loving me for the three years that we were together, I owe it to her to be her activist in return. Even though it is still raw and painful, I will continue to tell her story, all of her story, not only because I believe that the love we shared is so very worthy of being shared with others, but also because I believe that Diana's story speaks to the many systemic failures that she so fearlessly rallied against.

However, for the past couple of weeks, as I have tried to write more about Diana's activism, I have found my words falling gravely short of capturing her essence as an activist. Instead, I thought it more powerful to share some of her own writings. I can only hope that through Diana's words, a little bit of her activism – and a whole lot more of her love – lives on.

 

 

Diana, on racism and shutting it down during Black Friday, 11/26/2014:

"Fellow white folks - do you think you can skip one year of disgusting commercialism to stand with people of color? #ShutItDown!"

 

On SWOP and being in action in activism, 1/24/2015:

"Regardless of who you are, or what your history is, you can be a part of this movement. As of today, I've officially opened a chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, an international organization run by sex workers and former sex workers, dedicated to reducing the individual violence and systemic violence that sex workers are subject to in varying degrees according to their intersections of oppression."

 

On transphobia, hate crimes, sex work, and suicidality in the trans community, 2/17/2015:

"Tonight I'm going to go to bed, hoping that tomorrow will be the day when:

- trans people's lives will be respected and valued

- we don't have make unthinkable sacrifices just to survive

- we can expect to live a long full life

Tomorrow I will wake up knowing that as a trans sex worker, I have a 25% chance of being murdered, and 60% chance of taking my own life. And the world won't have changed one bit."

 

On sex worker rights, trans rights, their intersections, and TDOR, 2/17/2015:

"Sex worker rights without trans rights, or trans rights without sex worker rights, IS A JOKE. 

Read the names and descriptions on the Nov 20th International Transgender Day of Remembrance list.

Read the names and descriptions on the Dec 17th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers list.

Both lists are overwhelmingly trans sex workers. Trans rights and sex worker rights MUST be tackled together."

 

On finding one's equilibrium, 2/20/15::

"Balancing exposure as a sex worker with community activism can be tricky - no pun intended." #EscortLife

 

On racism and the BLM movement, 4/30/2015:

"Black Lives Matter MORE than other lives, because once we have fixed anti-black racism, we will have fixed ALL racism!"

 

On sex work, language, and whorephobia, 7/2/2015:

"Saying that sex workers "sell themselves" is whorephobia. We do not sell ourselves any more than any other worker in any field sells themselves."

 

On police brutality and the murder of POC, 10/16/15:

"Every day of the year, I’ve read an article where another person of color has been murdered by police, though only POC+Allies ever dare call it that.

The trauma is real. The pause is real. But we can never afford to remain speechless for any longer than it takes to get ready for war."

 

On shame and kink, 10/17/2015:

"Shame is unhealthy. Stop shaming people for having fetishes - even when people of one kind or another are the objects of that fetish."

 

On sex work, existing outside of the margins, power and empowerment, 10/29/2015:

"Fragile men, mostly white/cis/het, and their institutions of power, supremacy, and oppression tremble at the idea of “bitches, blacks, trannies, fags, freaks, illegals, and queers” having power. Power over their own bodies. Power over their own morality. Economic power. Political power. The power to educate. The power to take a seat at the table as anything other than a token. The power to demand compensation for what the Man thinks is rightfully his for free.

They say that everything in the world is about sex, except sex itself. Sex is about power. If sex is about power, then opposition to sex work is also about power. It is a proxy fight for the Man to make an example of supposedly easy targets. To send a message that having the audacity to survive and to thrive and take back our power will not be tolerated.

We will not be kept on the margin forever. We will skirmish the margin for what we need, and take our power back. We will define resilience and resistance. The Man wants to make us an example, but we sex workers will become the vanguard of revolution for a new society of equality, fairness, and justice. Power - true power - is what we possess inside ourselves. We cannot be broken.

#Skirmishthemargin #whoretesan #sexwork #feminism #racism #homophobia #transphobia #xenophobia #kinkphobia #oppression #power #resistance"

On the Non-Profit Industrial Complex and eating each other alive, 1/29/2016:

"...Like when I was involved in environmental activism, we'd have five groups working on the same problem, spending all their energy fighting each other."

 

On hate crimes, just two months after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, 8/16/16:

"The Long Slow Pulse

My Pulse beats slow.

Almost every day of my life for the last many long years, I've seen the face of another person like me - murdered because of who they are.

Murdered because they were gay.

Murdered because they were trans.

Murdered because they were disabled.

Murdered because they were mentally ill.

Murdered because they were a woman.

Murdered because they were a sex worker.

Murdered because they were anti-establishment.

Murdered because they were gypsy.

And many friends murdered because they were people of color. Or many of the above, facing threats on multiple fronts.

My heart remains broken. Every day. It's pounding screaming beat, slower, longer, as night edges towards the dawn. #MyPulseBeatsSlow #LongSlowPulse"

 

On activism, loss, starting over, and peace, 12/28/2011:

"For the better part of the last three decades, I have dedicated my life to making someone else's world a better place. In the 80s, I worked for Greenpeace. In the 90s, I served the homeless and addicts. In the 00s, I helped with a bit of everything from politics to environmental causes to crime prevention. I've taken really good care of the people in my life while we were together, and held no hard feelings when we've parted.

I have taken chances and risked a great deal to be true to myself. I have lost some of the most important people I've ever known. I have started over from nothing more times than I care to remember.

I feel like I've paid enough forward to ask just one small favor - let me find some peace this time..."

 

As Diana faced the possibility of becoming homeless again at the end of 2016 (just as she did when she made the above Facebook post in 2011), I now know why she was so scared to lose everything and to have to start over again from nothing; loss guts you, traumatizes you, levels you. As I start my life over again without Diana (who was also my home and the most important person I've ever known), I send out every last bit of energy that I have into the Universe each day on her behalf. I know that many of us do the same for other fallen activists, begging that the Universe hears us, hoping that our comrades, our friends, our loves 'Rest in Power.'

My hope, however, is not that Diana rests in power.

For her many, many years of service and activism, so very many years of being powerful, years of fighting for herself, fighting for you, fighting for me, fighting for us all, years of extending undying love to others, my ask of the Universe will forever be that Diana rests in peace – not only because peace is what she sought, but because peace is what she deserves.
On December 14th, 2015, just about a year before her suicide, Diana wrote,"My existence is an act of revolution. My visibility and authenticity provide me with a platform to create change."

It is up to us now.

 


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