Sunday, May 21, 2023

Queering Mental Illness into a New Revolutionary Consciousness

 Jordan Neely was kind of a weird kid. If you ever saw him, you would know what I mean. There was just something profoundly 'other' about his spirit and through the right set of eyes, it was something beautiful to behold. He looked just like Michael Jackson back when Michael Jackson still looked like Michael Jackson. Joyful, genderless, racially ambiguous. He could dance to absolutely no music at all, and my God could he dance. Perhaps you have seen him, in the subway station or beneath the shimmering lights of Time Square, moving so effortlessly, as if his body had a language all its own that could say all the words that forces beyond his control wouldn't allow him to say. And smiling, always smiling...

I had a friend kind of like that once. His name was Osaze Osagie but to me he was always just Ozzy, and he was kind of a weird kid too. He stood as tall and as dark as an oak tree and dressed like every day was Sunday. You never saw him without a Bible in his hand, but you never heard him preach. I'm precisely the kind of creature that Ozzy's church warns their parishioners about, a gutter mouthed gender outlaw with a profoundly profane disdain for anything even remotely resembling authority. But Ozzy never made me feel uncomfortable. He seemed to exude an aura of gentle wisdom that said far more about the mysterious ways of Christ than conventional diction could ever express. And he was always smiling. That same smile that could be seen on Jordan Neely's face before the world caved in on him.

I met Ozzy at a psych rehab where I was recovering from decades of spiritual abuse that had rendered me an agoraphobic hermit by my mid-twenties. Ozzy had been diagnosed with several words that failed to accurately capture his spirit any better than the Catholic Church managed to capture mine. During one of his darker days his father called the police. Ozzy was talking about hurting himself before he stopped talking at all. The police came to his apartment, covered the peephole on his door and knocked without identifying themselves to someone they knew was already terrified. They claim that Ozzy attacked them with a steak knife. They claim that three heavily armed men required a taser and three bullets to defend themselves. One of those bullets landed in Ozzy's back. He was 29 years old when he was murdered by the state in 2019. I can still see him smiling when I close my eyes.

Four years later it would be Jordan Neely's turn. After spending years being chewed up and spit out by the revolving gears of New York's various institutions for carceral readjustment, Neely finally lost his smile and begged the subways he once danced for to save him. "I don't have food. I don't have a drink. I'm fed up. I don't mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I'm ready to die." These were Jordan Neely's last words to society and society responded to his heated desperation with cold violence. A man trained by the state to kill poor people put Neely into a chokehold for fifteen minutes and two passengers held him down while the rest of the people on that train car calmly sat and watched him die. "You're gonna kill him now." They warned Neely's attacker as if he should be mindful while he takes the garbage to the curb. Jordan Neely may not have been murdered by the state, but the state trained a dozen human beings who could have easily saved him to stay in their seats and behave like a crowd.

Both my friend Ozzy and Jordan Neely were Black, but their race wasn't the only thing that made them disposable. As I said, they were both weird kids and western society considers this to be a condition that should be heavily policed. Osagie and Neely died because they are part of a growing caste of mentally ill Americans. The Surgeon General has declared our existence to be a public health crisis. Loneliness. A pathological disconnection with the outside world that was ferociously accelerated by the societal devastation of the Pandemic but didn't begin with it. 

Even before Covid, approximately half of all American adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness and all the available statistics show a tsunami of mental health issues in this country that has swelled precipitously between the 1930s and the 1990s before leveling off at historic highs. The most visible side effects of this surge have been homelessness and unemployment. Across the wealthiest nation on earth, city streets are cluttered with tent colonies and businesses sit vacant with help wanted signs left unanswered. Many Americans look upon this spectacle with confusion and even open disdain. What could possibly be the source of this crippling social contagion that has rendered 60 million Americans too ill to participate in the banal joys of civilized society? 

I just have to throw my head back and laugh like a lunatic when you people call us crazy and then wonder why we don't meet your approval. Take a look around you, stupid. We live in a world where burning down the rainforest for hamburgers and killing children with robots in Somalia isn't even considered newsworthy. A world where a police officer can lynch a man in his own community during broad daylight while he begs his neighbors to put down their cellphones and save him. A world teetering perilously on the brink of nuclear apocalypse and environmental devastation. And you have the fucking nerve to ask the people who take it personally what the big deal is? Read my lips very carefully so you don't miss a word. Fuck. You.

In case you haven't noticed, I take this shit kind of personally myself and it's not just because a bunch of pompous assholes in white collars and white coats have been diagnosing my feelings as an illness for my entire life. The people that you call mentally ill are essentially just people who are allergic to the arbitrary rules that define our declining civilization as normal. There is another word for this condition that is far more appropriate than ill, and it's called Queer. According to the masters of the universe over at the American Psychiatric Association, the desire to fuck someone with the same genitals as you was a mental illness until 1973 and the existence of third genders like mine was listed as a disorder until 2013. These fine folks in the therapeutic state didn't come to their senses out of a sudden epiphany of moral character. They were kicked into reforming these definitions by pissed-off Queer folk who were tired of being called sick and if you ask me, we should have kept fucking kicking.

Queer people have been indoctrinated by liberal society into believing that our removal from the DSM was some kind of great victory for civil rights, but it was really little more than a strategic PR stunt pushed by the APA to save the good name of a bad system and we all fell for it. In the years since we've disaggregated ourselves from the rest of civilization's malcontents, Queer people have been assimilated beyond recognition into mainstream culture as a lifestyle brand called LGBTQ, but we've also found ourselves more policed than we've been since Stonewall, with a growing asylum of laws that openly seek to strangle us like a straitjacket. This is the thanks that we get for betraying our fellow outsiders. Assimilation always comes at the price of throwing some lesser 'other' beneath the whirling blades of the wheat thresher to prove that you can be just as sadistic as the cool kids. This is how Catholic immigrants became white and this is how Queer people became sane, but it has only made us all weaker in the process because mainstream society is the problem. 

Weird kids like Jordan Neely and my friend Ozzy are just two of many casualties in a war against civilization's unwilling victims and it isn't the loud-mouthed bigots on Fox News leading the charge, it's sensitive liberal heroes like New York Mayor Eric Adams and California Governor Gavin Newsom who are bulldozing homeless encampments by the hundreds and pushing to institutionalize those deemed defective by the police state in the name of progress and liberal guilt. These people shouldn't be given floats in our Disneyfied Pride Parades, they should be chased off of our streets with the rest of the pigfucking fascist scum in a second Stonewall that doesn't stop until we burn down the asylum once and for all.

For generations radicals of every stripe have been searching high and low for a mythic revolutionary class to carry out the final execution of the state. Most leftists are still trapped in the 19th century with fantasies of the workers of the world uniting against their factory masters running through their dizzy skulls. But in 2023, what unites the dispossessed isn't labor, it's mental illness. However, this mindset, the one that finds more and more Americans incompatible with the drudgeries of western civilization by the second, isn't a sickness, it is a new revolutionary consciousness.

Queer people had the right idea by following the lead of Frantz Fanon and the Black Panthers and turning those of us who were too transgressive to be colonized into a stateless third world nation deep inside the belly of Babylon, but they shouldn't have limited our ranks to just five letters in the alphabet. We should have Queered the whole damn DSM and united all of us who find ourselves too pathologically divergent to conform to the dictates of a sick society beneath a single rainbow banner. It's not too late.

Jordan Neely and Osage Osazie may not have been Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender but they were two kids who were too weird and beautiful to be anything but Queer and you better believe that I take their deaths personally because no Queer person should ever be left behind by the revolution.

Peace, Love & Empathy- Nicky/CH

Soundtrack: Songs that influenced this post

* Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson

* Police Story by Black Flag

* Mad World by Tears for Fears

* Salad by Blondeshell

* Stop Whispering by Radiohead

* Scream by Michael and Janet Jackson

* See No Evil by Television

* Crazy by Patsi Kline

* Beautiful by Lana Del Rey

* If I Ever Leave this World Alive by Flogging Molly


  1. This essay reminded me about the rationale of shot by police for the crime of driving while black.
    When I was a skater one of my favourite songs to skate dance to was Crazy by Patsi Cline. ✓ (third song listed from the bottom)

    Off Topic
    Today is the second week in a row since Jan. 16/22 that when I key in “exile in happy valley” the site opens directly up without having to do a pile of rigmarole through other sites to open up this weekly essay. The holier than thou internet censors must be on holiday or preoccupied with Tucker fucking Carlson.

  2. Well said.
    I was reading somewhere, some New Yorker said there will be no justice for Jordan once this goes to court. A jury would acquit because New Yorkers on subways know the difference between someone in crisis who is going to hurt you and those who are harmless and so this killer was justified. This person then wrote why didn't Jordan's family take him in? Because they were afraid of his violence. Um, what? But you know, this kind of thinking is rampant. Here in Silicon Valley there was a big homeless vehicle encampment down the street in a park under the flight path of the San Jose Airport. The government wanted to kick these people out and then the Feds stepped in, claiming it's illegal to live directly under the flight path and we will with hold funds. Well, of course, then the RV dwellers were swept out(though a few remain a few blocks away). You don't even want to read how much residents complain on NextDoor. The homeless are blamed for the downturn in businesses in downtown, they steal our bikes, the are polluting the river with filth yada yada yada.
    Maybe if the debt ceiling fiasco worst case scenario happens then the whole country will fall into Depression. Our system can collapse suddenly.