Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Failure is Indeed an Option

The author Sarah McBride, is an American transgender rights activist. In her memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different, she tells her story of entering the LGBTQ+ community, fighting for equal rights and what it means to be an openly transgender person. The first chapter titled “I’m transgender.” describes her coming-out story. The particular passage describes her time at college as a student body president. McBride explains that she enjoyed the position nevertheless, she also felt more miserable with every day that she had to spend pretending to be someone she wasn’t. So, she gave up on politics, which meant so much to her, because she felt lost. However, she points out that “… in a twisted way, giving up allowed me to begin to come to terms with my identity” (McBride 23). This statement stood out to me because she describes a moment of failure, of giving up, and while she might have felt defeated, she realizes that giving up was exactly what she needed.

McBride describes it as “twisted”, that by giving up on her greatest passion and life-long goals she probably achieved more than what she would have accomplished otherwise. She says giving up “allowed” her to pursue her search for identity, and in this context “allowed” gives the sentence a positive turn after using the negatively connotated “twisted”. Sarah McBride needed time to find herself, which is exactly what “giving up” granted her.

Normally, “giving up” is something we understand as negative. Giving up means surrendering, losing control, abandoning or declaring something insoluble (“give up”, merriam-webster.com). Yet, in this case, “giving up” gave Sarah McBride something she needed even more than succeeding in her goals. People around her might have judged her or thought she was giving up important opportunities still, for Sarah McBride this wasn’t a negative thing at all.

The passage reminded me of a quote from Jack Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure in which he states: “[t]he queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the remarkable. It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being” (Halberstam 88). Halberstam claims that “the queer art of failure” makes room for things that are unimaginable or unacceptable in non-queer circumstances. By “failing”, “losing” or “giving up” new space is created and new doors are opened. I feel like this is precisely what McBride is implying. A queer way of being and living is possible for anyone not adhering to society’s standards. What I am trying to say is, not succeeding or giving up on something society expects you to do, or what you expect yourself to do, does not make you, or your life, a failure. Especially when your life or your identity exists outside of the cultural monolith not succeeding at certain things could be exactly what you need.

Failure doesn’t have to be a negative thing at all.

1 Comment

  1. It could also be read as a critique on the monolith as a whole. To those who try to stay as close to the monolith, the idea of failure cannot be an option, because there is a determined path one must take in their lives. For queer people, the monolith does not exist, because they already defy what it says. Therefore, for McBride, perhaps, the idea of failure is acceptable, because she understood that she already went against the monolith. Because she gave up on politics, she was able to understand herself more, despite the fact that she went against the monolith.

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