Trying to prioritize and find joy during the pandemic isn’t easy, and for those of us who are QTBIPOC (Queer and Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), finding portrayals of joy in our communities is rare. The media tends to focus on our trauma, discrimination and pain.
The podcast “Joy Revolution” takes a new approach. Created by Gabby Rivera, a queer Puerto Rican writer from the Bronx, each episode features a different QTBIPOC guest. Through holistic conversation and empowering questions, they unpack how their hardships have shaped themselves and how their joy has come to fruition throughout their lives.
We talked to Gabby Rivera about the thought process behind the creation of “Joy Revolution,” but also for some words of advice on nurturing joy during quarantine.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Ichtaca Lira: How did you get the idea to create “Joy Revolution”?
Gabby Rivera: When our president was elected in 2016, that really ruptured something in my psyche. There was something about seeing that person’s face everywhere I went — in every airport, every news building on the TV.
That was just starting to tear out my spirit. And I started thinking about my grandma. When I was growing up, I’d be like, “Grandma, what do you want me to be when I grow up?” And she’d say “Happy, I want to be happy. You got to wake up every day and be happy, deeply satisfied and to be proud of yourself.”
So I started thinking about “Joy Revolution.” I’m exhausted. I’m tired. But there is this divine joy in me. There is ancestral joy in me. That was the seed. I personally wanted to take back my own life, media experience and conversation experience and censor it from a joyous perspective and QTBIPOC perspective.
IL: [This year], we’ve seen nationwide protests against police brutality, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. What role do you think joy plays in organizing or participating in revolutions?
GR: For me, as a queer Puerto Rican, my joy in times of protest in the name of police brutality, in the name of Black lives, my joy is being able to offer energy, to offer resources, to send supplies to the marches where I can.
My joy is in the movement and the action and in boosting what I can and finding ways to stay connected to Black-led organizations, Indigenous-led organizations, the people. I believe that joy is deep-rooted in that sense of community, compassion, justice.
IL: Why haven’t discussions about joy been pushed to the forefront?
GR: Our language, especially here [in the United States], is rooted in violence and aggression. Men in particular control a lot of that language that we use, how we speak to each other. The world hates femininity. It hates gentleness. There's no real room to tell people like, “I love you” or, “I care about you.”
But there's a tenderness that I think a lot of people want — across sexual orientation, across race. I think a lot of folks are acting out and being violent because they don't have that tenderness, because no one asked if they're okay.
When I was able to tour and go to colleges, I would ask giant rooms full of students, “Who has ever cared about your joy?” And most people say no one. And so the thing I think about with “Joy Revolution” is that it's a place for soft language. And it opens you up to be able to love others as much as you are loving yourself — looking, finding and building your own joy.
IL: You started “Joy Revolution” before all of the things 2020 has thrown at us. A pandemic, anti-racism protests, murder hornets, wildfires. What does joy look like for you now?
GR: When we released “Joy Revolution,” we were also doing Instagram lives to launch each episode. And in the middle of it, it was just too much. Coronavirus was wildly spreading, it was like the first couple of weeks, and we just couldn't maintain that regularity. I was just exhausted and numb.
And we sat down, me and my producer, and we were like, “Look like if we're really here talking about joy, then joy is also dismantling set schedules for everything all the time — rigidity.” Now, Joy looks like rest and taking things like one moment at a time.
IL: What’s the most difficult part of staying joyous these days? Do you have any suggestions for ways in which people can bring positivity into their lives?
GR: Staying joyous is like a puzzle. The moods and the energies are always fluctuating. So you just root yourself in the fact that you believe in joy and you want joy. Know that you don’t have to always be joyous.
Like, when it is really awful and you can't do anything, can you drink some water? Have you cooked a meal? Is there enough to bring to your friend and do a quick drop off? At the same time, joy is also saying, f*** joy, today I'm going to be mad!
IL: What should we do to check in our friends and family who are most impacted by current events? Do you have any suggestions as to how we can bring joy into their lives?
GR: Just stay involved. COVID-19 has led to me writing letters and getting letters from my friends. One of my friends actually sent me some seeds for my garden. And like, if you've got a grandma, you can spend literally three minutes of your life to call your grandma. And that's the best part of a month. You know what I mean?
Life and neighbors. I've really gotten to know my neighbors in these times. They helped me build my garden and they offered tomatoes. I gave them sunflowers. We’ve become better functioning as a community because we need to feel that real love.
IL: What do you want listeners to take away from your podcast, especially now?
GR: All I really hope is that they carry some of that joy with them and share it with somebody else. That is the simplest thing. We are all worthy of joy. We deserve it. And it is in us. And it is how we can help each other.