Twenty-three years ago I stood in front of my family and friends on an unseasonably warm day and married my husband. I had turned twenty-three two months (and a few days) previous, and I had never been more certain of a decision in my entire life. I had been out of high-school only about four years at that point… and I wasn’t even done with my college degree. But I knew what I wanted, and I knew that Brad was the one.
Most of my friends that are my age have kids that are much younger than my kiddos. Their oldest children are just starting high-school while my youngest is getting ready to head off to college. Many of them met their spouses while in college and married them after graduation… they waited to have kids, they waited to have money… they waited to be certain.
A lot of my friends from high-school jumped straight into marriage. Some by choice, and some to “do the right thing.” Quite a few have kids older than mine. Some of them are even grandparents! And a lot of them are no longer with that spouse. It’s not particularly surprising. So few people actually know themselves or what they want in their late teens and early twenties. Honestly, I think it’s our generation that came up with the idea of a “starter marriage.”
If she knew what she wants..
I took Brad out on our first date. It was a “thank you,” date for helping me move out of my dorm room in a hurry (it’s a LONG story) and into an apartment. Three people helped me that day, and I took the other two to dinner that night. I had to wait to take Brad out because he had a previous engagement scheduled.
Do you know that song by the Carpenters? The “why do birds suddenly appear?” song? I knew I was going to marry Brad that night. We were sitting at Palmers, making small talk about something, when I heard an audible click inside my head. Like a key moving the tumblers in a lock, there was a click, and I knew that he was going to be the one. My mind was pretty well made up. My dad likes to tell people that if I’ve made up my mind, there’s no sense in arguing–and it was clear that my mind was made up.
And 20+ years later, we’re still together. We’re not perfect, but we’re perfect for each other. We complement each other well, and we get each other’s humor. There are still little inside jokes that are only ours—that we refuse to explain to the kids—so we still have a private language we can share.
I mean, I like him. I guess I’ll keep him around a bit longer… see what happens.
When I was in Catholic school (which was a LONG time ago), we used to run through scenarios in our religion class where we would be confronted with someone sinning.
“WHAT,” the religion teacher would ask earnestly, “If you saw someone stealing candy at the store.” We would gasp in horror–that’s a COMMANDMENT. “What should you do?” she would prompt–looking across our upturned faces “what is the right thing?”
Some kids would be confrontational about the situation. “Tell them to not steal!” a particularly judgmental child would yell. “Tell an adult!” would offer another (a known snitch). Others were more spiritual. “I would pray for them, that they would make the right decision,” one of the more annoying girls would say, putting her hands in a prayerful position A few were pragmatic. “Let them, they’re the ones sinning. If they go to hell it’s their fault.” “Why make a scene? Just tell security.”
I never answered. Partially because I felt like it was a dumb question. We all knew the rules, and we all knew that there were consequences for getting caught (either here or in the next life), and free will was free will. But mostly it was because I had learned over time that being confrontational with people breaking the rules was generally frowned upon. It was another, unwritten rule that all children seemed to understand after a few missteps. I was never going to be the girl yelling at people trying to get them to change their mind about something. I was not meant for evangelism.
This space for rent
And yet… I found myself feeling very strongly about things. I would attend rallies and protests, but I was never getting in anyone’s face about it. I admired those people, but it was not for me. It felt fake and forced.
Not to say that I wouldn’t get in someone’s face if it was something that I was directly involved in. I would place myself in between people fighting with the ease of someone fully trained in disarming combatants. I would quiz teachers on school policies and our rights as students if I saw them harassing a friend. As I grew older and had children, I would stand toe to toe with teachers, vice-principals and principals and back them up if they so much as breathed wrong on either of my children. Letters and emails to superintendents and school board were commonplace. And God help them if they insinuated I was incorrect, because I always kept receipts.
But ultimately, I was not made to be someone who argues with people on the internet. So I came up with another plan…. tee-shirt ministry.
See, there are many spiritual gifts — and every person has different gifts. And while the list I know comes from the Christian bible, and there are some gifts specific to those following the Christian path, there certainly seem to be a lot of “common sense” gifts on the list…
Now, I know myself fairly well (I’ve known me my entire life, honestly) and I know for a fact that some of those gifts are NOT for me. Exhortation? Is there a way to do that without actually talking to people? Teaching? Can I do that without dealing with children, or parents? Or adults? Yeah.
BUT… here’s what I know I can do. I can support ministries and missions by giving of my time and money. And the easiest way to do that? buy a tee shirt… and wear it. In public. It started out as a bit of a joke. I would wear slightly controversial shirts to church to see if anyone would ask me what my shirt said, and more importantly, what it meant.
I moved onto adding patches to my purse and jean jacket. Things that I liked, things that I cared about. Mostly benign, but a few more controversial. And people would ask me about where I had gotten the patches, how I might have known about something particularly esoteric… it was a way for my tribe to find me.
As time went on, I started wearing more controversial shirts. I wanted people to ask me about the shirts–I wanted people to see what I supported. It was my way of exhorting about an issue without actually having to necessarily talking to people. And now? I’m known for it. When I walk in, it’s not, “hey, Jenn,” it’s “what does your shirt say today?” And that makes my heart happy. Because maybe that’s the only way that someone may have heard about a particular charity or cause. And yeah, sometimes I go a little passive-aggressive about it, like when I wore my “close the camps” shirt to visit more conservative friends. Or the time someone was guest preaching and I wore a “I didn’t say that –Jesus” shirt. But most of the time, I’m just hoping people will have a conversation about something that I feel strongly about.
So yeah. I have some obnoxious shirts. And yeah, I’m going to keep wearing them to church, and work, and where ever else I feel like doing it. Because it’s my way of evangelizing. And if that makes me like the Virgin Mary, I’m okay with that. She was pretty cool.
“Middle school is kind of like Middle-earth. It’s a magical journey filled with elves, dwarves, hobbits, queens, kings, and a few corrupt wizards. Word to the wise: pick your traveling companions well. Ones with the courage and moral fiber to persevere. Ones who wield their lip gloss like magic wands when confronted with danger. This way, when you pass through the congested hallways rife with pernicious diversion, you achieve your desired destination—or at least your next class.
I hated middle school. At least when I was in elementary school I had the freedom to go to classes appropriate to my learning level. But when I was in middle school, there was no real differentiation. There were three tracks, period: behind, average, or honors. Now, we were at a Catholic school, so even the kids in the “behind” class would have been considered average in a non-parochial school system, but to be put in a remedial class was considered a death sentence for any social life you were going to attempt. Throw in the towel now, kiddo; you aren’t even a nerd. You’re a LOSER.
Because I had to transfer from a different parochial school, I was an outsider. I wasn’t as foreign and exotic as those kids whose parents were recent immigrants (Humberto or Amadeli), or as new to uniforms as someone who had previously gone to public schools (Christopher or Bernard), so I didn’t have a special aura. I was just another Catholic kid who had gone to another Catholic school. Worse yet, I was younger than everyone else, too. In sixth grade it looked like a third grader had escaped their class and was trying to hide in Sister Kathleen’s room. Which, given Sister Kathleen’s temperament, would have been a desperate act indeed.
Add to this my complete inability to mask successfully with the popular kids, and it was an inevitable race to disaster. While I managed to keep the meltdowns at bay (for the most part), it was obvious that I would not fit in with any of the established cliques. Let’s face it, in a school riddled with Quinns, I was a Daria.
That changed the day that I sat next to a girl named Jennifer Madison. The entire school seemed to be named Jennifer back then, and there were at least four in my class alone. My math teacher preferred to seat us alphabetically, and by the luck of the draw I was placed in the back of the class next to Jennifer Madison, behind Charles P. (who was rumoured to pick his nose and EAT HIS BOOGERS), and with Bernard (Bernie) T. on the other side. So there we sat for the first month–me just trying to keep up with 6th grade math, not really caring about making friends anymore, when we had a fire drill. As per the norm, we dutifully lined up and walked out the door and into a large field next to the school As an aside, this particular field was full of DRY GRASS, by the way, so I’m not sure how this would have been any safer in the event of a real fire. We also inevitably ended up in the spear grass / burr grass area, and I had a rash for like a week afterwards.
As we were walking, I tripped and almost fell. Jennifer pulled me back up and asked me if I was okay as the other kids taunted (nice trip, KLUTZ!). I thanked her quietly, and readied to move on quietly with the rest of the class, head down so that I could see where I was going. She leaned in and whispered to me, “don’t let the assholes get to you. They’re stupid, anyway.” I almost tripped again and I snickered lightly.
When we got to our spot (in the spear grass, again), I subtlety moved to the back of our group, away from the popular kids and any potential rash causing grass, Jennifer moved with me. I stopped to look at her; she was like nothing I had ever seen outside of a movie. Jennifer wore a purple purse covered with pins and buttons advertising 80’s hair bands like Motley Crüe and Def Leppard. She opened it up to rummage around and I could see the make-up inside. She had MAKE UP–at like 11. She pulled out a small tube of cream and handed it to me.
“here, it’s Benadryl. I get rashes, too.” Mumbles, “thanks.”
I looked up at her, since at my age EVERYONE was taller than me. Her black hair glistened blue in the afternoon sun. I would later find out that she dyed it black. Her natural hair was a darkish brown, but she preferred to have blue-black hair, like her idol, Joan Jett. Jennifer wore eyeliner and mascara, which set off her blue eyes. At our age, none of us had even mastered blush correctly, but she had a perfect cat-eye. Her skin was paler than I had ever seen on a girl with dark hair with a few freckles dotted across her nose. Her lips were stained red with lip gloss, since we weren’t allowed to wear lipstick at school; she looked like she had just eaten a cherry popsicle. She wore the typical jelly bracelets of the 80’s, but hers were all BLACK (not a whiff of neon) along with a studded leather bracelet. And while the rest of us were wearing saddle-shoes or Bass shoes… she wore patent leather Mary Janes with a tiny wedge heel. In a word, she was COOL.
She leaned in slightly so I could hear her better. “I’ve been in school with these bitches for the last 5 years.” I gasped. She was cussing! Within earshot of the nuns! “But I’ll tell you something…” I leaned in a little closer. “Shannon once peed her pants in front of everyone in Kindergarten. So don’t sweat her giving you any shit.”
And with that, we were friends. She showed me how to put on make-up, and introduced me to pop and rock/roll music. My parents, bless them, had opted to listen to a radio station that specialized in “the best of the 60’s, 70’s and today!” But it was mostly oldies. Little by little, I began to care a little less what the popular girls were doing, and developed my own interests. I made friends with some of the other excluded girls… I read more horror and young adult books. I quit dance class (which was paired with the cheer-leading/gymnastics class, so I was stuck with the popular girls again) to take art and EXCELLED at it. And through it all Jennifer Madison just hung out with me, along with a few of the other not-quite-popular-enough girls.
When I got my period at school unexpectedly, she was the one who helped me navigate through the Carrie-like horror that is an 11 year-old girl bleeding all over the place–and she didn’t shame me, or make fun of me. She just told me that I needed to keep pads in my purse, and change of underwear and shorts in my backpack or desk so I had options if there was an accident. She explained to me how to clean blood out of clothing, and showed me to sit on sheets of loose leaf paper the rest of the day so as not to leave prints on the desk chairs. She even showed me how to descreetly place and throw the paper away so as not to alert the other girls. She understood just how to explain things to me: no euphemisms, no condescension, best of all: no shaming. She was like a super-cool big sister who would tell me the unvarnished truth, but with compassion behind it.
When I graduated from middle-school (yeah, we had a graduation mass), my parents decided I should go to public school, and I lost track of Jennifer M. Sometimes I wonder if she ever got to see all those heavy metal bands she loved so much. I wonder if she got to go to a regular school where she could finally dress how she wanted to instead of gothing up her uniform. I wonder if she ever had any kids, because I’m pretty sure they would be awesome and have the best taste in music ever.
Maybe someday we’ll connect again on Facebook or something. Until then… I’ll just always carry some pads/tampons in my purse, and have a change of clothes in my desk at work. Because… hey, you never know.
Sometimes being spectrum is like having a super-power. Not like a really fun super-power like flying, or being super-stretchy, or laser-beam eyes… but in that having a brain that’s wired just a little different means you can do things that “normal” people can’t do.
But what is normal?
Now, given my academic background, I know that society decides norms, and those norms, when taken together constitute a state of normal-ness. Think of it as social constructivism, or a societal contract, where we (as a society) decide that there are things we all just DO and things we just DON’T DO… these are norms. Norms exist on various scales, we have societal norms that may apply to the whole human race, and norms that exist within just a small group of friends. The important thing is that everyone agrees. For instance, we may all agree as Americans that it is normal for us to be able to say what we like about government officials without fear of imprisonment. This is NOT the norm in other countries. Or, perhaps it is normal in Texas during the summer to consider flip-flops an all purpose shoe that can be worn anywhere from the river to a wedding (provided it’s “dressy”). This would NOT go over well in Wisconsin. Or finally, maybe in your family it’s considered normal to refer to your relatives by a nickname that (to others) may seem rather mean. Someone coming into your family may not understand why you refer to your cousin as “Africa,” and when you explain it’s because of the scar on the back of their head that is shaped like the Nile river, which was acquired by under-age drinking and falling off the back of a moving vehicle…. yeah, you know, that is really mean. never mind that example.
But those of us that are on the spectrum, we find it a little more difficult to recognize and apply these norms, particularly social norms. I have had people explain to me that my manner is “gruff,” and I’m “too blunt,” when talking with people. I like to wear what is comfortable, and don’t really follow fashion trends (unless that trend is comfortable). When I was in high school, I would cut the labels out of my clothing, which my fashion fiend friends found horrifying. It was the 1980’s after all…. labels were IMPORTANT.
“How,” they would ask, “will people know what you’re wearing?” “why does it matter?” I would answer, honestly confused as to why it mattered. “I’m just wearing this I’m not naked.”
Until someone explained to me that what I was doing/wearing/saying just wasn’t done I would just keep on doing it…. as you can imagine, my middle and high-school years were a nightmare.
But sometimes, sometimes what makes us different or not-normal is what makes us better than normal. Sometimes those quirks of our brain’s wiring give us powers.
If I decide I want to learn something, I can learn it quick. When I decided I wanted to learn how to play a drum-kit, I borrowed a friend’s electronic drum-set and watched YouTube tutorials all weekend…. and then I could play the kit. I did the same with my parlor guitar and a ukulele. It’s the patterns, you see. I did similar things when I was learning Kung Fu, Jeet Kun Do, and FMA. Once I got the pattern, it was mine to do with as I would.
I also have near-perfect audio recollection, and pretty decent pitch when singing. When people ask me how I do that, I have to answer, “I don’t know. I just can.” And this is what gives me hope for the future. Perhaps now, with girls being diagnosed at much younger ages, girls like Greta Thunberg can truly change the world in ways my generation could not. Because even though they know they don’t fully understand “norms,” they also don’t care.
Our church band recently had a meeting about whether or not we would continue to play Hillsong written/arranged songs. Here is a letter I wrote to our director about the issue:
Hillsong believes that homosexuality is a “lifestyle,” and is incompatible with the teachings of Christianity. The founder of Hillsong has said as much. This is equivalent to “love the sinner, hate the sin” thinking. They profess to loving and caring for the LGTBQ+ community, but then (and in the NEXT paragraph) they say they are a church “that adheres to mainstream biblical values shared by the overwhelming majority of evangelical Christian churches around the world, and millions of Christians across the USA.” Once again, this is ‘code’ for “homosexuality is a sin.”
I understand why you have difficulty finding clarity in this. For instance, Church Clarity, a website that is specifically designed to rate the clarity of the church’s positions on LGTBQ+ and Women’s roles has this to say about Hillsong:
We scored Hillsong NYC’s website as “unclear” because this policy is quite difficult to find from Hillsong NYC’s website. It is not listed in the website’s primary pages and is nowhere to be found on its Beliefs page or Policies page. It can only be found by clicking on About > Media > Media Releases, at which point you have to scroll down to read the statement on same-sex marriage, as it is dated August 2017. If it takes a user more than 2-3 clicks from the homepage, and it’s not conveniently located, you can bet that we will score a church’s website as “unclear.” Our goal is to elevate the standard of clarity for policy disclosure.
What does this mean? It means that Hillsong is going out of its way to hide and obfuscate their stance on LGTBQ+ issues. And while they state that they do not advocate “gay conversion therapy,” that does seem to be a more recent change in position.
I also live by my own convictions, and hold to traditional Christian thought on gay lifestyles and gay marriage. I do believe God’s word is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. The writings of the apostle Paul in scripture on the subject of homosexuality are also clear, as I have mentioned in previous public statements.
Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles. Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid. I recognise this one statement alone is upsetting to people on both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of the issue for churches all over the world
So if you are gay, are you welcome at Hillsong Church? Of course! You are welcome to attend, worship with us, and participate as a congregation member with the assurance that you are personally included and accepted within our community. But (this is where it gets vexing), can you take an active leadership role? No.
For what it’s worth, I find any church that says it is inclusive and open to all but is not clear about its stance on non-heteronormativity problematic. I find OUR church problematic. I find the “big C” United Methodist Chuch highly problematic–even before this latest power-grab by the conservative bloc. You don’t have to identify as queer to feel this way, you just have to be a human being. These types of policies hurt people and do NOT bring them closer to God.**
Remember that Jesus did not say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” he said, “love your neighbour as yourself.” To label someone as a “sinner” is to say they exist outside of God’s grace and unless they clean up their act, cannot be forgiven. People are complex; it is nigh impossible to separate what a person does from who a person is (this is especially true when a person was literally born that way).
Here is the real question I think we should consider. Is it worth singing songs that a majority of the band, and possibly members of this church, find to be problematic? We’ve done without Hillsong songs in the past. We’ve established that there are LOTS of other bands, writers, and music to choose from. Why is this an issue? While I agree that it’s the intention of the band and not the writer of the song that’s important — we know that there are members of our congregation that are feeling hurt and cast aside. Why chance that we might make it worse? I mean, I like “What a Beautiful Name,” too, but I won’t sing it if it’s going to make a single congregation member think that I don’t find them to be equal with every other person in the congregation.
And, as we said before, this isn’t an ultimatum or a power grab or anything else. We simply need you to know that members of the band are uncomfortable singing songs that promote Hillsong, and we don’t want to play them. We’re not leaving the band. We’re not taking the instruments and going home. We just don’t want to sing those songs
Let me know if you want to talk more.
~Jenn “…you are defined not by life’s imperfect moments, but by your reaction to them.” ― Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess
FOOTNOTES: *As an aside, I also find people who write stuff like this and add “I have gay friends” HIGHLY suspicious.
** This is the reason I don’t take communion in church anymore. How can we say it’s a truly open table if we are excluding our queer brothers and sisters?
For what it’s worth, I understand that for someone that is used to playing songs written by this group, it seems a daunting task to choose other bands. But I also understand what it’s like to be in a church where you do not see anyone that resembles you in a position of leadership. I grew up in the Catholic church, where the leaders were almost exclusively white men (I mean, in Catholic school there were nuns, but that’s not really the same thing). Women, and more specifically minority women, were relegated to the cleaning and upkeep of the church. They were not equal, they were valued for providing two things: service to the church, and children as more congregants. If you could do neither, you were not valued.
The UMC currently has a stance that is frighteningly close to that of Hillsong. And if the Traditional Plan passes, it will be even more so. Sometimes showing true love is a difficulty. Sometimes it means giving up delicious chicken nuggets. Sometimes it means not supporting businesses that in turn support people that stand for horrible things. And sometimes that means not singing some nice songs because they were written by people that don’t understand that you can’t love the sinner and hate the sin… you can only hate.
One of my favorite stories in the Tao of Pooh has to do with a game called “poohsticks.” Poohsticks is now such a famous game, there are world championships (now in it’s 35th year)… but in it’s simplicity, it is “a simple sport which may be played on any bridge over running water; each player drops a stick on the upstream side of a bridge and the one whose stick first appears on the downstream side is the winner” (Wikipedia entry on Poohsticks). But Benjamin Hoff sees it as more, he sees it as the embodiment of taoist scientific exploration…
In that Poohishly humble incident, one can see all the elements of pure science as practiced by the Taoists: the chance occurrence, the observant and inquisitive mind, deduction of the principles involved, application of those principles, modification of materials, and a new practice or way of doing things. Not bad. But after all, Pooh is That sort of Bear…… If we were asked to condense Taoist teachings regarding everyday life to their irreducible essentials, we would say: Observe, Deduce, and Apply. Watch what is around you – putting aside, as best you can, previous conceptions that you or others might have about it. Ideally, look at it as though you were seeing it for the first time. Mentally reduce it to its basic elements – “See simplicity in complexity,” as Lao-tse put it. Use intuition as well as logic in order to understand what you see (a vital difference between the Whole Reasoner and the Left-Brain Technician). Look for connections between one thing and another – notice patterns and relationships. Study the natural laws you see operating through them. Then work with those laws, applying the smallest possible amount of interference and effort, in order to learn more and achieve whatever you need to – and no more.
Sometimes this is a difficulty for those of us that are more logic than intuition. But Hoff continues in this vein…
Carefully observe the natural laws in operation in the world around you, and live by them. From following them, you will learn the morality of modesty, moderation, compassion, and consideration (not just one society’s rules and regulations), the wisdom of seeing things as they are (not of merely collecting “facts” about them), and the happiness of being in harmony with the Way (which has nothing to do with self-righteous “spiritual” obsessions and fanaticism). And you will live lightly, Spontaneously, and effortlessly.
I love the idea of this, I really do–but it is a difficult thing to do, especially in the world today. And, secondarily, even I know that spontaneous is not a word anyone would use to describe me. But, you see, this idea of sticks as a learning method is not just found in reading material.
A little over 3 years ago I got my black belt in JKD/Gung Fu alongside my children. We had been working hard for that belt, and I was very proud of us for following something through to completion. I had studied multiple other styles, but like Goldilocks I found them all inadequate in some way: this one is too violent, this one is all kicking, this one is not useful for someone of my stature… etc. The mix of JKD and Gung Fu seemed to fit all of the various requirements I had. I also began to study Filipino Martial Arts on the side, since I had been introduced to Escrima stick fighting and just fell in love with it.
At some point, it became clear that I wanted to continue my education more in the FMA side than JKD/Gung Fu, and I found myself studying in the Garimot Arnis Training (GAT) system. And here is where I found the difference between theory and application
Many of the systems I studied previously focused on a 1:1 application method. Which is to say, they would teach in the following way: IF [someone does this] THEN [you counter like that]. There’s a counter for everything! If they’re standing on the right side of you, and they attack with a front punch, and you have your right hand up…. then you put your left leg at a right angle, and move the left hand in a semi circle to the east and…..
…and that’s great, there are a lot of things you can do with that. So long as you have a mind like an encyclopedia with instant recall. That’s a great place to start. We’ve got the rules, but there’s nothing beyond rote response. And here is where my stick fighting interest led me to something entirely new… GAT may have begun with the basics, but there was no 1:1 instruction. Yes, there was an instigating action… but rather than focusing on specific reactions, the focus was instead: “here are a whole bunch of ways you can react to someone coming at you, let’s figure out what is going to work for you.”
This becomes even more evident when stick fighting. It is a difficult thing to train yourself to react by instinct. When you start out, you want to measure, and come up with formulas or rules to make sure you’re doing what you need to do to stay out of harm’s way. You hit your opponent’s stick, and stay the heck out of their range (and yours). The thought of getting hit by a stick is scary–and since you’re practicing with your friends, the thought of hitting your friends is equally unappealing. But you have to learn to put yourself out there in order to get close enough to strike–and further, you have to learn to “feel” your opponent. If you don’t learn to move, and counter, and strike, you won’t get hurt–but you also will not strike.
In the end, it comes down to this: after you practice enough, you will be able to move in such a way that you are out of striking distance, but can still strike your opponent, and you won’t even think about it. After you practice enough, you will be able to feel (and tell if there is maliciousness) in the grasping of your wrist, or shoulder, and react before your opponent has time to complete their action. After you practice enough, you can use intuition as well as logic in order to understand what you see, and react accordingly.
When I was younger, I longed to be non-descript. Not exactly longing to be white, or have blonde hair, I just wanted to fit in with the other girls. Try as I might, I couldn’t do it. There was a myriad of reasons: I was socially awkward, I didn’t dress in the right clothes, I didn’t have the right shoes, I was too young, I didn’t have a boyfriend… the list could go on and on. I was seldom a target of bullying–a couple of scraps with the mean girls identified me as someone who would fight back–but I was excluded. There was an “otherness” around me that would not allow me to fit in, period. It never occurred to me that the girls I wanted to be like were largely white, or upper-middle-class, and Protestant. I took refuge with the outcasts, and I was better for it.
But every once in a while, I would find myself sitting at the popular table for one reason or another. Maybe I helped someone with their homework, or maybe someone lost a bet or something. But here’s the thing, every time that happened, I realized I didn’t really want to sit there. Because here’s what they don’t tell you about sitting at the popular table when you are something other: you will be constantly reminded that it is through the mean girl’s indulgence that you are able to sup with them. If not for their pity, you would be sitting with the rest of the other girls, feeding off the scraps they throw from the table. I realized pretty quickly that I would much rather just bring my own lunch instead of eating anyone’s scraps… either at or under the table.
I’m a long way from those crazy middle and high-school years, but sometimes I feel the same thing from my well-meaning CIS-white friends. They want me, the POC to sit with them at the CIS-white table. Because that means they’re helping in the fight against racism! They’re trying… it’s just that…
…as my old sociology professor, Dr. Trepaigner used to say, “they mean well enough, bless their little white hearts.” In their mind, they honestly think that accepting a POC as (for all practical purposes) “an honorary white person” is the way to go. They don’t really realize that it doesn’t work that way… it can’t work that way. Most POC are not interested in becoming white, they just want to not be something other than white.
I’ve experienced this a number of ways, from friends, from family, and from strangers. Every single one of them thought they were doing a good thing. Every single one of them thought it was a compliment to say things like, “oh, not like you honey, you’re family,” or “well, you’re one of the good ones, you know.” I’ve had people speak for my experience without letting me speak. I’ve had people nod as I explain myself, but only hear what they wanted to hear… none of them understood.
I was trying to explain it to my oldest the other day, and I likened it to being an adopted foster child. As a foster child, you may have known unspeakable pain and suffering, and you long for stability. And maybe someone fosters you, and you get along with the family and the other kids and they decide to adopt you. And you are THRILLED… at first.
Maybe…. every so often… members of your adopted family will remind you how lucky you are that they adopted you, and how much better off you are now that you’re with them. Not in a mean way… in a.. “we’re so glad we rescued you and now you’re our family” kind of way.
You are encouraged to forget your past and everything that may have come with it. YES, the pain, but also the happy times, too. Because now this is your family and reality. And every time you try to explain that the time before they adopted you was bad, yes, it also is a part of you and who you are… they look at you like you like a rescue dog that peed on the rug. How could you be so ungrateful? Didn’t they adopt you? Those were other people that hurt you, they’re nothing like that. How could you want to put your NEW family in the same category of memory as those AWFUL people? Can’t you just forget what happened before?
Ugh, so what? I can’t do anything?
Yes, I’m kind of oversimplifying it for the sake of explanation. There are always nuances and special circumstances and whatnot. But at the heart, that’s really what it feels like. I can’t forget that I have been racially profiled. I can’t forget that I have been a victim of sexual harassment and assault. I can’t forget any number of things that were a direct result of my perceived gender or race. And yes, I understand that allies are trying to help by using their privilege for good.
Just remember these three things….
Being an ally means you are helping with the fight. You are standing behind to help make the voices of those who have suffered injustice louder, not talking for them. I have my own voice, and I have my own story. Not even my dear husband would presume to speak for me insofar as my race or gender is concerned. Don’t try to speak for me.
Being an ally means acknowledging that people like yourself have done some bad shit to others. Maybe you did some of that shit too, and now you’re trying to make up for it. Good on you. Maybe you never did. Good for you! But it doesn’t mean that you get to draw a line in the sand and say… okay, all those people over there were bad so you need to move on because we’re here to help you. Don’t try to revise or rewrite my history to make yourself feel better.
Being an ally means listening, so you know how you can best help. You may want to jump in with both feet and get this fight going, and that’s great. As Willy Wonka said, “enthusiasm is key.” But listen to those you are trying to help. You can save yourself some heartache and hurt feelings if you just take a minute to listen to the problem without immediately forcing your solution. Don’t try to take over.
I’ve learned these things through my own trial and error trying to help those that are other than myself. I’ve also learned these things when people other than myself have tried to help me. I don’t want to discourage anyone… quite the opposite! I appreciate the help. And maybe, every once in a while, why don’t you come on over and sit at that other table. You might learn something about yourself.
*did you know they’re making Heathers into a TV series? I am both horrified and intrigued by this.