Sometimes they just won’t see

He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:54-58

You know, aside from the whole “Child of God preaching in a synagogue” thing, this is really a pretty common story. I bet a lot of you have lived it.

You’ve probably left home, and somewhere in the process of growing up you learned more about who you really are, and who you really want to be. You live your reality. Maybe, after being treated like a boy all your life, you’ve started living as something that’s decidedly “not-a-man” (not that I’m inserting my own story here… nope… not at all). Or maybe, shaking off the pressures of compulsory heterosexuality, you’ve started dating people of the gender(s) to whom you’re really attracted.

Maybe, though, you’re still at home. Still closeted about something you feel gnawing, trying to get out. And maybe you’ve reached out online and found others who are like you. Who understand you and see you for who you are in a way that the people nearest you don’t or won’t.

However it’s played out in your life, you’ve found something true about yourself. Something powerful and bright that’s inextricably a part of your being. You’ve found your truth and you’re living it. And a lot of times, when that happens, you find your own deeds of power. You find out you have a strength you didn’t know before. You find out that you’re whole. You shine your light all around you. Cracks start to form in the depression that’s bound you. No, it doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it sure feels like a deed of power.

And then you go home. And then you log off. And then you’re hit upside the head with the expectations of people who knew you before. People who knew you when your light was hidden even to you. “You can’t be like that!” they say. “What do you mean you’re gay? No, this is just a phase. I remember your boyfriends.” And it feels like they’re all holding so tightly to the idea of you that they’d constructed that it’s impossible for them to embrace the real you that’s before them. They insist you can’t be a girl, because you loved playing with Tonka trucks when you were a kid. They tell you this isn’t how God made you.

And maybe you feel your own deeds of power start to falter. Maybe you feel your light start to flicker.

But this is how God made you. This is how God is continually making you. This is how you’re continually being made new by the one who has loved you with an everlasting love.

Jesus had great wisdom, and he preached it. Jesus had great power, and did great things. But people clung too tightly to the idea they had of him. They clung to what they expected a carpenter’s kid to be. “He can’t talk like this! Where does he get off parading around here like he’s so smart. No, I know his family. He’s not what he thinks he is.”

And the people nearest him couldn’t see the person who was right before them. They couldn’t see the light shining and the truth he was living. And it hurt him. And he couldn’t make them see. He knew how it is to feel invisible. To feel rejected and misunderstood by the people he’d known the longest.

But his light kept being his light. His truth kept being his truth.

Ain’t that just the queerest thing?

Why I can’t say I don’t contribute to another’s oppression

The other day on twitter I said:

A friend responded to that last tweet, asking if I could expand on that, perhaps in a blog post, so here I am trying to do that. Those few short sentences, though, reflect something that’s so fundamental to my understanding of, well, understanding itself that it may be tough.

Why can’t a white person (like, for example, me) say, “I’m not racist”?

Well, mainly because, as white people, we’re not on the receiving end of racism. We don’t experience its reality day in and day out. I’m not talking about individual prejudice here, either. Racism is much bigger than some yokel saying “I don’t like black people.” It’s an entire system that others, disparages, discards and devalues anyone who is not white. When you’re white, you don’t experience it in full. You may see instances of it. You may recognize its effects, but it’s not a force pointed at you, so you don’t really know it.

Moreover, it’s so interwoven in your entire society, in your upbringing, your history, your schooling, your media, your stories, that it’s right there in your head.

Racism isn’t about individual attitudes and actions. They’re just one part of it. Sure, we can all point at the KKK, at the horrible things that one coworker said, at obvious manifestations of prejudice, but if we limit our definition of racism to those sorts of things, then we’re refusing to see how deep racism really goes. Yeah, I’ll be repenting the rest of my life for helping my dad campaign for David Duke when I was a teenager, but that’s not what I was thinking about when I wrote My name is Gabe and… I’m racist.

See, our whole culture is shot through with racism. It was in the air I breathed as a child. It was in the stories I read, the shows I watched, the behaviors of those all around me, and now it’s in me. It’s one of my own little demons, one of my own original sins, inside me for as long as I’ve had consciousness.

I’m part of the system that creates and perpetuates white privilege and white supremacy, simply by virtue of being a white person in this world, and especially being a white person in the US. I don’t get to decide when I am not racist because I’m not the one that racism is pointed toward. If someone said “What you said/did was racist,” I don’t get to respond, “No it’s not, because I’m not prejudiced.” It’s not about me. It’s not about my intent. It’s about something I did that plays into, reinforces and upholds the racist forces that shape our society (societies?). I can’t even speak from a place of authority on this, because I’m white. Hell, by being a white person telling other white people about racism, I’m probably playing into that systemic racism, elevating my voice above the voices of people of color.

It’s similar to, but not the same as, when straight people say “I’m not homophobic.” Homophobia isn’t about some individual hating or fearing gay people. It’s about a systemic devaluing of non-straight people and sexualities. Just because a straight person doesn’t have any problems with gay people, just because they’re a professed ally, doesn’t mean that they don’t play into the systemic nature of homophobia.

When you’re not part of an oppressed class, you’re not an expert on their oppression. It’s like what Grace said about intersectionality:

To say, as a white person, “I’m not racist,” or as a straight person, “I’m not homophobic,” or as a cis person, “I’m not transphobic,” what you’re doing is privileging your own understanding of other people’s experience over their understanding of their own experience. You’re taking yourself out of the societal forces that shape you and everything around you, defining yourself in some mythical neutral space. Doing so is a refusal to recognize the agency of people to know and understand their own experience. It’s to put your voice above theirs.

So maybe we white folks oughta say, “I’m probably racist, but I’m trying to work against that.” Straight folks oughta say, “Homophobia is endemic to the culture in which I grew up, but I’m trying to lessen its presence around me.” Cis folks oughta say, “I was shaped by a world hostile to trans* people, but I’m trying to work against that hostility in my own life.”

But more than all of that, more than making it about us by saying “I’m not [insert form of societal prejudice here],” we oughta just be quiet and listen to the people who are experts on all of this, because it’s really not about the members of the privileged class. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, all oppressions, they’re not about any individual’s intent. They’re about the impact those things have on the lives of those against whom they’re directed.

from “Rethinking Transgender 101″

Rethinking “Transgender 101″

A common phrase used in transgender 101 posts is “gender identity,” getting at the idea that gender is an internal thing. However, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s not just socially constructed (which says nothing about gender “not being real”, which is how “socially constructed” is often taken to mean). Gender is semiotic, a hermeneutic process, like a vast tree of languages. It’s personal, relational, and cultural. It’s as much about how we relate to our surrounding world and society as it is about our inner sense of self or our relation to our bodies. “Man/male” and “woman/female” are some of the most common languages, with plenty of variations like “femme” or “butch” [which isn't restricted to men or women either!], or “dialects” or “accents” if you will. Our [Western] culture only socially sanctions “man/male” and “woman/female” language, but some of us “speak” our gender differently; for example, I am agender, genderless. While I “understand” gender, I don’t “speak” it natively, if you understand this metaphor (I’ll do a post on this later; it actually took a while to figure this out, namely when I went on testosterone).

Emphasis mine.