I was raised Roman Catholic at the tail end of an era of seeing priests as infallible, as inherently good. It was unthinkable to question a priest’s motives or moral authority even if my own survival depended on it.
In the article “Ex-Cop to Americans, ‘I’m a Black Ex-Cop, and this is the Real Truth About Race and Policing’” Jay Syrmopoulos mentions a recent Gallup poll where Americans rank police in a list of top five ethical professions which also ironically includes clergy. The irony feels meaningful.
Do I think that a majority of priests sexually abuse children? Heck no. I believe an overwhelming majority answer the call to the priesthood to do good work. A very small minority of priests actively hurt children, but—and this is a big but—the system protected that small minority in such profound ways that it forever altered the system for the worse until it became impossible to see any good. For the Catholic Church to harbor the insidious evil that it did and to do the damage that it did, it required good priests and non-clergy to ignore the un-ignorable over centuries. Continue reading “On Priests and Police: The Role of Good People in Ending Systemic Sickness”
So I upset a white woman today. A straight, white, able bodied, cisgender woman. I did this by saying her professions of being colorblind, or more accurately “I treat everyone equally; we are all the same under our skin,” were offensive.
Here’s what happens when you are a marginalized person immersed in communities largely populated by people with dominant identities. The upswell of support for this white woman was immediate and fierce. Her hurt feelings and bruised ego necessitated calls of “explain yourself!” directed at me. Continue reading “I upset a white woman today”
I was five years old when I was taught the myth of Thanksgiving. I remember the “Pilgrim hats” and “Indian headdresses” made out of construction paper. I remember drawing turkeys using the outline of my hand.
I remember a story that Christopher Columbus discovered America and proved the Earth was round and then the Pilgrims arrived and met the Indians. Life was hard for the Pilgrims and the Indians helped them survive. They celebrated their friendship with a big feast, and ever since we give thanks for the founding of our country by celebrating Thanksgiving.
It was a long time before I put two and two together and realized there were 130 years in that story of my country’s origin that were plumb unaccounted for. I wasn’t taught about the invasion of America and the enslavement, infection, and genocide of her peoples. Continue reading “Bearing Witness: A Thanksgiving Letter”
My name is Alex, and I am white. And for two days a part of me wanted to avoid social media so that I could avoid the heartbreak of another young black man shot to death. Feeling guilty about that desire, I was then tempted to post the first good article on the topic I saw and walk away, not thinking about it anymore. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because it would be too easy for me to shut my eyes and ignore the pain, not wanting to take on the heartbreak today. I couldn’t because the ease with which I could post someone else’s words about racism felt like a disservice to how horrific the impacts truly are.
It would be easy because of my race. I have the privileged choice to not have to think about Michael Brown and not have his face haunt me, infect me with worry for myself, my spouse, or my children. I have the privilege to be able to avoid the heartbreak. Continue reading “Choosing Heartbreak”
This sermon was delivered at First Church Unitarian in Littleton, MA, on April 13, 2014.
I want to come out to you about something, and that’s this: I am not an advocate for equality.
That might sound a bit odd, and it is a bit odd, because it’s not that I don’t think all beings are equally divine and have equal worth and dignity. And I can assure you that I don’t think there should be undercastes and overclasses of people in this culture and in this world.
But I am not an advocate for equality. I am not an advocate for the way that we have come to talk about equality, the way that the United States mainstream culture has started to define equality.
On June 26, 2013, a sea of red equal signs took over social media like a tide. Do you remember that? Those equal signs, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, this country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender political lobbying organization, have become strategically synonymous with the concept of LGBT equality. And on June 26, as the Supreme Court was ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, the message was clear: marriage equality equals LGBT equality.
But what is this equality? Continue reading “Liberation: Why “Equality” Isn’t Enough”
Whenever I am asked if my boifriend and I are married, especially in LGBTQ space, I feel unwelcome pressure to define my relationship so that the asker of the question can translate my answer into dominant culture’s terms.
This is the same pressure I have felt around gender. All of the questions about anatomy and my experience can feel like an assessment of which pre-existing “knowable” box to put me in. This is especially true for my boifriend and our relationship to one another. His genderqueer prancy femme boi self cannot be neatly summed up in dominant culture’s language without being dulled in the translation.
What we are to each other does not play by the binary rules the language of marriage requires. How we love and live cannot neatly fit into the “degree of commitment hierarchy” that the State’s definition of marriage requires. Continue reading “Queering Family”
You might think that nerdy grammar geek / copyeditor and radical anti-oppression activist wouldn’t necessarily be a combination that could uniquely change the world, but you would be wrong. With these powers combined, many things are possible, including amazing flowcharts!
It has long been a pet peeve of mine (wearing both my copyeditor hat and my anti-oppression hat), that the word diverse is widely misused in the English language. Diverse is defined by my favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster, as (1) differing from one another and (2) composed of distinct or unlike elements or qualities. Unfortunately, the word gets used to refer to people or things that differ not from one another, but from what is considered to be dominant or the cultural norm.
If you follow this to the root, what it’s based in is the idea that there is a neutral, majority, dominant way of being, and that diversity is the addition of non-normative elements to that normative environment. This is a falsehood. The truth is that diversity is what humanity inherently contains—we all differ from one another. The idea that there is such a thing as “normal” or “neutral” creates a lie that there is a universal white experience, or a universal straight experience, a universal able-bodied experience, or a universal experience among any group of people that shares one aspect of identity or background.
So it may seem like a small act to use the word diverse in a manner that is true to its definition, but it’s a small act with big ripple effects when you refuse to buy into a system that teaches us what “normative” is and then defines everything else as Other. Diverse is not Other. Diverse describes the collective beauty of humanity.
A few weeks ago in Phoenix I heard a passionate plea for LGBT equality and it stuck in my craw, left me bursting with frustration at the definition of equality that formed the unspoken, unquestioned bedrock of the plea: an underlying presumption that equality could and would be attained through particular legal changes.
The prophetic voice in my heart shouted that any movement that focuses on the pursuit of rights and equality through the legal system leaves behind all of the people who do not have equal access to that system and its protections—those people who live on the margins, the undocumented, incarcerated, homeless, children and youth, disabled, economically dispossessed. Those who are criminalized and oppressed by the criminal legal system itself.
I thought to myself: Are we so quick to forget our history? That long history we’ve had of criminalization and oppression by the criminal legal system because of our gender expressions or the gender of the people we love and partner with? It’s only recently that some of us have begun to be able to access the legal system and its protections. Not all of us have access. Many of us are still criminalized and oppressed by the system. For those who are, employment non-discrimination legislation will do little to alleviate the struggle. Hate crimes legislation will only exacerbate the struggle. And extending the charmed circle of those who can get legally married will ultimately fall short of equality. Continue reading “On Equality”