It is a common desire to “be a voice for the voiceless.” Nonsense. Everyone has a voice, if we can not hear some voices, it is not because they are not speaking, but because we are not listening or we are too busy talking over them. On Wednesday, I was reminded that everyone has a voice–including me–and that I know what is best for myself. This entry is an excerise in claiming my voice where I have it, and learning to cede it where I do not. I invite you to find your own voice and to listen to the voices around you–together with me.
During the “coffee hour” after a Wednesday night service at my church, Marble Collegiate, a man quietly walks in, pulls a chair into the middle of the room, and places his briefcase on the floor. He clears his throat and asks, “May I have your attention please.” The room is noisy so most folks do not notice. He repeats, “May I have your attention please?”
I wonder what this man wants. He begins,
In gay & lesbian relationships, God will choose one…
I leave immediately. I confront queerphobia and misinformation regularly in my life. Sometimes I actively choose to uproot injustice and sometimes I have no choice as it forces itself upon me. Not ever in my church. Marble Collegiate Church, the oldest protestant church in North America, founded in 1628, welcomes and affirms LGBTQ people to all aspects of life and ministry and celebrates their relationships. This church, like many others, is a sanctuary. I go to find a pastor and stop at the front desk. In response, a staff member and a white man, Douglas, enter the room to deal with it.
Douglas returns, “The African American man?” No. The man in a suit. The man with a briefcase. The man sitting by himself. The middle-aged man. Any number of descriptors would have been more helpful and precise as our congregation, and the room, are full of Black folks.
“That man,” I point and continue my search for a minister.
I find none and return to gather my belongings and my friends and depart, kissing my boyfriend quickly and softly.
Douglas turns, approaches me, invades my personal space.
“That is not going to help.”
“What is not going to help is for you to police me here.”
“Oh… I don’t have a problem, but that man…”
“It doesn’t matter much if you ‘don’t have a problem.’ I don’t need you to tell me not to do something which any straight person is free to do.”
In fact, it may have been the most helpful thing to do–connect with the man I love, to reassert my own humanity, to confirm that this is, in fact, a safe space. I, a direct victim, understand exactly what is needed: for a pastor to intervene so I need not be an activist in my place of worship and to physically connect with my boyfriend. I am acutely aware of my safety every time I kiss Peter and with years of direct experience in hostile situations across the country, I do know what is helpful and not. Certainly more than this well-intentioned but misguided man.
I shrugged off the original man’s words, Douglas re-victimized me and attempted to silence and disempower me. This is not what I need. This is not what is helpful.
I am troubled and distributed. Both incidents were minor. I got only a taste of how victimization and re-victimization affects me. It is worse, I imagine, when women are raped and further traumatized by police or citizens’ homes are occupied by a war in the name of liberation.
I am a queer person: when I am assaulted, I know most clearly what I need.
Tonight at 9 PM EDT, The Simple Way will stream a conversation with young Afghanis after a screening of their films, Our Journey to Smile. I’ll be listening so I can support rather than re-victimize them. I invite you to join me.
I also invite you to think of ways you can find and share your voice and to think about folks in your life to whom you can listen to and learn from.