Saturday, October 12, 2013

When Provocation Masquerades as Inclusivity, or Why I Don't Say "Queer" Any More

     I was at a training yesterday--in a CME church.  It was a diverse group--mainly African American and white.  I lamented again that more of our Latino siblings--so often present in the work we do together--were not present at this larger group meeting.  Most folks were Christian, but we also had Muslims and Jews; their presence marks growth for the organization.  We're trying to be more inclusive.
   The funny thing about inclusivity, though, is that it thrusts you out of your comfort zone.  Let me rephrase that:  the funny thing about real inclusivity, is that it thrusts you out of your comfort zone.  I used the word "siblings" above.  This is the direct result of being agitated by a couple of my younger members, who insist (rightly, alas), that the oft-used "brothers and sisters" doesn't include those whose gender identity doesn't fall neatly on the binary.  So I'm working on saying "siblings," though there is a personal cost, as I feel more named by the more particular phrase "brothers and sisters."
   There is always a cost to inclusivity.  Feel free to argue, but I'm quite convinced.  Sometimes it means letting go of language you love, of hearing yourself named in the particular as a "sister" alongside your "brothers" (who used to be named all by themselves, while the sisters stood invisible).  And sometimes it means letting go of your need to control language, to hear only things you want to hear.
   At the training, both the opening and closing prayers were offered to "Father God."  The phrase was repeated throughout the opening prayer.  I had a little fantasy after about being asked to offer the closing prayer and praying "Mother God" throughout.  It would have pleased me, and likely pleased the rest of the people in the room who pray to a less gendered God, a God who is father and mother, he and she.  That God was not named much yesterday.
   God remained unchanged, though.  And my standing to offer a prayer which was mostly intended to stand over against the language I heard earlier would have been much more about me than about God. I would have been sacrificing my desire to be in relationship with the pray-ers to my need to provoke them to think about their exclusive language.  I wasn't willing to do that, and I feel good about the decision.  "Father God" is the language used by that tradition.  If I am to be in relationship with members of that tradition, I will need to sacrifice my need to hear God named in the language I prefer at all times.  Comfort sacrificed to relationship.  Scratch a healthy marriage, or other healthy relationship, and you will find a sub-strata of sacrifice for the other.
   I went to seminary in Berkeley, California.  I came out then, and entered into the joy of Berkeley's Queer Community.  The capital letters are intentional--the Queer Community in Berkeley is singular.  Case in point--pretty much no one is offended by the word "queer."  The first undergrad course in LGBTQ Studies was offered at U.C. Berkeley in 1970.  Today those courses are more particular and tend to have names like "Interpreting the Queer Past:  Methods and Problems in the History of Sexuality" and "Queer Visual Culture."
   "Queer" is a nice inclusive word.  It frees one from what is often called the "alphabet soup" of alternative gender and sexual identity.  I was good with being "queer."  The people I knew who were queer didn't mind being called queer.
   Then I moved back to the Midwest, first for internship in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and then to take a call in Kansas City, Missouri.  In both places, I learned that there are people who find "queer" to be a deeply offensive word.  And maybe we could reclaim it, as they have done elsewhere.  But there would be a lot of human pain in the wake of that reclamation project, and that's a cost too high, I believe.
   So I don't say "queer."  I do the alphabet soup, or I name the particular group I'm referencing.  I refer to myself as a "lesbian" most often, but sometimes even say "gay" now (which would have been unlikely in Berkeley, where people are more sensitive to male hegemonic language usage).
   Living together in community is messy.  Relationships are messy.  Sometimes you have to give.  To get.