Monday, July 28, 2014

Guidelines for Being an Ally

I have always craved structure and rules. Rules gave me targets to reach in my Christian and academic pursuits. If I could read my Bible and pray for 30 minutes a day, then I would be a good Christian. As early as elementary school, I learned how to study and take tests in order to obtain the highest grade, regardless if I actually learned the material or not. I was that kid who scowled at the other kids who were less than respectful to the substitute teacher.

Soon, though, life got messy. By the time I was in high school, I was asking questions like: How does this Holy Spirit thing actually work? How am I supposed to live in the power of the Spirit and not the flesh? Should I just go limp like a marionette and let the Spirit pull the strings?!

To what end am I reading my Bible and praying for 30 minutes a day?

What is the actual moment of “saving faith”? What moment in time was my name written in the Book of Life? And if God predestined my soul to its eternal fate anyway, why does it matter if I do the quiet time routine?

As a young man coming to terms with being gay, I tried to navigate all the rules about sex and sexuality. Praying in a locked bathroom: I’m sorry God, I promise this is the last time. Then, later: Please don’t let me be gay, God. PLEASE. Still later: Help me to find my fulfillment in You as I sexually abstain.

Eventually I abandoned the rules of evangelical theology and the rules of evangelical behavior. There were too many questions and inconsistencies, and it was too hard to live up to the expected behavior. Abandoning these rules was important not only for my mental health, but also for my spiritual growth.

These days, I look toward the person of Christ and rely on the Spirit of God in a very non-rules-oriented way. God is too big; creation is too complex; human beings who bear the image of God reflect this complexity. I find value in the practice of Christianity through the teachings of Christ regarding love, justice, and mercy.

Lately, though, I’ve feel like I’ve been bumping up against a new set of rules. I’m not talking about guidelines for ethical behavior, such as the Golden Rule (or the Platinum Rule, which I believe is implied in the Golden Rule). No. I’m talking about hard and fast RULES of thought and behavior. Rules that dictate language. Rules that dictate discussion and interaction with others. Some rules are simply understood; others are explicitly recorded and practiced.

The best example I know regarding this type of rule-based practice is a chart titled Rules for ALLY CLUB (found here). This chart is intended for those who wish to support the marginalized and oppressed, to communicate the need of lifting their voices and letting them be seen, rather than taking center stage as an ally.

I understand the intention. I also understand that hyperbole can be used as an effective teaching and communication tool.

It still bothers the shit out of me.

So I decided to do something about it. I have created a companion piece Rules for ALLY CLUB called Guidelines for Being an Ally. As a gay person, I need people from all walks of life to not only be supportive, but knowledgeable about the struggles facing the LGBT community, and how these struggles intersect with other marginalized people and groups. I believe the Guidelines below communicate a more reasonable (and kind!) approach toward those who wish to support, learn, and love.

Rules for ALLY CLUB Guidelines for Being an Ally
You do not talk in ALLY CLUB. Actively listen to those who are marginalized and oppressed.
You DO NOT TALK in ALLY CLUB. Amplify the voices of the marginalized and oppressed.
If a marginalized person says STOP, the argument is over. When there is disagreement, do not continue to debate the point of disagreement if the marginalized person does not wish to do so. The voices of the marginalized should take precedent.
Ganging up on marginalized people and/or their blogs with a bunch of your privileged buddies means you’re out of ALLY CLUB. If marginalized people come after you in droves? YOU’VE FUCKED UP. APOLOGIZE. DON’T EXPECT TO BE FORGIVEN. Be ready and willing to apologize if a marginalized/oppressed person takes offense, even if you feel misunderstood. Be willing to hear stories, frustrations, complaints, and challenges with thick skin and open heart.
If you ping a bunch of marginalized people with the same bullshit “honest question, guise!” then you’re out of ALLY CLUB and automatically inducted into TROLL CLUB. Do as much education and research on marginalization and oppression as you can before asking questions. Reserve your questions for those with whom you have established trusted relationships.
No “what about me,” no “but privileged people don’t have perfect lives, either.” Wrestle with your own privilege with trusted advisors later; when acting as an ally, focus your attention and energy on the marginalized and oppressed.
If you fuck with marginalized people you do not get to say when the argument is over. It’s over when the marginalized people you fucked with say it’s over. If you’ve deeply hurt a marginalized person (intentionally or unintentionally), actively and willingly listen to the reasons why.
If this is your first time reading a social justice blog run by a certain group of marginalized people, DO NOT SUBMIT SHIT. Always favor listening and learning over speaking and teaching, especially if you are new to a community.

We need strong, uncompromising voices to lift up the marginalized and oppressed, and we need those who will listen and amplify our own voices. But I truly believe we ALSO need to understand that human beings are complex. There is a time for anger and powerful action, but surely—SURELY—there is also a time for patience and kindness.

What do you think?