How to Talk to Our Straight Allies
By: Lori Heine
It is time for us to speak to our straight allies in a way that moves them from being - all too often - benignly neutral to taking a real stand on our side. There are basically three types of straight people: harmful, harmless and helpful. Almost none of them are helpless, though many of them seem to see themselves that way.
No one ever knows when they will be called upon to step up and take a stand on what they believe. The opportunity usually does not come pre-announced or gift-wrapped. No one gets an engraved invitation. But all at once there it is - and usually at a time that's inconvenient, and in a form that's messier, and possibly riskier, than they'd like.
They can't always choose when they may be needed to step up and help. And it's all too easy to let the opportunity pass them by if it doesn't present itself when they choose it. But if they just sit and wait for it to get there when they're good and ready, it probably never will. Either because things just don't work out that neatly in real life, or because no one ever seems to be quite ready.
The people they're called upon to help may not always be as attractive or agreeable, either, as the hypothetical GLBT people in their heads. Real GLBT people are just like everybody else in the real world: a tremendous and multi-varied mixture of good and bad, happy and sad, pretty and ugly, nice and not-so-nice. What's at issue should not be our likeability as individuals, but the fact that God made - and loves - us all. Jesus gave His life not only for the nice people, but even for the jerks.
We need to remind our friends - and perhaps often - that the sort of world we want to live in is the responsibility of each of us to help make. A world in which injustice is tolerated, or even encouraged, is one in which no decent human being wants to live. There's just no neat or reliable way to take away the rights that protect others, even those we dislike, without losing them ourselves.
If the Constitution is rendered nonsensical and self-contradictory because some are deemed unworthy of full protection under it, it is left a nonsensical, inconsistent and self-contradictory mess for us all. A Federal Marriage Amendment, for example, would violate the First, Ninth, Tenth and Fourteenth Amendments. Do we all really want to live without those? Even at the state level, such laws violate all but the Tenth Amendment - and unless our state plans on seceding from the Union, that probably means we need the U.S. Constitution as much as anybody else.
If the institution of marriage is made too exclusive - shutting out more people than it includes - what will inevitably happen is that it really will be threatened. All of those - including many straights, like senior citizens whose Social Security is jeopardized by marriage tax laws and are therefore practically unable to marry - will eventually gang up against the institution and demand that it be dismantled. The irony is that measures like same-sex marriage would actually strengthen the institution, helping to guarantee its strength and survival in the future.
Religious freedom is another good that cannot survive being tampered with; either there is religious freedom, or there isn't. Making it available only to those whose beliefs are the most popular actually jeopardizes it for everybody - including them. What always happens, sooner or later, is that only those with the biggest guns have the freedom. Our forefathers and mothers came to America to escape that very situation. They knew all too well of the religious wars – hundreds of years of them - that resulted from permitting only the very strongest or most numerous to worship as they chose, and this led, inevitably, to even the bloodiest force being used to tyrannize all who believed differently.
It won't always be convenient, or flattering, or totally risk-free, to take a stand for us. Sometimes it might lead to unpleasantness, unpopularity or even retaliation. Bullies must be stood up to and faced down - for everyone's sake. A spoils system, in which some are spared for the sake of oppressing others, is one in which all are under the thumb of those who would push around everyone else. No one is safe, or free, unless we all are.
There are simply not enough of us, and far too many of our determined enemies, for us to be able to withstand the onslaught of their antagonism against us without a lot of very active and equally-determined help from our straight friends. It is not enough to sit back and quietly wish us well, while so many forces remain arrayed against us. No embattled minority has ever been able to win equality in any society without allies in the majority. History shows no exception to this rule. As has been the case in countless other struggles for liberty and equal rights, silence, in the face of injustice, equals death, and fence-sitting only aids and abets injustice.
Many times, those who harm us do not seem to be hard-core homo-haters. It is easy not to notice, or at least to pretend to for the sake of convenience and the social niceties, when injustice is being done by somebody who seems nice enough - who seems, in fact, to be "just like us." Too often, the standard even well-meaning straight people use to determine who is harming us is an unrealistic one. If they aren't throwing rocks at us, setting us on fire or dragging us behind pickup trucks - the rationale seems to go - then what are we complaining about? But the standard, at least for Christians who sincerely want to follow Christ, should be no less than Christ's own: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Unfortunately, many straight people won't wake up to the injustices against us until some heinous, barbarous act is committed. Then, unless it happens to those they personally know, they quickly get bored and move on to the next diversion. Part of the Church's job is to keep people sensitized to violence. If even half the time it spends peeping into people's bedroom windows and sniffing panties, it spent attending to the epidemic of violence in our society, it might be able to do some actual good.
How well is the Church doing its duty to keep us all sensitized to violence? Look at Afghanistan and Iraq. Go read (if you can stand to) the "Left Behind" series of books. Listen to the way they mealy-mouth when a GLBT person is brutalized or murdered. Now, what was that question again?
Our straight allies cannot rely upon the Church, as it exists today, to take a stand for decency, or even for sanity, because as far as Church leadership is concerned, the lunatics are running the asylum. One sign of the lunacy now reigning in organized Christendom is its prevalent attitude that following Christ's teachings is something only "liberals" do. What should, by all rights and by sheer logic, be the truly conservative position – that Jesus' teachings trump all else – is instead relegated to the hippie fringe.
Our would-be allies, all too many of them, live in a bubble of self-delusion. They close their eyes and think happy thoughts about us - and enjoy a rush of giddy pleasure that they're not like the monsters who prey upon us. They let other straight people - those careful to seem polite and housebroken enough - cheat us six ways from Sunday, all the while saying nothing about it. This is exactly what emboldens some to do so much worse.
Those who wish to cheat and rob us have learned how to get away with it. They can steal from us, break up our families, run us out of our jobs or whatever else they take it into their heads to do to us, and as long as they aren't carrying picket-signs that say, "God Hates Fags!" they can expect no opposition from our "friends." They know the words to say - the right ones, like "some of my best friends are gay," and that is all it takes.
We have let the barbarians and the lunatics lower the bar for us all. Barely clinging to sanity has become the new "normal."
Simply not being insane is not the same thing as being mentally healthy. But as a society, we are so mentally unhealthy that the line between ourselves and insanity has become pencil-thin. Where were the churches while all of this was going on? Why, peeping in bedroom windows and sniffing panties, of course! We have allowed a bunch of overgrown twelve-year-olds to hijack the Body of Christ with their fevered, preadolescent terror-fantasies.
Just not being as bad as "those people" is no longer good enough. Like that frog in the folk-tale, they are happily lolling in our bathwater, not even noticing that it keeps getting hotter. We will all boil there, too lethargic to leap out, unless we wake up and realize what is going on.
We in the GLBT community know our adversaries intend to boil us. They have warned us that they will, and so we feel the heat. But our straight allies, by and large, do not. We need to shake them to wake them – not merely for our own sakes, but for theirs.
It shouldn't be as difficult to get them to understand as it used to be. Things have, indeed, gotten so bad - and in so many ways - that most people can no longer ignore it. Some of those who have refused to listen to us have now begun to hear us out. Let us hope and pray, for everyone's sake, that they haven't roused themselves from their stupor too late.
So very much of this battle is mental. Our psychology must change, and change drastically. And we must transmit this new attitude – of hope, of confidence, of inevitable victory – to both friend and foe. We must visualize more than the fight we are now in. We need to see the victory beyond.
The willingness to fight is good - but after a while, the fight can become an end in itself. We find ourselves stuck in a quagmire, as deep as the military morass we're in in Afghanistan and Iraq. There seems no more visible point, after a while, to the fight, nor any end in sight. This sort of entrenched situation works in favor of our enemies, who seem to be able to afford to wait us out. And, unlike our military enemies, those who would steal not only our lives, but our very souls, have at the present time more troops, funds and firepower than we do, so they are far better able to wait out a long siege than we are.
Our straight allies sense this, and they're getting tired and weakening. A willingness to keep on fighting, with no end in sight, is a willingness to lose - or at least it becomes so after a while. The struggle - like all those endless "sexuality studies" with which the denominations keep busying themselves - becomes an excuse for stalemate; it only perpetuates the status-quo.
We now know that there is no sound biblical basis for the churches' anti-gay stance. And our allies know it, too - as do many of our enemies. We're not just "in it to win it," we've already won. Our adversaries continue to stalemate us because they've already lost, and they know it. We must make sure that our allies know it, too - and that they act upon that knowledge.
I refuse to be a victim. When my former church insisted on treating me like one, I packed up and left it. But I will continue to monitor, with the help of friends there, both gay and straight, whether they do the right thing or the wrong one. We will hold their feet to the fire.
The organization that bestows a gay-inclusive designation upon welcoming churches in that denomination is not doing its job. It thinks - quite wrongly - that if it places any firm conditions upon churches that they've given this designation, it will lose them. But that is simply not true. We have so much momentum now, and our cause is so clearly righteous, that if they back away from the challenge, other churches will surely take their place.
If they must be shamed into doing the right thing, then too bad - by all means, let's shame them. And as publicly as possible.
No other minority would put up with the nonsense we do. None. Those who expect such long-suffering patience from us are taking advantage of our historic self-loathing. I do not loathe myself, and I'm not going to act as if I do. It is those who expect us to loathe ourselves – who count on it – who deserve our loathing, and they need to know it.
When we see shenanigans from our would-be allies, we must call them on them. They aren't going to turn tail and run on us - unless they want to abandon all hope of being able to see themselves, or be seen, as progressives ever again. What other option do they have - to become fundamentalists? The Religious Right doesn't want them, will never trust them, and they will only come to loathe themselves. Their own children - as well as those of many on the Religious Right - will loathe them, and history will march right over them and leave them in the dust.
We know it. They know it. We know they know we know it. Let's bring all kabuki to the contrary to an end.
The siege will end someday. The only question is, do we want to still be alive to see and enjoy the victory? Those who would steal our very lives must not be permitted to do so. We allow the siege to continue only because our enemies are trying to convince us that we may still lose. We cannot, and will not.
They have no choice but to gamble that their bluff will hold. We have no choice but to call that bluff - and to let our allies know that they must call it, too. Let's go on and live like the victory is already ours. Our friends will notice the new spring in our step, and how high we hold our heads. If God is for us, then who may stand against us?
Courage - like fear - is infectious. It is our enemies who have every real reason to be afraid – as, indeed, they quite clearly are. Let's leave them to boil in the bathwater all by their lonesome, and to sniff panties to their hearts' content. Do our friends really want to hang around with that crowd? Nah - invite 'em to come along with us, and hang out with the winners.
Lori Heine serves on Whosoever's board of directors. She maintains a blog called Born on 911.
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