Are You My Ally?

AreYouMyMotherMachine

MC USA’s power-holders meet and gather, discern, hem, haw, and engage in thoughtful discussion with no particular end in sight. Individual conferences meet and write letters, agree, disagree, talk about leaving the denomination, struggle, worship together, find commonality, despair (or rarely delight) at difference.

We queer folks in the Mennonite church and allies for inclusion gather, support, write, lean in, take a breath, take a break, envision new paths, hug, plan, build.

At this moment I feel called to engage a particular voice within our community. Perhaps we can engage with each other and model for the broader church ways to agree and disagree in love. To call in, to lean in, to strengthen solidarity, support, and community. Let’s dive in.

“The very minimum required by intellectual honesty and good faith is that the questions thus raised be faced by all without defensiveness, rancor, or dissimulation.” Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex. Mary Daly, while a visionary feminist philosopher, contributed to transphobia and hatred of trans folks and transbodies.

Ted Grimsrud, with love, I am calling you in. The first request of this call-in is that you read the post I’ve linked to. It’s a social justice framework for conflict transformation. It’s for when allies fall short and make mistakes, and folks in oppressed communities need to call those allies in and practice peace, accountability, and transformation. Because we’re both Mennonites, I’m going to work in some of John Paul Lederach’s framework of Conflict Transformation as well.

To quote from the article I’ve linked above, I’m calling you in “[b]ecause when I see problematic behavior from someone who is connected to me, who is committed to some of the things I am, I want to believe that it’s possible for us to move through and beyond whatever mistake was committed.”

I’m doing this publicly on my blog, because the mistake and context of behavior I’m referring to is on your public blog. The recent episode I’d like to address is your post about Othering and Mennonite Sexuality Struggles. I noticed that you Othered me right in your title by referring to me, to my human Mennonite queer body, as a Sexuality Struggle. I talk more about this common practice in my post Re: Elephants, A Call to Allies and Humans in the Mennonite Church. I give examples of language choices that humanize queer bodies in that post, and I’d love for you to apply some of those principles.

The second thing about your Othering post I’d like to address is the way you frame Othering of queer folks in the context of the Cold War and criminals. This felt problematic to me for a couple of reasons. One is that queer folks have done a ton of intellectual work around Othering, and that work was entirely passed over by your blog. A simple Google search for “Othering Queer Theory” would’ve provided you with the framework you needed to build your basic points. It’s something we queer folks have been talking about for quite some time. For just one example, check out this cool scholarly article about queer folks and Othering in the context of education from the Review of Educational Research. The American Educational Research Association published it in Spring of 2000, fourteen years ago.

The fact that you completely (willfully?) ignored Queer Theory, an entire body of rigorous intellectual work by the very community you are purporting to be examining, hurts my heart.

The deep painful history of people conflating queer existence with criminality also makes your framing problematic. In particular, people equate queer folks with sexual abusers, sexual violence committers, and pedophiles. In truth, we queer folks experience sexual violence – and all violence – at higher rates than straight folks. Your choice to link the two populations thematically and to drop in an end-of-post defense of John Howard Yoder – the man whose predatory sexual abuse of women is a focal point in the current Mennonite discussions about sexual violence – felt supremely insensitive to the history (and sometimes current practice) of equating queer folks’ sexuality with  sexually predatory behavior and to queer folks who are survivors of sexual violence.

I want to look at your post in the context of your other writings. I have several times found it interesting and helpful to read the growing, learning, intellectual wrestling, and shifting views of a straight Mennonite man. You do sometimes use Othering language like “gay issue,” and you frequently use the term Homosexuality.”  More painful to me, you have many posts that pass over the rigorous intellectual work of survivors and anti-sexual violence experts (in the context of John Howard Yoder), and queer folks inside and outside of the Mennonite church (in the context of your posts about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities).

When you write about John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse, and its impact/meaning for his work, you engage primarily with Yoder’s own writing, and with the writing of men defending Yoder or explaining Yoder’s behavior. In the Othering post, you engage primarily with work on Othering in the context of the Cold War and Criminals, and your reflections of whether that could be applied to queer folks.  Where are your posts engaging with survivors and sexual violence experts (other than one guest post by Barbara Graber and a brief shout-out to Alice Miller) regarding John Howard Yoder? Where are your posts engaging with queer theory and with queer theology regarding queer folks?

So I’m calling you in, Ted, and I’m asking whether you can rethink and rework your post about Othering to draw from Queer Theory.  In the larger context, I’m asking whether you can lean in and learn more about operating in solidarity with oppressed communities and about practicing allyship.

Here are some articles about allyship – a couple are in harsh language, and they can be difficult to read. The links I’m sharing are my personal collection of links I read and re-read to keep myself accountable. Most, if not all, are  specifically about race, but can often be applied to any person with power and/or privilege.

So You Call Yourself an Ally
How to Tell if You’re Racist
4 Ways to Push Back Against Your Privilege
8 Ways Not to Be an Ally
No More Allies
True Solidarity: Moving Past Privilege Guilt (Updated to add this article I read and loved today, 3/26/2014)

 

Ted, how can you and I be in community together and lift up each other’s successes and call in each other’s mistakes? How can we support each other as we work together to make peace in this Mennonite Church of ours?

This particular episode of conflict has moved me to call you in, and I have energy to do this work with you. Will you join me?

Jen

“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” – bell hooks

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12 thoughts on “Are You My Ally?

  1. I’m so disappointed you have password protected your blog and I can no longer read it. I want to be your ally….

    Stacy

  2. Jen, I am always grateful when someone takes something I write seriously enough to engage it—even when I don’t particularly like what they say about it. I present my writing, especially my blog posts, as an invitation for conversation, so I am happy to try to respond to your thoughts.

    (1) You wrote: “You Othered me right in your title by referring to me, to my human Mennonite queer body, as a Sexuality Struggle.” Well, what I had in mind when I used the term “Sexuality Struggles” was not you. Rather, I was thinking of the way so many in the Mennonite world have been disrespectful, even violent, toward sexual minorities.

    I had a certain kind of population in mind when I used the term “Sexuality Struggles,” and it wasn’t you or other LGBTQ Mennonites. I was thinking rather of those who have pushed MC USA into its current sense of crisis by their refusal to accept the gifts offered to the churches by folks such as you (I try to articulate this in my “Will Mennonite Church USA Survive?” post which is the prequel to the “Othering” post).

    A more accurate title for this “Othering” post might be something such as “Othering and the Violence of Mennonite Homophobia.” But such a confrontive title would not have fit with my desire to be as irenic as possible. It appears I should have tried harder to explain more explicitly what I meant by “sexuality struggles.”

    I have for many years thought that the Mennonite “issue” is bigotry or fear, not non-straight sexuality. But I have struggled with knowing how to say this in a way that would foster conversation and not simply polarization (I address this theme in a 2005 article, “Hospitality and Faithful Community: Why the ‘Gay Issue’ Matters”: “By the ‘gay issue’ what I actually mean is the ‘anti-gay issue’ or the ‘bigotry issue.’”). I’m sure I have been too timid, but I have generally allowed the “mainstream Mennonite” anti-gay consensus to set the agenda and tried to speak to that within its framing. I’m not saying that is the correct approach, only trying to describe what I have done.

    (2) My blog post, like just about all the writing I do, is first of all about my trying to understand something—a kind of thinking out loud. Myissue in this post was the way my work with the Cold War history and criminal justice seemed now to help me gain insight into how Mennonites have been treating sexual minorities. The parallel I had in mind was not among those labeled communists-criminals-“homosexuals” but the common dynamics in the violence toward those so labeled. My intent was not to “purport to examine the queer community.” It was to reflect on my community of mainstream (and oppressive) MC USA.

    I won’t deny that I “completely ignored Queer Theory.” I, in some sense, have to “ignore” tons of other insights and theories that surely would help me understand better. However, I would rather be judged on what I do say and how I use the sources I do use than on what I leave out—because I always have to leave out a whole lot of resources. There is simply too much useful stuff around to imagine touching on more than a mere fraction of it.

    I certainly don’t have anything against Queer Theory (though in general I’m not very interested in Theory; it doesn’t help me think that well). So I’m not sure why you would suggest I willfully “ignore it.” I think of my work being about peacemaking (or, the term I like, peace theology), and I affirm all sources that enhance that (with the caveat that I recognize how limited and finite I am and can appropriate only a small amount of those sources). I can’t imagine that Queer Theory wouldn’t be helpful, but so would lots of other stuff that I haven’t been able to get to either.

    I can see why the way all too many people conflate “queer existence with criminality,” et al, could make my example of criminal justice seem insensitive. I wish I had thought to add a sentence or two acknowledging that and clarifying my intent.

    At the same time, I do believe that all Othering, insofar as it leads to stereotyping, dehumanizing, and violence is problematic—including some of the recent writing about John Howard Yoder. I believe we should resist that dynamic in all cases. It is interesting, by the way, that you would perceive my brief comments as a “defense of Yoder” rather than a critique of the Othering dynamic. The person I quote on the “criminology of the other,” David Garland, certainly isn’t defending convicted criminals—he’s simply concerned with what Othering does to we who do it.

    (3) I vowed last summer that I would wait one year before I reflect publicly on the critiques of Yoder, so I will resist the temptation to explain what I think of “the rigorous intellectual work of survivors and anti-sexual violence experts (in the context of John Howard Yoder).” I will acknowledge, though, that my brief comments at the end of my “Othering” post violated that vow a little, but I want to wait before getting deeper into that issue.

    (4) This question of being an ally is intriguing for me. I did not write my blog post out of a motivation to be an “ally,” to speak for LGBTQ Mennonites, or about LGBTQ Mennonites. I wrote to help myself think—and perhaps to help others think. Your response certainly is helping me think even more—for that reason I am glad you wrote it.

    My focus is on the “mainstream Mennonite” world as I perceive it. If I have hope of influencing anything it is to challenge that world to quit being violent and inhospitable and to appreciate the gifts LGBTQ Mennonites have and continue to offer with their presence, courage, faithfulness, and creativity.

    I think you have to answer your question about me being an ally. I hope you can see my work as supportive of yours—and you are indeed doing terrific work as near as I can tell. However, I’m afraid I can’t accept that my work would be determined by someone else’s agenda. I’m not sure if what you mean by my being your “ally” is expecting that I would write what you want—but that’s kind of the feeling I get from your post.

    Again, Jen, I appreciate your devoting the time and energy to responding to my thoughts.

    • Sorry for the delay in responding, Ted. I appreciate you answering, and I’d like to continue to engage a bit. I sometimes need a little time and space from engaging to focus on other things, and this has been one of those moments for me.

      I’ll be responding in-depth very soon though. Thanks for your patience.

      Much love,
      Jen

    • I’ve thought about this a lot, Ted, and while I do have more thoughts I’m not sure they’re best shared in this context anymore. Thanks for engaging, and taking the time to write a long thoughtful response. I’d love to get together in person, and perhaps write an intentional dialoguing piece with you.

      Much love,
      Jen

  3. I enjoy your blog and as a former-Mennonite, now middle-aged white queer I am happy to see people challenging the church to be inclusive. Sometimes I don’t know why I continue to follow this struggle as often as I do over the Internet. Not identifying as a Christian or as a Mennonite anymore (except to a degree culturally), I don’t feel that I have a say in what the church does. And yet I keep following the stories, and hoping. Much as I suppose I hope Francis reforms the Catholic Church for the better.

    That being said, since this blog is a critique, I have two critiques for your critique.

    First, Mary Daly. I read some of her work, not much, in my 20s and liked it. It was later when I transitioned and then started to read trans blogs that I found that she really really didn’t like trans people, to the point of calling us “Frankensteins” and mentoring Janice Raymond who published “The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the Shemale”. Let’s just say that just as when quoting John Howard Yoder, when quoting Mary Daly there needs to be an asterisk. It’s hard because she has written some insightful things, but she was not a friend of the larger queer community and attitudes like hers pushed back the cause of trans equality and hurt a lot of people.

    Second, I think you can compare the othering of criminals to the othering of lgbt people. When I look at the prisons in America and see so many people in prison, a disproportionate number of African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, poor people in prison, when you look at how hard it is to get a job or find housing after you’ve served your time in prison, I come to the conclusion that prison isn’t about helping communities, it isn’t about justice, it’s about keeping poor people and people of color in their place, and it’s hurtful to communities. Now what does this have to do with lgbt people? I see the same dynamic with lgbt people in churches. When church leaders talk about Biblical, traditional values, it isn’t about justice, it isn’t about helping lgbt communities, it’s about keeping queers in our place and it’s about hurting queer communities.

    • Vivian, thank you for reading and for engaging me. I struggled with the Mary Daly quote (and nearly left it out) precisely because of what you’ve said. I will absolutely add an asterisk, and I am sorry for quoting her without acknowledging that portion of her legacy in the first place.

      Thanks for your perspective on Othering, LGBT folks, and criminals. I want to sit with what you said for a little while before I respond. I have lots of thoughts about prison along the same lines as yours, and rather than typing them haphazardly right now, I want to let them organize themselves.

      Much love,
      Jen

      • Dear Jen, after I wrote my comment I wondered about it. It makes me teary to know that there are people like you out there challenging the church to be inclusive. I want to send you support and encouragement, and I hope that comes through. Keep doing what you are doing! Love, Vivian

  4. I am grateful for your blog. Although I haven’t read it very often, I am inspired when I do so. Please keep me connected. And if you need to talk to me before deciding, please send me an email with any questions or concerns you may have. Thanks.

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