I was listening to Q 101.9 this morning. The morning hosts, Bronson and Christine, were discussing Bruce Jenner and the announcement that he would be addressing questions about his gender and possible transition on the new season (premiering this Spring) of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
Christine was discussing the controversy surrounding the InTouch Weekly cover photo that had been doctored to demonstrate what he might look like after a “sex change.” By which, they mean gender confirmation treatments (HRT? Surgery? All supposition, of course), presuming Mr. Jenner is actually transgender.
Now, the family has opened themselves up to the public eye with their reality TV show. Certain discussions and suppositions are likely because they are public figures. Anyone who has never been guilty of gossiping about others, especially public figures shall cast the first stone. We’ve all done it. And the Kardashian family seems to beg for it at times. I get that. The question then begs, where do we draw the line? That can be a hard question to answer.
But I think it’s a pretty easy question this time. How about we draw it at cruelty?
Bronson stated that while he had never watched the show in the past he was now interested after seeing the photo, stating “that…that was awful.”
What is THAT, Bronson? The human being that was the subject of a cruel photo manipulation? Is Bruce Jenner now a “that” because ze possible doesn’t fit a traditional gender binary role?
And what makes it awful? The poor choice of lipstick color in the photo manipulation? The fact that a transwoman may not be “pretty” by society standards? Hell, the fact that many women out there are not traditionally pretty by society standards? Lack of normative beauty offends you?
Let’s say, for a moment, that Bruce Jenner actually IS in the process of transition and that WAS an undoctored photo of exactly what ze looks like. Why is judgment and cruelty about hir looks in any way acceptable?
My kids, as well as many others, listen to your show. What message are you sending about what is acceptable commentary about the experience of others? About what is appropriate humor?
MY KIDS, AS WELL AS MANY OTHERS, LISTEN TO YOUR SHOW. Do you feel a sense of responsibility in that? Do you see how cruel that comment really was?
Well, correction. Many others listen to your show.
We’re done with you.
In my private practice, I hear all the dirty things. The running joke is that the things I talk about at my work are the things that get other people sent to HR where they work. My rules for what is acceptable behavior in the bedroom is a simple one. CONSENT. So kids and pets are a deal breaker – they can’t give consent. Forcing your will on someone else is never OK (Unless it is part of previously consented to edge play with boundaries and safe words and all that jazz. Which is an article for a different day). Anything else you do? Get ooooonnnnnn with your bad self. People come to me seeking permission to be who they are. To figure out who they are. To explore how they came to be that way. To think about what they might like. To try new stuff on.
So yeah, sometimes we talk about some kinky stuff.
Though it is usually not as weird and kinky and unusual as people think it is. Trust me on that part, I’m a professional perv. I have never, not ever, been appalled by what people do in the bedroom. And I’m certainly not going to be shocked or surprised by it. In fact, I usually have a pretty good guess as to what is going on from the earliest things they say to me, their body language, their interactions with me and each other. I’m not Counselor Troi, but I was trained by (and continue to train with) amazing people. It’s my job and I’m pretty good at it.
So if someone tells me about an abuse history, or struggles with sexual expression, or fights over differential desires? I’m not surprised. And these issues are not as unique as people think. If they were, I wouldn’t have a job, right?
But my clients still surprise me every day. In fact they take my breath away.
Do you know what DOES surprise me? In fact, what impresses me beyond measure? How wonderful people really are. How much families love each other despite obstacles that seem insurmountable. How hard people are willing to fight to heal. The lengths to which people will go to find the common ground that lets them be with one another. Or the grace and strength it takes to let each other go. The courage it takes to walk into my office and say, this is broken but I desperately want to fix it. To say I really screwed this up. I don’t know that I can make this better but I really want to try. To say I’m hurt so bad I can barely breathe but I want to move past this because I chose this person in my life and despite everything that happened I woke up this morning and chose them again. To sit in my office and cry and breathe and think and work. To make difficult choices. To sign with relief when things move forward.
People are amazing. They bust their butts in sessions and between sessions. And then they thank me when things are better.
But I didn’t do it. My only job is to provide the safe space. To validate their experience. To commiserate when it sucks and help celebrate when it’s awesome.
My job is to be the permission giver, the coach, the cheerleader, the non-judgmental ear. My clients do the work. Really difficult uncomfortable work, sometimes. Fun and silly work, sometimes. But out of the comfort zone work all the time. Because intimacy is not something we teach and normalize in our society. Figuring out intimacy is really hard stuff.
So this is a love letter to my clients. And a thank you right back. You inspire ME. You give me hope for the world around me when I see terrible things happen. You remind me of the huge capacity humans have to love each other, take care of each other, and recovery from the terrible things we sometimes inflict on each other. You remind me that we are capable of caring about each other beyond measure and reason. When we heal our relationships, we heal the world around us. Thank you for the constant reminder that the world is a good, good place full of good, good people. That the things we sometimes do don’t have to define us or our futures.
Thank you for inviting me into your lives and your journey.
(Notes on Deconstructing the Binary)
I love "queer." I see "queer" as meaning that which deviates from the script. Political resistance is "queer." You live the best way you can, with the biggest awareness that you can, and try to mitigate suffering if you can. That's what it means to be human. There's no purity to one position.
-- Joan Nestle
My parents were good hippies.
They were determined to not steep their first daughter in gender norms by putting me in frilly dresses, pink, hair bows, and polka dots. I grew up in overalls and onesies until one fateful day at the mall. It can be rainy and cold for days on end in the Pacific Northwest, as you know. My mother brought her bouncing-off-the-wall toddler to the mall to work off some energy.
And The (future) Intimacy Dr discovered dresses.
My mother says I was wired from the get-go to be a “frou-frou” (her words). I still have a lot of dresses. And more skirts than tops to go with them. And to be completely honest? Even if I am wearing a “Free Leonard Peltier” tshirt, jeans, shit-kicking rez boots, and ballcap, I am still the girliest looking thing in the room. I ooze female-presenting, matching my birth assignment, no matter what I put on.
I also dig men. Like, a lot. Men are yummy, and just smell right to me. By birth assignment, that makes me heterosexual.
So all of this means that I must identify, gender-wise, as female, right?
Not a chance.
Gender has nothing to do with who you have sex with, what sexual organs you were born with, or how you present on the outside. Sometimes we express ourselves through those means, but gender is more complex and way more an internal state of being than you may have realized.
Here are the definitions related to the gender concepts that I use, the one I teach with and present with. These come from a glossary I created with Beck Munsey, recently updated with assistance from C.G. Jones and Jennifer Robbins. Anything problematic with these definitions are entirely my fault; anything great they get credit for. These terms are soon to be published by TALGBTIC as part of an entire LGBTQQIAAP Glossary. And you wanna buy that shit when it comes out. It’s good.
GENDER: A social construct used to classify a person as a man, woman, or some other identity. Fundamentally different from the sex one is assigned at birth, and may or may not be congruent with that assignment. While the historical argument is that gender is purely a social construct, newer research demonstrates that gender behavior does not vary significantly between cultures, therefore there may be neuro-biological roots to gender expression. See also: Gender Identity
GENDER BINARY: The classification of gender as two separate and distinct opposites, disconnected from each other (male/female, man/woman, girl/boy, masculine/feminine). Also known as gender binarism or binarism.
GENDER DYSPHORIA: an intense continuous discomfort resulting from an individual's belief in the inappropriateness of their assigned gender at birth and resulting gender role (recognized as the actual medical condition being treated in the DSM-V.)
GENDER EXPRESSION/PRESENTATION: How one expresses oneself, in terms of dress and/or behaviors that society characterizes as “masculine” or “feminine.” May also be androgynous or something else altogether. Some people differentiate between the two terms.
GENDERFLUID: Being fluid in motion between two or more genders; shifting naturally in gender identity and/or gender expression/presentation. May be a gender identity itself. Refers to the fluidity of identity.
GENDERFUCK: A form of gender identity or expression, genderfuck is an intentional attempt to present a confusing gender identity that contributes to dismantling the perception of a gender binary.
GENDER IDENTITY: A person’s internal sense or self-conceptualization of their own gender. Used to call attention to the self-identification inherent in gender. Cisgender, transgender, man, woman, genderqueer, etc. are all gender identities.
GENDER IDENTITY DISORDER (GID): An older controversial DSM-IV diagnosis still used outside the US given to transgender and other gender-variant people. Because it labels people as "disordered," Gender Identity Disorder is often considered offensive. The diagnosis is frequently given to children who don't conform to expected gender norms in terms of dress, play or behavior. Such children are often subjected to intense psychotherapy, behavior modification and/or institutionalization.
GENDERISM: The belief that there are, and should be, only two genders and that one’s gender or most aspects of it are inevitably tied to the assigned sex.
GENDER NON-CONFORMING (GNC): A person who does not subscribe to gender expressions or roles expected of them by society.
GENDER NORMATIVE: Conforming to the cultural rules regarding gender expression, either explicit or implicit.
GENDER OUTLAW: A person who refuses to be defined by conventional definitions of men and women. A term popularized by Kate Bornstein in her book of the same name, not seen in current vernacular as often.
GENDERQUEER: A person whose gender identity and/or gender expression falls outside of the dominant societal norm for their assigned sex, is beyond genders, or is some combination thereof.
GENDER ROLES: The socially constructed and culturally specific behavior and appearance expectations imposed on women (femininity) and men (masculinity).
I share these terms here (and the larger glossary when I teach) because so many of us, myself included, don’t even have the right words to express ourselves or honor those around us. And language, like gender identity, is fluid and constantly changing.
Which is why, for myself, I don’t accept the concept of the gender binary at all. It doesn’t fit me. No matter how girlie I look, anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes in a room with me knows that there is nothing girlie in how I navigate the world.
I have always worked in mental health, and during my early years doing case management, I was well known for my “balls of steel” (Just ask my friend Q, ze will tell you they are clearly huge and steel because they drag and subsequently gouge the ground beneath me when I walk.) My reputation was made when I convinced a local pimp to give up his girl (my client) so she could take the spot I got her in substance abuse recovery.
Because really, what else are you going to do when a mini-van driving mom pulls up and demands you hand over your meal ticket? Besides pee yourself laughing?
I navigated caring for a dying husband while completing a doctoral program. I’ve been parenting two special needs kiddos as a widow. You better believe I have a set of balls that drags the ground when I walk. I had shit to take care of.
Gender is between the ears, not between the legs. It also may have everything to do with how you present yourself to the world, nor nothing at all. So other than the fact that I can rock a short skirt like Tina Turner, there is not much girlie about me.
But I am not traditionally male in any sense either. I am warm, and empathic, and unaffectedly caring about people. My job is to create a sense of safety in my office, and I think I do that well, it’s what people comment on about me time and again. That I accept them, just not their bullshit. I genuinely like people, quite nearly all of them. I don’t chew tobacco and spit in public, I don’t manspread my legs on the bus. I talk about my feelings and cry whenever the fuck I feel like it. I’m may not be girlie, but I’m not very guyie either.
The gender binary (definitions above, in case you forgot) have really fucked us up, as a culture. Why do we have to choose a set of rules and ascribe to them? We lose so much of what makes us the unique, excellent individuals that we are.
When I present with my dear friend Beck Munsey, we ask the room which one of us is gender queer. Only once, in one presentation, did someone say that I was too, not just Beck. I’m in a skirt, ze is in a tie. We are both queer. Beck digs chicks, I dig guys. We are both queer. Ze is the one that gets shit for using the Women’s bathroom, I’m the one there next to hir, ready to pull out a can of whoop-ass out of my Kate Spade carry-all. We are both queer.
Beck and myself, like many other people decided as some point in our lives that we didn’t fit into a neat category and we were allowed to stop trying. We were allowed to be who we were without question, owning all of the excellent qualities that we culturally ascribe to maleness AND femaleness in our same personhood.
Jill Solloway, the creator of the brilliant Amazon series, Transparent, spoke to her own gender identity in the February 2015 issue of Elle Magazine. She stated:
I’ve always been straight identified and always slept with men, but politically I feel like a lesbian – I see male privilege everywhere. She goes on: “I identify as queer. Is that weird? I feel like I am in an ever-evolving state of becoming, and I definitely feel like when my father came out [as MTF transgender], it gave me a comforting feeling that I came from a queer family. And in terms of whether I identify as bi or queer, I feel like there would be a totally different answer a year from now.
Queerness is like an algorithm that can’t compute. Hell, queerness IS an algorithm that can’t compute. Facebook is always trying to figure me out. I’ve gotten ads meant for gay men, and ads meant for lesbians. Social media is always having an “Um, how about this?” conversation with me. Just shut up and show me my feed, yo.
When you break the binary, you break the algorithm. Both online and in real life. That’s the true source of discomfort for people. They want the neat category. If you were born with a vagina, you should act like it. It’s a safer, smaller existence. At least for those around you. In The Cathedral of Computation, Ian Bogost calls bullshit on the deification of an algoristic social system.
If algorithms aren’t gods, what are they instead? Like metaphors, algorithms are simplifications, or distortions. They are caricatures. They take a complex system from the world and abstract it into processes that capture some of that system’s logic and discard others. And they couple to other processes, machines, and materials that carry out the extra-computational part of their work. Unfortunately, most computing systems don’t want to admit that they are burlesques. They want to be innovators, disruptors, world-changers, and such zeal requires sectarian blindness.
But even in my queerness, and likely even in Jill Solloway’s there is an awareness of privilege that other gender queer individuals, such as Beck, are not afforded. Because it doesn’t (often) present in how I dress, I can navigate the aisles of HEB without the side glances. I’ve never been harassed in the bathroom like Beck is (and I use whichever one is empty, no matter what is marked on the door).
I can’t wait for the day where “not my circus, not my monkey” because everyone’s operative phraseology. And no one gives a damn if the person reaching for the last bag of baked Cheetos is male, female, or other. As long as they put that shit down, because you saw them first.
I love that the term two-spirit, which had fallen out of use in native communities for many decades and now is being reclaimed. It is being used to honor all of the facets of identity that can exist within someone. It’s a pre-colonial term, older than America. As my indigenous sisters reclaim it, I hope others do as well.
My fiancé admits that he was confused by my use of the term gender queer at first. I can rock a tiny dress, after all. But I explained to him that all the things he loves about me are the things that have scared off many other men. My education, my propensity to say what I think and back it up with both research and action, my determination in going after what I want. These are not what we culturally ascribe to femaleness in our culture. He’s proud of that shit. Not just in theory but in the day to day reality of our lives.
Now he just laughs when he finds a stray hair on my chin and announces that my maleness is coming out.
My kids? Pretty damn queer, even if they don’t necessarily use that term. My son pulled off his size 12 smelly-ass sneakers the other day to reveal a pink pair of socks. MY pink pair of warm, warm boot socks. That I had spent 20 minutes looking for that morning.
“Mother FUCKER! You know those are mine!”
“No I didn’t, thought they were mine.”
“Bitch! They’re PINK!”
“Yeah, like THAT’S a qualifier in this house.”
Oooooh, well played.
No matter what your birth assignment, no matter what your gender identity, no matter what you look like on the outside? Rock your gender identity. If it’s male or female, get on with your bad self. If it is somewhere in between? I’ve always got a place for you at my table. But first? Could you help me pluck this chin hair, real quick?
The term Redskins does not honor indigenous people.
You can argue till you are blue in the face otherwise but you will be wrong. And as a constructivist, I don’t usually challenge people as being empirically wrong (unless you are my son and we are discussing whether dishes are clean or dirty).
While the propensity to name sports teams after indigenous groups is disrespectful in an overall sense (I have often explained to people that cowboy is something you do, Indian is something you are), the term redskin is far and above intensively offensive.
The term redskin does not reference the ruddy undertone of native skin. And, quite frankly, even if that were the case it would still be an inaccuracy. Within my family, the men have been a bit darker, and all of the women rather fair skinned. My father (who is 75% Choctaw) and his father (50%) are both darker than his full-blooded mother. I am way lighter than my Jewish/Mexican fiancé. My brother is a blue eyed blond throwback. The only person lighter than him, is recently retired Choctaw Nation chief, Gregory Pyle.
The term red is not about our melanin in our skin. It is about the blood our ancestors shed as victims of a genocidal colonization experience. And about the continued effects of intergenerational trauma because of it.
Scalp hunting became common practice after settler Hannah Dustin murdered ten of her Abenaki captors during an escape and presented their scalps to the Massachusetts General Assembly in 1697. She was rewarded with a bounty. This marked a new era in Settler/Native relations in the US Territories.
Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz writes in her book An Indigenous History of the United States:
The settler authorities had hit upon a way to encourage setters to take off on their own or with a few others to gather scalps, at random, for reward money. “In the process,” John Grenier points out, “they established the large-scale privatization of war within American frontier communities.” Although the colonial government in time raised the bounty for adult male scalps, lowered that for adult females, and eliminated that f or Indigenous children under ten, the age and gender of victims were not easily distinguished by their scalps nor checked carefully. What is more, the scalp hunter could take the children captive and sell them into slavery. These practices erased any remaining distinction between Indigenous combatant and noncombatants and introduced a market for Indigenous slaves. Bounties for Indigenous scalps were honored even in the absence of war. Scalps and Indigenous children became mans of exchange, currency, and this development may have even created a black market. Scalp hunting was not only a profitable privatized enterprise but also a means to eradicate or subjugate the Indigenous population of the Anglo-American Atlantic seaboard. The settlers gave a name to the mutilated and bloody corpses they left in the walk of scalp-hunts: redskins. (p. 65, [emphasis mine])
But why does this matter to you, as a non-native? That’s more horrible than you thought, maybe, but what does it have to do with the feminist movement? After all the whole scalping thing was started by a woman even!
The Winter 2015 (Issue #65) of Bitch magazine published a succinct and brilliant piece by Emily Prado entitled “Change The Name – And The Frame.” She discusses how, despite more the half of all registered native tribes in the U.S. endorse a name change, all national polls of the general population do not consider the term “redskin” offensive. Lack of education, lack of caring?
Recently, The Daily Show took on the hypocrisy and media bias of this phenomenon. The brilliant piece, featuring my beloved 1491s, pointed out these issues within their known dead pan satirization.
And were promptly attacked by the media. Yahoo Sports, Gawker, and The Washington Post all published articles speaking to how the fans (primarily non-Natives) feel the name represents honor and tradition and should remain. This slant on the story is sympathetic to the fans, the lens is one that demonstrates to the reader that the fans caught in the controversy are the ones that suffer most.
Prioritizing the hurt feelings of White football fans in Washington, is a clear silencing of the voices of the experiences of native peoples, yet again. Would they stop rooting for their favorite team if the name changed? Of course not.
The only thing really at stake for fans is having the status quo challenged with historically relevant information and the realization that other people, perhaps less privileged than they, are deeply impacted by a continued reminder of the truth of the native experience. Both our diminished identity in this country and the continued attempts to silence our collective indigenous voice.
Essentially, the name perpetuates the continued status of Otherness.
It is a continued action of cultural appropriation in the sickest possible sense and of continued cultural annihilation. The cultural annihilation may be more often figurative than literal in 2015, but both forms still exist.
And this is a feminist issue.
Feminism is, at its core, the voice of the Other. It is a challenge to the privileged experience, whatever that experience may be.
Jarune Uwujaren and Jamie Utt emphasize the importance of global advocacy within the feminist movement, by framing the importance of intersectionality in their piece Why Our Feminism Must Be Intersectional (And 3 Ways to Practice It)
In short, intersectionality is a framework that must be applied to all social justice work, a frame that recognizes the multiple aspects of identity that enrich our lives and experiences and that compound and complicate oppressions and marginalizations.
We cannot separate multiple oppressions, for they are experienced and enacted intersectionally.
Thus, in the words of Flavia Dzodan, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”
Or, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This is the crux of the true experience of feminism, to own our privilege where it exists and fight for equality where it does not. This fight extends outward, however. Our fight should encompass not only the individuals like ourselves and the individuals different from ourselves.
Eric Holder demonstrated an understanding of this when he denounced the Redskins name as being offensive, last July. While Eric Holder has enormous privilege in some areas, and does not have indigenous blood that I know of, he does have the experience of being a Black man in this society. I imagine he gets it. Injustice anywhere? Quite right.
Just in the past few days the Department of Justice became involved in the issue, when it filed a brief in support of the Lanham Act, which allows the federal government to cancel a trademark should it be considered disparaging. This new turn of events likely occurred much to team owner Dan Snyder’s dismay, I’m sure. Snyder’s countersuit regarding the name change had been based on the unconstitutionality of the Lanham Act. The DOJ’s response was a resounding “Bitch, please.”
In short? This battle has become political at a level that few people likely suspected. And here is your chance to demonstrated intersectionality as an advocate and fellow human being.
1) Educate people on the case and why the term is so derogatory. Most people don’t know the history. Be gentle, be kind, but share facts. Silence is equal to complicity.
2) Sign petitions reflecting your support of a name change. These petitions have more power than you realize.
3) Watch for opportunities to practice intersectionality throughout your life. Yes, it seems like a lot of work. Sometimes this world makes me just plain tired. But really, what’s the alternative?
There is a famous poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian mystic poet. The poem, translated by Coleman Barks is entitled “Moses and the Shepherd”.
In this work, Moses challenges a shepherd for his manner of worship. The shepherd, in his prayers, offers to feed God, clothe him, and keep his room clean and safe for him to sleep at night.
Moses is appalled and chastises the shepherd, rains down fury over someone diminishing his Godde in such a manner. How does one feed or bathe the all-mighty Godde, too powerful to have a need for food or personal hygiene support.
The shepherd, feeling deeply chastised, tears at his clothing, repents to Moses, and wanders off into the desert.
Now Godde, overhearing this exchange, gets seriously hacked off at Moses and calls him out for two things. First, these are some seriously snobby, prescriptive ideas about worship. Second, who is he to impose those worship standards on someone else?
I have given each being a separate and unique way
f seeing and knowing that knowledge.
What seems wrong to you is right for him.
What is poison to one is honey to someone else.
Purity and impurity, sloth and diligence in worship,
these mean nothing to me.
I am apart from all that.
Ways of worshipping are not to be ranked as better
or worse than one another.
Hindus do Hindu things.
The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do.
It's all praise, and it's all right.
It's not me that's glorified in acts of worship.
It's the worshipers! I don't hear the words
they say. I look inside at the humility.
That broken-open lowliness is the reality,
not the language! Forget phraseology.
I want burning, 'burning'.
with your burning. Burn up your thinking
and your forms of expression!
The shepherd, in his unassuming, unschooled worship was on to something. And it is the simplest idea, and the hardest to execute. And it’s this:
Love is a behavior.
Love is something we do, not something we feel. It is something we are in every moment of our short deployment on this earth. You have heard me say we are hardwired to connect. Simply stated, we exist to love. And this propels us to action.
We talked about this when I was here in July, I asked those of you who were in this room then to commit to an act of microadvocacy in your lives. To build intimacy by changing your relationships. We wrote them down, and left them here. And I want to hear how that went for you later. I promised you I wouldn’t forget.
I also promised you I was planning on pushing further, and that’s totally going to happen, too.
The Revverent Lynice Pinkard states that living the gospels, really LIVING them, is the ultimate act of revolution. She states:
The church is an extension of Christ — literally Christ’s body — and an alternative to the militaristic, consumerist, alienated way of life that has become the norm.
I fundamentally believe that God’s love manifests itself in the world on the “yeast principle”: it springs up everywhere that the Spirit is fully alive. God doesn’t try to create empire or theocracy. That is what we don’t seem to get. If we were all totally open to the Spirit of Life, it would send us out into the world to replicate that Life. One sign that a church is full of the Spirit is when it begins to replicate the Life of God in the world. Churches are too often like black holes — they want to draw people in and jealously hold on to them the way a black hole draws everything into itself, even light. The Kingdom of God generates light and energy like a star and sends it outward.
Let’s talk about the word guerrilla for a moment. Guerrilla warfare has a pretty negative connotation nowadays, but hear me out.
The current definition of guerrilla warfare is used to identify small independent group taking part in irregular fighting, typically against larger regular forces in an impromptu way and without authorization.
This makes guerrilla warfare seem like a group of bored teenagers who are tired of playing XBox and decide to go pick a fight at Church’s chicken just for something interesting to do.
This wasn’t the original intent of the term. Guerrilla, in Castilian Spanish, simply means “little war.” In the 18th century, the term was used to describe the members of small, mobile forces who set out in opposition of the larger, inherently unwieldy ones. They would mobilize local citizens and target the opposing forces and their resources in these very specific ways designed to weaken their hold and remove the profit from the war efforts. Instead of fighting head on, which is clearly a losing battle, they pinpointed their efforts where they could make a difference. They moved in low and slow, and removed pieces of the infrastructure until the entirety collapsed like a Jenga game.
And I’m kinda thinking this is the only way we can save the world.
If y’all are lucky, you are fairly insulated from the local drama we experience in San Antonio politics, but there was a recent dust-up that made state news. About three years ago the city made it illegal to panhandle. I have mixed feelings about this. I have been cornered at gas stations and then cursed at when I didn’t hand over the requested money. At the same time, it seems like one more way to criminalize the poor. Honestly, I think I would take the occasional curse out or windshield spit than heap more legal trouble on individuals who are already disenfranchised.
Just this past September, however, SAPD Chief McManus decided to take things further. He announced a plan to present a draft ordinance to also make it illegal to give to individuals who are panhandling in off-limits areas. Off limits areas being pretty much any public space.
Money, food, any items of value. My kids and I? Handing out granola bars, warm sweaters, cups of coffee? Criminals by this measure.
McManus essentially wanted to make compassion illegal. The plan was publicly denounced t by Scott Krause of the Texas Civil Rights Project, Nate Schlueter of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, and Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast sprang into action, making the plan public and inviting commentary and feedback. Then a Change.org petition by David Cisneros gathered over 1500 signatures in a matter of days.
According to the Express-News, a few weeks later, when Chief McManus presented to the City Council's Public Safety Committee, this item was missing from the agenda. When asked about it, he replied:
“If you don't have an objection,” McManus said, “I'm not going to bring it at all.”
The four city councilmen on the committee reportedly laughed, having had already made it clear that they would not let it move forward to a full city council vote.
So a few guys in Austin – a blogger, a lawyer and a guy running a program to feed the homeless – along with a 25 year old LGBTQ activist in San Antonio, shut down the chief of police of the 7th largest city in the United States. They didn’t charge head on into a losing battle…they targeted our humanity, one Jenga block at a time.
They reminded us what Christianity really is. The Grits for Breakfast blogger, Scott Hensen noted that maybe we need to remind a few people of Matthew 25:25
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Lynice Pinkard said it…the church is literally Christ’s body.
This isn’t a story that is unique to San Antonio, A 90 year man was arrested for feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale this past week. I don’t understand how you can denounce homosexuality as causing the decline in morality, but then not buy a homeless man a cup of coffee so he can get out of the rain. My father and I were talking about a dear family friend a few years ago, one of the few Republicans he will actually let in his house, which says a lot. He is a wonderful man in so many ways, this family friend.
Speaking of this person, my father said, “You know, I love him, takes such good care of those he considers his family. I hope one day he realizes the whole world is his family.”
Reverend Pinkard says the same thing -- which is that we need to build a circle of care so wide that no one is excluded. We are Christ in action, and everyone is deserving of our care.
But that’s a difficult thing concept to sell.
To love wastefully and give recklessly — that scares us.
But our goal is progress, not perfection. If we can’t love our enemies, we can start by loving the people who love us back and then move on from there to people we find a little suspect, and then to the people we don’t like at all… Real relationships aren’t investments. Community is not a contract; it’s a covenant.
This is her personal ministry and her challenge to us when she states.
It’s not our job to read Isaiah and then go sit at Starbucks and talk about what a sad place the world is. It is our job to collaborate with each other and activate that love.
So many couples in my private practice come in because they are desperate to change their lives but don’t have any idea where to get started. I’m going to let you in a secret. There is a definition of crazy that some of you may be aware of but most people are not.
In the end, “crazy” is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
So in my practice I operate as the permission giver. Permission to try something different, to build new relational bridges through changes in behavior. No one leaves my office without a specific action plan. For those of y’all who were here in July? You know I am a college professor, and I give homework.
Last time I asked you to engage in an act of microadvocacy, to make a difference in your relationships by affecting one small change. Lynice Pinkard said that’s where we start, loving the people who love us back. Then it’s the people we find suspect and the people we don’t love at all.
Did you ever watch the 90s cartoon Pinky and The Brain? Every episode Pinky asks “What are we going to do tonight, Pinky?” and The Brain responds “The same thing we do every night….try to take over the world!”
So now you know what’s coming…. I have a new plan for world domination.
The Dalai Lama says that you have to know the rules well before you can break them effectively. But that’s the easy part. What are the pieces of the infrastructure comprised of?
I am going to pass around a basket full of Jenga blocks and a pile of markers. I want you to write on one block one of the things we are up against. We are going to represent the power structure in a tangible way. Then we are going to come up with an action plan to start knocking pieces out, one at a time.
And that is the harder part. How do we work as guerrilla soldiers to start knocking these pieces out? How do we weaken the structure, bit by bit?
The Buddha said “However many holy words you read, however you may speak, what good will they do if you do not act upon them?”
Guerrilla soldiers found they were successful when their actions diminished the profitability of war. Our fears make us ripe for profit when we are paralyzed into inactivity or scared into reactivity.
This recent election cycle? We spent 4 Billion dollars on it. Feeding the poor? This is what we can’t afford?
When we own our humanity and compassion we are proactive. We behave our love. We navigate the world as the Shepherd did – through love in action. We are the literal body of Christ. The Dalai Lama also says that love and compassion are treated as luxuries in today’s society, when in reality they are necessities. There is no profitability in caring for our community, so we have been duped into thinking we aren’t supposed to.
So I’d like that to be our discussion today. I’d like to discuss your individual attempts at micro-advocacy and how this congregation can move further into action. I realized that I just asked a small room of people in the hill country to take on the entirety of the military industrial complex. But four guys just took on Chief McManus and won. We can do this.
One more quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama (because, you know, that’s how I roll).
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
So I challenge you to the burning, the yeast principle, and the guerrilla spirituality of a behavioral form of love.
Faith G. Harper, PhD, LPC-S, and Adrian Warren, PhD, LPC-S, present “Bullying and the Impact on Children’s Mental Health.” This 5-part video series, recorded during claritycon2014, identifies signs of bullying, children most at risk for bullying and the mental health consequences.
The objectives for this 5-part series include how to:
Identify signs of bullying and children most at risk for bullying.
Gain understanding of mental health consequences of bullying.
Gain understanding of laws that protect against bullying.
Gain knowledge about how to create bully-free schools and communities.
Clarity Child Guidance Center hosted Dr. Harper and Dr. Warren at claritycon2014 on June 12, 2014.
LINK TO VIDEO:
Clarity Child Guidance Center