This is part of a series of a year long journey by Friar Pete, O.F.A., St. Michael's Hermitage, Regina, SK through the book, “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year“. If you’d like more information on Old/Independent Catholicism, or would like more information on my denomination, or feel called to a vocation, click here!
This is a tough one for me today because I'm trying to assimilate some hard things that were said specifically about a production here in town, but more generally, speak to how trans people are treated by society and by the queer "community".
The reflection, in part, includes a passage from Hebrews which reads: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who is promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hb, 10:23-25)
Something I've been working over in my head as part of developing a retreat for Pride this year is how we can draw from our experiences, the experiences that in part help to identify us, can make us more empathic to those around us. Our experiences may be different, but the emotions hold a kind of solidarity that we can use to expand our perceptions and shake off the cobwebs that resting in privilege creates. After I had read the letter (which you can find here), I had to take a look at the script I was working with and ask myself, is this something people want to hear, is this something people would find encouraging, is this enough?
This is where the idea of encouragement comes along.
When I started to try to learn about privilege, what privilege was, what it meant to me not only as someone who is part of a system that includes me as privileged, but also as someone who in the same mouthful excludes me, I had and still have a hard time with simple things like pronouns, with trying to identify with what it must be like to be trans, especially when we live in a 'community' that locally (and I suspect universally) still has a long way to go in terms of embracing everyone within it. There are many of us in the 'community' that are trying very hard to be inclusive and considerate of everyone, and sometimes we fall short. But it's important to remember that we're trying.
In this context, I think encouragement is not only an active thing that one individual does, but it's only possible with internalization, with assessment, with honest acknowledgment that maybe, just maybe, things aren't balanced and we're benefiting from that imbalance. This isn't to say that any and all efforts aren't important, but the reality is this: I know of at least two incidents in the Regina community where trans people were treated inappropriately by members of the queer 'community'.
Encouragement begins by saying to our trans siblings: You're right.
Our community has failed you because some of us have forgotten what it was like to be the parishioners of Sacred Heart Church in Atlanta, Georgia who were refused the sacraments because they were queer, parishioners who remained at the alter rail until the end of service in protest, 23 years before Stonewall.
Some of us have forgotten what it was like to have to walk Albert Street wearing masks because we could be identified, fired, arrested for standing up for our basic human rights, for wanting to be proud, for wanting a parade. Some of us have forgotten what it was like to have to walk the halls of the Saskatchewan Legislature, to sit in the public gallery, to watch as every NDP MLA wore a pride pin EXCEPT for then Premier Roy Romanow, who's government refused to declare LGBT Pride across Saskatchewan for one day.
We've forgotten you because some of us have become complacent in what we have achieved, and in that achievement, we've created an atmosphere of privilege that is exactly the same as the one we have fought against.
Some of us have forgotten that queer spaces are supposed to be inclusive to the entire tapestry of communities that unites us. We've forgotten to speak up when we hear people being abusive, treating us the way we were once treated ourselves.
Some of us have forgotten what it's like to be stalked, to be hunted, to be bashed. We've lost touch with the fear, the anxiety, the stress of having to stand in a shower, trying to wash the smell of urine away that was only moments ago inside water balloons that were thrown, the word "faggot" that was heard along side laughter, that wondering if I had been too gay, too open, if I was still safe to walk home. We've lost touch with the connection to the violence that still lives, still plagues our trans siblings.
If we're going to call ourselves a 'community', we have to engage: we have to constantly consider how to love and encourage one another, how to proceed with good works, how to reconcile, to listen, to allow ourselves to be heard, and to respect the stories we hear. The day is here. Our trans siblings have waited long enough. It's time to be the family we purport to be, it's time to find the commonality in our communities that unites us, and act on it.
We can't encourage unless we're prepared to admit we've caused harm, inadvertently or otherwise. We can't encourage if we're still willing to walk together, but on different sides of the street.
When we are able to think back to when we were marginalized, when we were in the emotions of being marginalized, we enter into the beginning of understanding the walk of the person on the other side of the street. It then becomes our responsibility to cross over. If we wait, we risk loosing the opportunity for reconciliation, an opportunity to strengthen each other by working towards a new way of thinking, a way that acknowledges privilege not as something entitled by where you were born, but by virtue that you were born a human being with diverse talents, flaws, and an innate entitlement to respect regardless of the condition of the shell your spirit is contained in.
How do you do it?
Smile. Say hello to people. Say hello to people you wouldn't normally say hello to. Challenge people when you hear something that's not consistent with how you would be treated or thought of yourself. Recognize when you're taking part in a system that is marginalizing another person for your own benefit. Love people, even and especially the people that make you angry, that push you into corners, that want you to be something different or challenge your ideas or your beliefs. Give those people the opportunity to be who they are and watch, listen, engage with your heart but not your mouth.
Encourage people with your actions more than your words. Be consistent with your actions, especially if it means doing something you're afraid to do.
It's OK to be a coward! It's OK to be afraid! It's OK to be scared of change.
Change anyway. Change if it's the right thing to do.
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