Living

Nouns and Verbs

June is Pride month for the LGBT community in the US.

From Wikipedia: LGBT Pride Month occurs in the United States to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which occurred at the end of June 1969. As a result, many pride events are held during this month to recognize the impact LGBT people have had in the world.

My current Facebook timeline is a damn riot of rainbow flags. I love it.

Yesterday, I wrote a story that involved my friend Tony. It got shared a lot around places on the Internet, and I went snooping, as I do, to see what people are saying about it.

One woman who shared it on her Facebook timeline called me a “courageous ally”.

Hmmmm.

I’m not sure the courageous part really is applicable – I work at an open and affirming church, in a denomination where my credentials are not at risk for my being affirming. I’m aggressively “out”, no pun intended, about my being affirming. I’m not really risking anything, so it doesn’t take much courage on my part to be affirming. I did all my losing because of that a long time ago.

But quibbles aside, I found the use of the term ally to be interesting. I mean, I’ll take it, but it isn’t a term I use to describe myself.

There is an apocryphal story I have heard in Mennonite circles for years that goes something like this:

A traveling evangelist is lost in Mennonite country and sees a farmer plowing a field that runs beside the road. He stops to ask the man for directions. After getting them, he figures, as an evangelist, he can kill two birds with one stone, and asks the farmer, “Sir, do you mind my asking if you are a Christian?”

The farmer looks at him for a long second, then he says, “Well, I’m not sure. I mean, I think so, but then again, I could tell you anything. I suggest you call my neighbor and ask him whether I am or not.”

I think some titles are not for us to claim for ourselves. Like Christian. Or ally.

Don’t get me wrong: I am straight, and I want a world where LGBT people are affirmed. I spend significant portions of my time and resources working for that sort of world. But I still won’t call myself an ally. Because I don’t get to determine if my actions are allied with oppressed people’s interests – they do.

All too often, we who are in the majority find it easy to pick up titles for ourselves that make us look good in certain contexts. We want to claim nouns – like ally – rather than doing the hard work of actually doing work that puts us in solidarity with LGBT people. Trust me – if you are doing solidarity work, no LGBT person will doubt where you stand, without your having an #Ally hashtag on your profile page.

Like, I know a white guy who calls himself a feminist in his Twitter bio. If I were desperate to get that point across, I might use, “Promoter of women’s rights”, but for the most part, I just prefer to let my actions speak for themselves. After all, if the only way people know I believe in and advocate for the political, economic, and social equality of women is because I told them, I would be a pretty shitty feminist, I think.

I could understand that things like titles do come in handy when you are creating difference: Like, I will sometimes describe myself as someone who supports LGBT rights, so people who oppose LGBT rights won’t be confused and try something, but I still wouldn’t call myself an ally.

I tend to use verbs rather than nouns.

It’s more important that I write than that I call myself a writer. I advocate for LGBT folk, but I wouldn’t call myself an ally. There are people who said I was a prophet, but none of those people were me.

As Dad once advised me, I just try to be both indispensable and invisible. I want to be, rather than seem. And to do the verb, rather than claiming the noun.

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