Advance warning #1:
Do read up on the concept of privilege a bit before reading this post if you’re not already familiar with it. The short definition is, essentially: the power given to you because of your identity by various established cultural structures, or even more simply, the social place of power you don’t know you have because you were born with it. Some people call it “the invisible knapsack.”
If you want to come here and tell me that privilege is a made-up idea used by feminists to oppress men, I really don’t have time for you. Go do your homework.
Advance warning #2:
I feel a little uncomfortable writing this [because I am "a person of privilege" in this discussion]. But I feel more uncomfortable with the idea of not writing this, because sometimes it’s okay to [very very carefully and very very cautiously, with lots of peer discussion and sensitivity] use one’s privilege to speak out about something wrong, knowing that you will be heard just because of your privilege.
Yesterday was National Coming Out Day, a day that is a big deal on the vulnerability front for a lot of people. Coming out is a daring thing. And straight folks like me who care about our LGBTQ friends should appropriately respect and honor the strength, courage, and vulnerability it takes to come out and name your identity without shame.
And I know that for those of us who grew up in the conservative Christian bubble, acknowledging that we support LGBTQ rights is a scary thing. We care, we’re habitually vocal about our beliefs (thanks, worldview seminars and evangelism trainings and high school debate!), and we want to systematically renounce the harmful assumptions that we once naively embraced and now understand to be toxic. So speaking up to say that we love our LGBTQ friends unconditionally and want to see them treated without shame and as full equals in the Church feels like a big deal. To us, it feels like risking a lot. It feels brave. It feels like we’re doing our own “coming out.”
But it’s not the same. At all.
And to use National Coming Out Day as our own personal blogging segue to tell the whole internet that we want to learn how to be allies and we are renouncing the fundamentalist beliefs we grew up with is an obtuse act of privilege. It’s like if someone is announcing at a breast cancer awareness event that she has breast cancer and we decided to respond to her announcement by turning to the room and saying “oh, hey guys, that reminds me that I wanted to tell you: I’m okay with vaccines now!”
Having privilege means that you’re more likely to get listened to by other people of privilege. That is a fundamental element of how privilege works. So it’s not a good idea to steal your LGBTQ friends’ thunder by trying to make yourself feel better about what everyone you admire thinks about you and appropriating their day to be YOUR day.
It’s just a little…self-centered and overly dramatic.
We’ve all learned this lesson in one form or another, or we wouldn’t be renouncing fundamentalism and trying to learn all we can about living humbly and practicing our faith with nuance and integrity. We should know better. But just to be sure, let me remind you:
It’s not okay to upstage someone’s vulnerability to make ourselves feel better.
Taking on a label (“ally”) is only meaningful if we practice integrity in how we live it out.
Don’t say you’re an ally if you’re not checking your privilege and listening lots, lots, lots more than you talk.
Don’t say you’re an ally and then appropriate something that doesn’t belong to you and you don’t fully understand.