A reflection by Sarah
This afternoon, thousands of women and allies are marching just a few miles away from me. I might have been marching with them. Instead I chose to stay in our apartment, read stories, educate myself, and open our home to local friends and out-of-town demonstrators in need of a respite. I offer my love and prayers to all who are participating, but I could not in good conscience attend another demonstration that does not accept and welcome people for their whole selves. As a white woman, I felt that my presence at this event would send the message that I support white-dominated activism that expects women of color to minimize their specific concerns and experiences for the sake of unity. I had already made this decision before the event also opted to exclude women with more conservative views on abortion, although some decided to march anyway.
On another day, I’d like to write more on the troubling trends I’ve noticed in American progressivism of recent years – specifically, the refusal to listen to anyone whose story deviates in any manner from white, upper middle class, educated, able-bodied progressive norms. But right now I’m thinking less about those who refuse to listen and more about those who spend their lives wanting to be wanted. How often are you the person who is closed off to dialogue? Or the one who just wants to belong? I’m finding that I spend considerable amounts of time on both sides of that fence.
Most of us cling tightly to our identity markers and strongly resist any possible threat to our stories. White women take offense when women of color point out that our activism isn’t as inclusive as we sometimes think it is. People on both sides of the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate fear that if we give the other side an inch, their ways of life will wipe out our ways of life. Many LGBTQ people who are married to same-sex partners feel threatened at the mention of celibacy or celibate partnership. Many disabled people feel that our stories are overridden by the stories of caregivers who try to speak for us. And so on, and so on ad nauseum…
We urge people to come together for the sake of unity on all kinds of issues, then take offense when discovering that someone with a different experience than the majority has shown up. Not long ago, I was in a large group situation with many LGBTQ people and allies. Some in attendance didn’t realize that celibates with a traditional sexual ethic would have a vocal presence in that situation, and one person who was unhappy about this expressed that everyone should have been warned in advance. This wasn’t my first time being told that people like me ought to come with a warning label. It wasn’t in a church exactly, but Lindsey and I have gotten the same message in almost every church community we’ve ever been part of together. At this point, we tell every priest and pastor about our celibate partnership upfront just so we don’t have to wait for the eventual, “You should have warned me that you’re gay so I could’ve thought about how to handle concerns.” Or in more progressive churches, “You should have warned me that you’re celibate in case that makes other people feel unsafe.”
So many of us come into churches and other community spaces with a very simple desire: to be wanted. At times, the want to be wanted burns so severely within me that the pain is almost unmanageable. I don’t need anyone to affirm my relationship or way or life. I have no need to convert others to my way of thinking: it is Christ who changes hearts, including mine. I don’t want false assurance that the broken and sinful parts of me aren’t actually broken and sinful. What I want is to be wanted. I want to be part of something larger than myself where people of all walks of life are welcome and respected. I want to be in a place where differences in belief are discussed with civility and no one has to worry that being authentic means failing some arbitrary conservative or progressive litmus test. I want to be part of a world where my life choices aren’t used as weapons against other people. I want us to stop wasting time painting each other into corners where disagreeing lovingly is impossible. I want you to love me in all my wholeness and all my brokenness, and I want to learn how to do the same for you.
I’ve spent most of my day educating myself on the concerns of women who felt excluded from the march I did not attend. But I have to admit that all the while, I’ve wondered how welcome I’d have been at such an event, especially if my full identity had been known to others there. I share the majority’s white privilege. But I am also an intentionally celibate, partnered lesbian who strives to live fully into the teachings of the Catholic faith. I am late-deafened and part of the disabled community, and I grew up in a high-poverty rural area with rampant unemployment and drug abuse. I’m weary of puzzling over which parts of me will be welcomed and which will be further marginalized every time I enter a space that claims to be all about social justice. And I’m equally weary of performing the same mental calculus when environments that welcome me are not as welcoming to people who are different from me. The want to be wanted comprises every aspect of self. It’s the desire to be seen, heard, welcomed, and known. As I’ve reflected on my own experience, I wonder if anyone truly feels wanted or if that happens only in the eschaton where the lion and lamb lie down together in peace.
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