Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fighting Our Battles

I am asked all the time how I keep up the work I do with with responding to and dealing with constant forms of religious abuse, bullying, homophobia, etc. The truth of the matter is, there isn't really one answer. The way I respond to the surge of emails I get with Leviticus verses changes all the time. The type of conversations I have with my adversaries differ person-to-person, situation-to-situation.

I've spoken at a number of schools and churches to offering training workshops on responding to our adversaries. And in those trainings we explore a variety of ways we can counter arguments and work towards actions that induce change. But as I continue my work, I have to keep rethinking the way I approach social justice work. Thus I offer a meditation on how we fight our battles, from where my mind is right now. How do we go forth and "keep fighting the good fight" — as my cellmates told me while I was in jail in Waco, Texas.

How do we fight our battles? I used to be a firm believer in the whole kill them with kindness approach. But lately, I've been thinking, wouldn't a knife be more effective? At least it is according to my chola mother. I recall the day she taught me how to fight when I was younger.  She simply said, "Mijo, you only need two things to win a fight: a beer bottle and a knife in your ponytail.  Just throw your purse in the tree y sas!" Now let me just add a disclaimer and say that I am in no way condoning going out and stabbing someone. But does mom have a point? Turn the other cheek — with your other fist.

As a person that has served many years as an activist committed to the philosophies of non-violence put forth by leaders like Bayard Rustin, Dr. King, and Gandhi, I know this can and does seem very extreme, but how can we pull something away from this?

I've realized, at least as far as theological debates are concerned, that most of the time, the person I'm debating with and I are not going to get through to each other and we'll just be going back and forth with Bible verses, like an Evangelical version of Mortal Kombat. And I've got to the point now, where I'm tired of having the same arguments over and over again. If someone wants to believe that I'm going to go to hell because I'm queer, that's fine. If you believe homosexuality is the sin above all sins, that's fine too. I believe we're entitled to hold our own theological arguments as personal truths. However, I have a problem when somebody else's personal truths turn into actions that bully queer people and lead them to death. That much I have no tolerance for. And in that case, I don't think I can turn the other cheek anymore and take the high road.

In response to the non-violent leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X said, "Concerning nonviolence, it is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks." Does X raise an important point for those of us that are the constant target of hateful behavior?

I can help but remember what my mother said during our instructional conversation about fighting. She told me to never let anyone get away with trying to hurt me. I think that advice rings true for our movement. We should not let anyone get away with trying to hurt us. Whether our responses be non-violent or not, we should not tolerate the obvious violence and mistreatment that takes place. So how we fight our battles? With a beer bottle and a knife in our ponytails! Or with a pen and paper. Or with one-on-one conversations. Or whatever you think works for you.  The point is, we have to recklessly abandon our fears and reservations if we hope to combat violence and oppression in our communities.

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