But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)
The past few weeks have been difficult, to say the least. So many terrible things have happened around the world, and as hard I try, it’s become more and more exhausting to respond in a gracious and compassionate manner.
I saw many of my LGBT+ friends experience this particularly after the Orlando Pulse Shooting, when we flocked to social media in mourning, but were met with constant misunderstanding. Despite the pain of our community, we found ourselves having to explain why that tragedy mattered to us, and many of us even had to talk down opposition to our sorrow.
Marginalized individuals should never have to defend their existence to majority parties, and the problem is only exacerbated when the majority invalidates those minority experiences. And quite frankly, it’s thoroughly exhausting on our end.
Normally, I avoid conflict like the plague and do my best to not be unnecessarily inflammatory. I like neutrality and understand the importance of civil disagreement. But this time I hope you’ll bear with me as I didn’t plan this post out in its entirety, and so I may write things that make you uncomfortable.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about respectability politics — defined by Wikipedia as “attempts by marginalized groups to police their own members and show their social values as being continuous, and compatible, with mainstream values rather than challenging the mainstream for its failure to accept difference.”
I notice this in myself a lot. When I refuse to broadcast my political views or remain silent in response to ignorant comments by misinformed straight people, it’s often because I’m afraid of offending someone. Because I want to be respected. And while I’m certainly not afraid to call people out from time to time, I’m extra cautious in my language to remain congenial and as understanding as possible. You may even notice I elevate my diction so I come across as more intelligent. Big words get me brownie points, at least sometimes.
This begs the question: why is that so important to me? Who am I trying to impress? By maintaining a complacency with the status quo, or at least being content with glacial progress, I garner a kind of conditional respect — stay in line, and maybe we won’t ostracize you as much.
I value kindness and compassion, and I never offend people just for the sake of offending them. I believe in responding graciously in all circumstances. And I recognize this is not the same thing as respectability. But at the same time, I wonder how much my fear of losing straight and/or white people’s respect impedes my saying what needs to be said.
Often times, I worry I’m too soft on oppression. I worry I’m holding back against the powers and principalities that systemically destroy the Image of God in all people. I worry I’m too nice.
Because I want to meet everyone where they are and calmly inform them of my experience. I want to be levelheaded and approachable. I want to respond with the utmost grace no matter how much malice is spewed at me.
But the truth is that I’m really fucking tired of doing so.
I’m not sure a lot of people understand how ridiculously taxing it is to constantly wear a happy face while weathering the storm of ignorance thrown at us by the world every single day. I speak for many of my fellow LGBT+ and PoC (people of color) friends when I say that we are exhausted. We navigate spaces that are systemically designed not to favor our existence, and if that’s not enough, we’re expected to be representatives for our entire demographic — it’s no question why so many people are angry.
Anger is a new emotion to me; I’ve only really begun experiencing it these past couple of years, and I’m still learning how to deal with it. I rarely ever express it in public. But especially recently, I feel like I’m approaching the end of an exceptionally long fuse, and unless I channel this indignation productively, I’ll explode (which is one of the reasons I’m writing this post).
The way Christ framed His responses to those who asked Him questions continually confounds me. On one hand, He’s unafraid to point fingers and call people a “brood of vipers.” But on the other, He responds time and time again with an inexhaustible grace. While the Gospels record Him lamenting the ignorance of humankind quite a bit, He always knows what kind of response is appropriate for each situation (probably because He’s God), and even his most indignant moment is laced with palpable graciousness (because even table-flipping is gracious in its own way).
Most of us reading this aren’t God (duh), but I do wonder how we might be able to tap into that well of grace that the Holy Spirit provided Christ with. I’d like to know how we can be both gracious and poignant at the same time, to cast off respectability politics in the name of Jesus, and to be unafraid to chase peddlers out of the temple if that’s what we’re called to do.
And I pray we’d have open hands to receive that — whether we find ourselves a Pharisee, a stubborn disciple, or a sinner with expensive perfume washing the Lord’s feet with our tears.