Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What Business Does a Straight Man Have Writing a Book About the LGBT Community and Its Concerns?

"Are you LGBT? If not, why are you creating a book about us?"

Someone asked me this question the other day on social media, and it struck me as an excellent and important question, one that deserved a thoughtful answer. My forthcoming book--The Triumph of Love--aims to respond to those Christians who think that all Christian allies (not to mention LGBT Christians) are nothing but sell-outs to secular culture by explaining how and why I became an ally, and how and why my Christian faith and my Christian ethical commitments have become central to my support of same-sex marriage and LGBT equality.

But what authority do I have, really, to speak to the needs and experiences of my LGBT neighbors and the place of same-sex marriage in their lives? Do I think I can speak for them better than they can for themselves? Am I doing the straight equivalent of "mansplaining"? (God, I hope not.)

The answer I gave to my social media interlocutor seemed a fitting one to include here, and so I reproduce it (only slightly edited) below.

I think it is important for allies to speak about why it is important to be an ally. And within the Christian world, I think it is important for conservatives to hear from Christian supporters of same-sex marriage who can't be preemptively dismissed as just "defending their lifestyle."

I wrote this book, also, because there are people I love who are tired of being challenged to defend their most meaningful and important relationships, who just want to live and love without being targeted to defend their right to do so; and since my most meaningful and important relationship is not under attack I can draw some of that fire, offer some measure of the relief that I believe allies can provide.

And I write because I am full of an angry love that I feel compelled to voice.

And I believe I have an expertise about the Christian love ethic and it's implications that hasn't been clearly and fully voiced in the debates among progressive and conservative Christians (and those in between), a perspective that I believe may move that discussion in ways that will do some good for the most vulnerable.

And I write because my overarching message is not, "Listen to me!" My constant drumbeat-message throughout the book is that straight Christians cannot claim to love their LGBT neighbors if they do not pay compassionate attention to those neighbors--a message that, coming from another straight Christian, might inspire someone who doesn't pay attention to their LGBT neighbors (and so won't hear that message spoken by a sexual or gender minority) to look up from the pages of their Bibles and other books (including mine) and seek out LGBT voices.

I wrote this book because, tragically, we live in a world where it isn't obvious that love for someone starts with listening to them. We live in a world where too often Christians, who profess to live by an ethic of love, plug up their ears with Bible verses so they won't hear the anguished cries of the neighbors they are hurting (because hearing them might jar them loose from the certainty they need to sustain in order to continue to comfortably belong to their religious communities).

Because we live in such a world, I believe it can be helpful to have books that say, "Look up! Unplug your ears!" And we need some of those books to come from someone who isn't among those that the privileged are refusing to look at or listen to. A book by someone they are more likely to hear, but a book that points them to those they aren't hearing.

We live in a world where structural and ideological forces have invested some with privilege while marginalizing others. And because the privileged have power that the marginalized lack, they are capable of insulating themselves from the marginalized and their voices. But at least sometimes, allies enjoy access to the privileged that can help break down those insulating barriers. And I think that to the extent that they have such power, allies have a moral duty to use it.

I wish we didn't live in a world where that would be necessary, where some are so insulated from the marginalized others that it requires a voice from within their own circle of privilege to jar them from their insulation. But unfortunately I am convinced we do live in such a world. Despite all the advances that the LGBT community has made, we still do. And while it is the voices of the marginalized that will change that world, it is the duty of allies to say "listen!"

My book was born out of that sense of duty. My hope is that it will inspire someone, somewhere, to listen to their LGBT neighbors in a way they haven't before.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. It's a fine question to answer, but no one should have to apologize for being an ally and speaking up on behalf of a group one is not a part of.

    ReplyDelete