Me Too

Me too. Of course.

The patriarchy runs deep. So deep. How many of us hesitated to post the hashtag because a) we felt ashamed, b) we felt triggered, c) we felt invalidated (I “only”…”just”…”not a big deal”…) or d) all of the above? No victim or survivor owes social media any indication that they, too, have suffered. But the problem is a tangled web, not a straight line of perpetrator- victim.

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Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Who is “us”? We can’t just include women, here. Not only does that invalidate the experience of queer, non-binary, non-conforming, and others who have born witness via their own bodies to sexual harassment and/or assault, but by ignoring anyone except women, we take away agency from everyone. Survivors live every single day, and that takes agency. As little as it might feel we have.

Something else that bothers me about the past two days’ worth of posts on this hashtag: it is so easy to sympathize without owning one’s role in the abuse. This doesn’t just go for men. The first time I grappled with the truth that I experienced assault, I was not much younger than I am now. Not only did I have to relearn that what I experienced wasn’t “meant to be flattering” or “because of what I was wearing,” I began to realize that I had said those things about other people. I questioned women who wore short dresses and high heels and layers of makeup. What did they think would happen? By thinking these things, I participated in the patriarchy. Even as a survivor, I can still uphold misogyny.

Dismantling is not a one-and-done experience, either. Even now, I catch myself feeling irritated by a student who speaks too much in class- but would I feel as annoyed if the student were a man? Subconsciously, I felt more comfortable calling a female professor by her first name than a male professor with the same qualifications. Why? I’m disgusted with my subconscious. This is the problem with categorizing “assault” and “harassment” as different from “microaggressions” or “casual sexism.” While one may involve physical violence, and each experience brings a different kind of trauma and need for subsequent processing, the idea that one can’t participate in the hashtag campaign because the only real experience they have was “just” when their boss interrupted them constantly, or they’ve “only” been catcalled by strangers, not raped after drinking at a party, so blatantly hides the existence of misogyny everywhere, among all people. These “small, meaningless” gestures are the most dangerous because they are so hard to call out, and further, to explain to the perpetrator- the burden of course falls on the oppressed. Yet these acts uphold rape culture. As harmful as this has been to me, I cannot help to dismantle unless I examine my own interactions with it.

I am in awe of the friends who have shared their voices and stories these past few days. I couldn’t do it. It is so common to internalize our shame. Me too: I am a survivor. Me too: I am complicit. Me too: I pledge to bring my subconscious participation into the conscious, stomp on it, and work to liberate my fellow survivors.

Helping

It was difficult to read a text from my mom this morning frantically asking if my friends were safe, and not have an immediate answer. It was hard to look at pictures of festival attendees clutching the ground, even as people worked hard as ever to help each other climb fences and hide behind cars and barriers. It has been so excruciating to read the accounts, especially from a family member, who returned safely home today. Trauma will be lasting and deeply impacting of life hereafter.

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Photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

I will never know the pain of presence, of witnessing the bloodshed, and certainly the absolute horror that is losing a family member whose life was stolen mercilessly while participating in community and enjoying art. I don’t have answers, though I know complacency and “thoughts and prayers” completely fail time and again to prevent toxic masculinity from exploding and reaping toxicity on people who are loved, who love.

As a former full-time college chaplain, I remember trying to hold a container for students when a terrible event, whether nationally recognized or personally felt (or both) fell upon them, unexpected and unwarranted. It is by the far the most challenging piece of this vocation, yet the most important. This is a daily occurrence, not once in a while. Even though the vigils and times of remembrance seem reserved for the “big” tragedies, feeling unsafe is a reality for so many students. Events like this reinforce the false notion that safe spaces exist. So as chaplains, or therapists, or listeners who are in a “helping profession,” what are we to do? We must do, not just think and pray.

For starters, we can be frank that this “problem” is multifaceted and definitely a dire product of racism, white supremacy, masculinity. I cannot advise anyone to “keep living” or “enjoy life” despite the fear, even though many students recognize that doing just that is a form of resistance. Of course, how to live one’s best life can only be defined by the individual. Being honest, uncomfortable and vulnerable, especially in how we uphold a culture of violence, allows students to witness this behavior and model it. Frankly, I often found myself following their lead as some of the most effective leaders and activists not only on campus, but in the country. An excruciating tragedy requires no legitimizing, but demands authentic admission of shortcomings and failure.

One such amazing student leader recently published an honest, raw and informative blog on the Interfaith Youth Core’s writing platform Inter and I firmly believe it deserves a good slow read from those of us “helpers,” whatever our particular title. She names the work young leaders of faith continue to do often without recognition. Martha writes,

Faced with another national tragedy, with more than 50 people dead and 500 people injured, millennials of faith are showing up for values-based policies and standing firm for the truth that we can have movements that don’t discriminate. We can use our solidarity to overcome division and heal after trauma. We can keep our communities safe without the use of fear and bigotry. And we will do so, together.

Read Martha’s blog here. She writes from experience and a deep passion for interfaith activism and movements. Healing, like living, is another act of much needed resistance and examination.

 

 

 

The Interfaith “We”

Last week my friend Katie Gordon visited Boston so of course we had to get dinner and catch up. I showed Katie around campus, took her to the LGBTQ Resource Center to see our mutual friend and colleague Lee, and after a quick tour of our Sacred Space, we wandered over to Newbury Street. We stopped in Trident Books and mused over some titles, mainly discussing what had been happening on our respective campuses. We nerded out about a few particular books, mostly related to feminism and/or religion. Finally, we sat down to a delicious South Asian dinner.

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PC: Samantha Sophia

Katie is the Program Manager for the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University in Grand Valley, Michigan. She identifies as secular, but make no mistake- Katie is one of the most influential interfaith leaders of our time. She trains for the Interfaith Youth Core’s Interfaith Leadership Institutes and has introduced Krista Tippett, creator and host of the radio program On Being, because she’s that cool. I have known Katie for a while through our mutual Interfaith Youth Core affiliations. One thing I really appreciate about Katie is her ability to unapologetically be who she is without inhibiting anyone else from doing the same. She is open about her whiteness and privilege, but not guilty or frozen in working to make change.

At some point in our conversation, we both expressed concern for the interfaith movement as it exists now. What does it mean to train leaders when many people of faith live under real threat for their lives- because of their faith? Can white, secular young people train in the same spaces as black Muslim women? As queer Jews? As Hindu immigrants? As refugees who, despite looking death in the face, have held close to their devotions? How do we expect those who seem to lose power and voice every day to lead others when there is real, imminent danger?

I have been reflecting on this question for some time now. One of the reasons I feel so strongly about activist and filmmaker (among other amazing things) Valarie Kaur’s message and definition of Revolutionary Love is that I feel so strongly about Valarie herself. She represents to me the very type of leader that begins to answer this difficult question of how we as developing interfaith leaders might live into our identity as such. You see, Valarie may have several thousand Facebook friends, a database of over 100,000 subscribers via different projects she has started, and one of her recent speeches has now acquired over 16 million views on social media (that’s remarkable, just FYI), but Valarie never does her work alone. She always thinks, speaks, and acts in community because she recognizes that while her voice is essential- as a woman of color, a Sikh American, an accomplished pioneer in filmmaking and civil rights law- hers is by no means the only voice with one particular set of concerns. We need not look further than the daily news to see how many communities need more voice for dire concerns.

In this way, I think our answer begins not at the “I” that defined the previous era of interfaith leadership, the years I spent building my toolbox and story collection. Interfaith work has always been about bringing communities together, but allowing particular individuals to serve as the face of communities, to represent traditions and belief systems even if inadvertently has in the past been enough- we look around our table to see a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and seeker, and we feel good about our group. We can dialogue and serve together. We might not talk at all about the intersections of our own identities, or how unequal access to this table might be.

We have reached a moment in our public landscape in which the “I” interfaith leaders will quickly feel devastatingly alone or completely exhausted, and probably both. The interfaith movement is at a true “we” moment- a time when it needs to be acceptable and encouraged for us to ask each other to do things like march on the front lines, speak publicly against bigotry, or give money to civil rights organizations. Going to prison for disorderly conduct. The reality is, we cannot all risk the same things. We need to know our limits. Focusing on “I” can help us learn these things about ourselves, but will not build networks. Right now, the fact that our different identities afford us unique privileges is an advantage if we use them in community.

As Valarie so beautifully stated recently, “We can practice Revolutionary Love for those who are in prison because they have committed great harm. This does not mean they shouldn’t be in prison. This means we free our hearts to believe they can be greater.” For some of us, practicing Revolutionary Love, just like interfaith leadership, means asking our allies to put their words and bodies on the line. At the same time, for some of us, it means being asked and saying yes.