(the kind of enoughness I’m contrasting with here was originated by Jennifer Louden http://jenniferlouden.com/art-of-building-your-truer-life/)
I have often threatened to get a button that says, “This is what a minister looks like.” People don’t expect me to be a minister. More, they expect me NOT to be a minister. Whatever the picture of “minister” in their heads may be, THIS is not it. That might be why I have such a hard time at interfaith clergy gatherings. Like Reid Mihalko, who shows up at business conferences wearing his Sex Geek t-shirt, I’m not what they thought they’d see.
It happens to me a lot, and not just about ministry. Justifying my presence is sometimes fine, and sometimes exhausting, and I do it a lot. I believe in identity-based spaces. I think they’re important.
There’s a fine line between identity and exclusion.
In fact, sometimes it’s not even a line at all.
And sometimes that’s okay.
And sometimes…it’s not.
Let’s face it: humans don’t come in binaries very often. Mostly we come in delightful, complex, multitonal shades of grey. But when we go to create a group, there has to be an out in order for there to be an in. It is necessary that someone not belong.
That not-belonging can be determined in a number of ways, but especially in identity politics it is often determined by–obviously–identity.
Who are you? Who were your parents? Where are you from? What color or language do you claim? Who are you attracted to? Who do you sleep with? What do you do for work?
It all seems very clear. And it all seems very important–for marginalized communities, protected spaces are vital for survival. There’s no question that being among your people is one of the deepest and cleanest breaths of fresh air available.
And then we, even if we are well-intended and well-educated in the ways of oppression, run headlong into the uncertain marshy territory of intersectionality.
Intersectionality is what happens where the ocean meets the grassy plains. Sometimes it’s wet. Sometimes it’s dry. Sometimes you can walk. Sometimes you need a boat. It’s muddy. It’s messy. And where exactly the ocean ends and the marsh begins is really up to judgment and imagination.
And enoughness…becomes a much bigger question.
Am I brown enough? Queer enough? Asian enough? Religious enough?
We end up in a kind of mashup of oppression and identity competitions. But the lines aren’t clear, and are not usually formally drawn. “If you identify as xyz, please come.”
Well I do.
But if I’m dating a cisguy, or I just look like I have a deep tan, or I’m the kind of minister that talks about sex from the pulpit, or if I didn’t struggle to come out, or if I don’t speak Hindi, or I’m an unaccented diaspora child of an educated immigrant…do I belong? Will you let me in? Can I be part of your group, your identity, your movement?
And will I feel any relief there, or will it just be another place in my life where I don’t quite fit in?
The more complicated our outward identities get, the harder it’s going to be for us to hold hard lines. People will show up claiming insider status and we’re going to wonder how that could be true. We’re going to be suspicious. We’re going to wonder if we belong, if they belong, how we can know who belongs.
The concept of identity itself is going to be shaken. Categories are getting complicated and blurry.
Now there’s a danger there, as well as a liberation.
When categories get blurry, individual identity becomes dominant, and with that, prioritizing individual needs over the needs of the group can move from being an imperative to being a tyranny.
That’s another fine line: between seeing that your own needs get met and honoring the trajectory, priority, and process that belongs to the group.
As with inclusion, exclusion, and boundaries, the balance between the two is vital. In both cases, it leads back to the same place:
you have to know yourself well enough to be able to withstand challenges–to your own identity and to your choice of social locations. You have to know yourself. You have to be sure of yourself. You have to be willing to learn and yet you have to be very clear that you are who you are, that you can tolerate not being fully accepted, that you can stand not getting your needs met, that the group can take precedence.
When you spend your life being told that you’re not quite…right…because you’re not the dominant race, culture, gender, age, class, ability, etc, that confidence is hard-won. When you ARE dominant, it comes without thinking. It comes “naturally”, as a gift from the people and culture who form your context.
If you apply that confidence from being dominant in a context where you are not dominant, you can bring down some serious wrath on your own head. But sometimes it’s worth it.
Sometimes it can gain you entry into the space where previously you were denied or merely tolerated. Sometimes, it gives you the power and the voice to change the conversation so it includes you.
Being enough–powerful enough, real enough, marginalized enough, even–is sometimes a matter of saying, “This is what [that thing you are including, or talking about, or desiring] looks like.” It doesn’t look like the picture in your head, or the photo shoot in the magazine. it doesn’t look like the stereotypes or the brochures or even the speech that one activist made once that was inspiring. It looks like this. It looks like me. I am it, I am here, and I am ready. Let’s do this.
It looks like you. It looks like me. It looks like us. Let’s do this.