It had been a long day already. Manning my booth at the local festival had made for a super exhausting day. The streets were closed for the event, but the foot traffic was heavy, which meant that my husband and I were sure to run into someone we knew even though we were just hopping across the intersection to grab some grub off the food truck. It happened on the way back, the familiar “Hey!” that occurs when you spot friendly faces.
We stopped to chat with the friends, folks we’d known for years from church. We did the dance of telling why we were there and such, then the conversation came to a screeching halt when he randomly said with a chuckle, “So how ‘bout the fag fest?”
Silence. Yeah, we’d heard him right. My husband and I had simultaneous looks of disgust on our faces, and we talked over top of each other with our responses to this shocking statement. Where did that come from? Is that really necessary? I don’t think so.
The next 30 seconds were awkward to say the least. The wife attempted to make a quick joke about how her man must’ve had too many wine tastings so far that night, while he himself stumbled over a good-ole-boy type of response to try to play it off. But it was super clear. They’d said something that had obviously rubbed both of us the wrong way.
It’s very hard when someone you know (or think you know, anyway) and have loved and trusted for years says something that kind of changes the way you look at them. The same weekend all this went down just happened to be our city’s LGBT Pride Parade weekend, which is what this man must have been referring to. There was no context whatsoever, just an arbitrary, crude statement, seemingly made in jest. But the words he used. The tone. And the way he was clearly trying to rally us into his line of thought, and believed himself to be funny while doing it…that bothered me to no end. Just. Yuck. Seconds later, we were walking away, and my husband and I both looked at each other with a sad feeling of disappointment in this friend of ours.
What made this man, a friend we had known and loved for years, think we were going to be okay with him saying this to us? Using language that was clearly meant to be derogatory and relegate an entire group of people to some sort of second-class status? Did he assume that all straight people would be down with this mentality? (Oh, God help us. UGH.)
This wasn’t the first time I’d found myself in this bewildering situation.
I thought back to the times that family members started telling racist jokes or the way they casually used the “n” word like it was an actual way to refer to anyone. Why did anyone seem to think that was okay?
As a teenager, a man came into my store and dropped off a small newspaper, saying “I have something for you, sister,” then promptly walked out. Upon opening it, I realized it was some racist propaganda, published by some “white heritage” supremacy group. Why did he think it would be okay to give this to me? I’ve never even seen that man before.
And just last summer, when we’d moved into our new home, my first conversation with a neighbor included him running down a description of the neighbors around us. He actually said phrases like “sketchy Mexicans,” “unruly Somali kids” and “THOSE gay people.” Never a kind reference to the families themselves. (The individuals who were, you know, made in the image of God just like we were.) This man JUST met me. Why was he assuming that I’d be okay with any of this?
All of these scenarios are appalling to me. They left me wondering why in the heck these people thought it was okay to speak this way about others to me or to my husband? Is it because we happened to be white and “appear” to be straight? Does that make people think we will somehow band together with them by verbally assaulting someone who looks or acts differently than we do?
Let me be CLEAR.
I’m a woman. That doesn’t mean I am into man-bashing or hearing stories about how “worthless” all men are. (Ask my girlfriends about this one. Ain’t nobody got time for that.)
I’m white. That doesn’t mean I’m okay with you using racial slurs (I am completely fine with asking you to leave my home if you do) or grouping all of “those” people together with sweeping statements about what “they” are like.
I’m heterosexual. That doesn’t mean that I hate or fear anyone who isn’t. Being gay or bisexual or transgendered isn’t contagious, as far as I know.
I’m American. That doesn’t mean I want to discuss people of other nationalities as if they are somehow less enlightened than we are, or act as if all people from a certain country are all the same.
I’m middle class. That doesn’t mean I despise rich people or think poor people are a bunch of lazy bums who just need to get jobs.
I’m a follower of Jesus. That doesn’t mean I vote a specific way or not, or that I in any way hate or feel threatened by people with other worldviews.
I’m human. We are all human. Offending, being offended, and generally hurting each other’s feelings are kind of part of the deal sometimes. I will extend grace to those who say something that offends me. Everyone deserves a chance to make things right. Please do the same for me, as I am probably offending someone right this very minute.
But I will make myself clear, because staying silent about things that matter is a greater offense to me. Allowing someone to think we have found common ground by excluding someone else is dangerous. It perpetuates a myth that we can somehow become closer if we just look around and figure out who is different from “us” then do or say something to feel superior to “them.” That’s the wrong kind of bonding, and I don’t want any part of it.
So if anyone would like to include me in a group to try to bond with, let it be the group of the all-ins. As in we are “all in” because were are all human and all flawed and we are all guilty of bias and bigotry in areas of our lives. We are all in because we all bleed and cry and laugh and try to bond in both healthy and unhealthy ways sometimes. We are all made in God’s image. In all of us there’s a divine center that the Creator himself has put there. Let’s look for that common thread.
We are all in this one big group of being very human, so let’s try to remember that. Let’s understand that when we use our words to divide and classify, it is impossible to bond. Let’s just not tolerate that. Let’s raise the bar in our conversations. Let’s spur one another on toward knowing better and doing better.
I hope that’s pretty clear.