Today I got to sit on a panel with three other friends from the Queer community. We had the tremendously sacred opportunity to share our stories and experiences and things we’ve learned along the way. For the last bit of the discussion, we got to answer some good questions from thoughtful students.
I picked the question of how to respond to people who are not okay with you. The specific implication of the question is how to respond to people who are not okay with you being who you are, specifically who are not okay with your sexual and gender identity. There is a broader application though because, whether Queer or Christian or die-hard Freudian, you will encounter people who don’t like something about you.
My answer to the question was like this.
Keep a conversation going as long as you can so you can fight to preserve the relationship.
Any meaningful journey includes opposition; the journeys of growth and self-discovery are no different. We will all encounter people who don’t understand us. Sometimes these people are comfortable with not understanding and the differences only enhance the relationship.
Other times, people become hostile when faced with our differences. I think this is because they are afraid or intimidated by something they don’t understand. We should not treat these folks badly in return. Though they say careless and ignorant and even judgmental, condemning things to us, we should recognize when people are essentially well-meaning and show them patience. Keep them engaged in the conversation…again and again and again. We should respond to their anger with calm, their ignorance with kindness, their condemnation with welcome.
Essentially, what we should say, what I would like to say is this: We are different. You are not okay with my differences, but I am okay with your differences. You are having a hard time being in relationship with me because I am different, but I am willing to be in relationship with you, even being different with you.
We should strive to live like this as much as possible.
Of course this is not a perfect idea. Also, I am quite afraid to put it forth.
This idea is not perfect because there are those individuals who are hostile and mean spirited and uncaring of others. Sometimes relationships become abusive and unsafe and unhealthy, whether with individuals or with communities. I’m not advocating for staying in a situation where you will only be damaged, unless you have a very very very special grace from God to do so. What I’m talking about are those situations where two good people care about each other and, given enough time and growth, are able to work through differences.
Most differences can be understood after a while. Most differences are not barriers to relationships anyway.
I am afraid to say these things because this means I must stay in my community and relationships. Sometimes when I feel uncomfortable and threatened and un-appreciated, I want to leave. I don’t even have a clear idea where I would go, but my panic-response is to want to run and run(or drive and drive) and not look back.
But ultimately, what I really value, are the relationships. The good and beautiful people in my life. Relationships take work, whether with an individual or a community and I hope to be strong enough to stay in the tension that is people being close together, including differences. I say I want to stay in all my diverse relationships, even though they’re uncomfortable. For that, I know I will need tremendous amounts of help.
I hope for a way to exist with you in a way that honors who God has made you and who God has made me. I hope we can walk together in a way that allows space for how I don’t understand you and how you don’t understand me so that we can focus on how we do understand each other.
Could be we are more the same than we are different. But we have to stick together long enough to find out.