Intersectionality is at last a term that is being talked about in more places. There is a growing understanding about how our lives intersect, overlap, influence, and too often interfere with each other. This interference happens with some groups far more than others.
“Intersectionality (or intersectionalism) is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. An example is black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black, and of being a woman, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other.”
This may sound too academic for some. In my own work I use comedy, memoir, and storytelling to explore the interplay of power and privilege in my own weird life. I spent nearly 20 years desperately trying (and failing) to become a masculine heterosexual.
There were many reasons I pursued this ridiculous and ultimately dangerous course. My Conservative anti-gay faith at the time played a big role. The HIV/AIDS Crisis added pressure. Fear and shame soaked my brain and caused me to consistently make poor choices.
I also have to admit that as a fem, gay, working class, Roman Catholic, Italian American in Ronald Reagan’s America and then in white Evangelical churches, I felt a distinct loss of power and privilege compared to what other white men experienced. In part, my quest to become straight was so that I could become a recognized member of the group that was most protected from oppression, domination, and discrimination—white, anglo saxon, heterosexual, masculine, Protestant, upper middle class, married, healthy men.
As a result, I submitted to oppression, domination, and discrimination in Jesus’ name in hopes I would come out a winner. I am not proud of this fact, but I understand why I felt so desperate to change myself so deeply.
Since coming to my senses and coming out gay, I keep finding oppression, domination, and discrimination in the worlds I inhabit. At times I experience oppression in the world in part because of my gayness, but I also move in and out of privileged spaces.
When I came out gay among white gay men in Memphis, I witnessed racism, sexism, classism, and transphobia among my peers. I saw similar oppressions in progressive liberal LGBTQ communities in New England. In fact, I see this happen in many areas of life and society.
As I have begun to do work around climate change, I see over and over how climate change affects women more than men, people of color more than white people, and lower income earners more than middle class and upper class people.
In short, when it comes to religious communities, queer organizations and community, and also on a rapidly warming planet:
We are all in the same boat together—just not all on the same deck.
The good news is that as we can become aware of a variety of experiences in the world, and we can work in solidarity with diverse people. While it often feels painful to have power and privilege revealed in ourselves, our work, lives, and our relationships are richer all around, more sustainable, and more justice minded when we see things in the light.
For me climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. Still I must recognize that people different from me are in immediate conflicts, crises, and concerns that are most pressing for them.
Who has the energy to take it all in and care for it all? While I understand my current leading is to break the collective silence about climate change and stir up Americans and their ability to engage in collective political action, I feel it is my responsibility to understand and to grow in understanding about many current issues that need vital, sustained attention: incarceration and the systemic racial injustice in the criminal justice, immigration policy and the policing of migrants, immigrants and their families, threats to the rights and freedoms of women, indigenous rights to land and clean water, and the array of issues that queer, transgender, gender non-binary, bisexual, lesbian, same gender loving, and gays face, (and how these queer lives and bodies intersect with immigration, criminal justice, indigenous rights, women’s rights, health care, etc.)
As a result, I find myself asking what some think are odd questions:
- What are queer responses to climate change?
- How is Black Lives Matter affected by climate change?
- As a Bible scholar, what justice lessons can I learn about climate migrants in the Book of Genesis?
Finally, in these days of political turmoil, one can feel overwhelmed and unfocused. Many people are discerning their roles on this rapidly changing planet. With so many important issues tugging at us, many of us must discover our leading and calling so that we can remain focused.
As we do, we need to develop the willingness and ability to encompass other issues, some that overlap our own passions.
- How do we care deeply for the area where we feel called to serve while also remaining open, available, and supportive towards others with different callings?
- How do we maintain openness to see the interconnectedness of multiple social justice concerns? How do we develop the opportunities and ability to listen deeply to other people’s experiences?
- How do we allow what we learn to shape our leadings without distracting us from them?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings about these important issues. What are some of your answers to the questions above?