“Your silence will not protect you.”
I keep this thought sewn in the seams of my clothes when I do just about anything that scares me. As a natural conflict avoider, truth telling scares me. For a Soulforcer, I often wonder, I sure am meek. I am not a megaphone holder, a fire starter, a grenade thrower. But these days, I wear that quote from our Black queer ancestor Audre Lorde like a banner on my chest. It feels so true. My silence will not protect the most endangered of us. Not now.
Today we went to Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, TN. Trevecca Nazarene, a Church of the Nazarene institution, is one of many schools across the South that we initially contacted to visit when we first planned out the route; of all the schools, they have been the most immediately hospitable. And so I was torn: to be kind and quiet and friendly and not push too many of the buttons on this school that has opened its doors to us when so many have not, or to tell my truth.
I got to sit on the panel, and talk in front of a crowd, and be brave. I told strangers – people I knew did not believe that God loves me just as I am – that sex and desire is at the center of my theology. That I was queer and “loving it”. I put on the persona of a lion-hearted, unapologetic Rider, and damn was I proud of myself.
But I didn't find that I felt the most brave in those moments. They felt hard. And it felt good to tell my story, which I had been thinking about for a long time.
What felt brave was when I did something I didn't realize I was scared of. I talked to a student.
There were a few students before the panel who didn't make much eye contact with me. I wasn't sure what they thought of me. Did they want to be here? Did they not care much about us at all? Did they hate my queerness too?
I knew that something I had set out to do today was to push myself to meet new people. I gulped down a wad of fear and stuck out my hand for a handshake, thanking them for coming to visit us and exclaiming that I was really excited to see them there. Immediately, I saw their bodies soften. They thanked me back, and named that when they heard we were coming they were “scared for us”. They weren't sure how things would go. They would end up staying for the whole panel. I got to look out to them when I was feeling uncertain. And eventually I too watched them be brave with us later. And I was so grateful that the Spirit moved through me to connect with you, brave student.
I was so scared to disappoint the students who have been counting on us to be ferocious. And when I reached out and grabbed that hand to say, “I will be ferocious with you,” something in me softens too. Crumbles. Maybe it's self doubt. Fear. Shame. Whatever it is, it is a beautiful reaction.
It made me feel like I was looking right into the beating heart of revolution.
It reminds me that resistance really does look like cracks in the sidewalk where weeds spring forth. What the work of the Beyond Equality Ride, but to water the garden as it needs – sometimes an encouraging wake up sprinkle, sometimes an angry rain. Inch by inch, row by row. We bless seeds where they have been sowed by a lineage much older than any of us, many more hands than we ever might meet.
And as I talked to a young person who revealed to me that they were actually at our 2012 stop – they were a Trevecca alumnus, but made sure to come to our stop this year because they really wanted to see us again – it reminded me of what it means to be brave.
As a queer person, I have experienced countless experiences of violence at the hands of straight white men in institutions endowed with incredible power over my body, my spirit, and my people. I find myself angry, resentful, and short . I am happy to deny them their humanity, knowing the wrongs they did against me. I thought I needed my moment of glory, of redemption, of giving the people who have wronged me their comeuppance, and that this Ride was going to be where I got it. But when I found myself looking for healing at this school, I knew it was actually in the spirit of the students in front of me that I was gonna get a little bit more free.
Bravery for me feels like loving people who look like me, even when I am conditioned with spiritual violence to find myself unloveable. It looks like getting on my tiptoes and peering into the window, looking to find my people among those who are harming us. It looks like listening to my ancestors, reaching across an aisle, and grabbing the first hand I see and commanding their attention. “Hi. I have something to tell you today. Will you hear me?”
My silence will not protect me, because my silence is isolating. In the silence and the dark, I have no compass with which I might find my people. Calling out into the abyss, asking “is anybody in there?” -- that is where I want to be brave.