Public Vs. Private (part one)

Posted on by admin

This is the third in a series of reflections on the Wild Goose Festival. Part one is The Power of A Tshirt. Part two is Apologizing to Over the Rhine.

This is a hard post to write. I’ve been stewing about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. On the whole I had a wonderful time at the festival.

I got to hang out and camp with Brian Gerald Murphy and Matt Beams; two wonderful, wonderful men.

I met and connected with some amazing people. I experienced the powerful music of Over the Rhine and Jennifer Knapp. I listened to some wonderful speakers like Paul Knitter and Nadia Bolz-Weber. I listened to Glen Retief read from The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhoodspacer and saw Peterson Toscano perform.

I engaged in lovely and loving conversations around sexuality and gender identity. I laughed a lot.

And yet. I came home feeling a sense of unease about my experience. A sense of disconnect. I almost hesitate to write about it, though, because I know that some will think I am just complaining. They will think I am making too big of a deal out of my criticisms, they will expect me to be thankful for what I got. But I feel I cannot gush about this festival without offering some hearty criticism because there were ways in which the festival was painful for me as a queer person. See, I certainly felt welcome at this festival but I didn’t feel affirmed. Nor did I feel represented. I want to be clear that I offer this critique because I believe in what the Wild Goose Festival could be. I believe that we need a progressive, experiential, experimental festival that is committed to justice and the arts. I want this to be a place that I attend each year; to build into this community. That’s why I feel I cannot stay silent about my experience there.

I went to the festival mostly to listen to speakers talk about issues of sexuality and gender identity. I wanted to see what was being said about my community. That’s where the rub begins: other than a few cis gay males (all white) and a couple of bisexual women and one lesbian all of the people who were speaking about sexuality as an “issue” were straight, cisgender people. And all of the folks speaking from the main stages (meaning not on a panel) were cisgender straight folks. (I am putting Peterson into a different category because while he spoke and performed on a main stage he was there as a performer and not as a speaker).

From the stage the conversation was basic. It was still about whether or not queer people are inherently sinful and whether or not they should be in the church. Obviously people came down on different sides: Some were fierce allies, others were quieter, some didn’t take a stand either way. I was troubled by the wishy-washiness of some of the speakers. And troubled by the very, very basic level of this conversation. We have been having the conversation about whether or not homosexuality is a sin for DECADES now. Can’t we please, please move on? I understand that this conversation is important for many folks, but at some point I think we need to refuse to engage this conversation on the public level. Instead if people want to know more about “the issues” they should read one of the dozens of books that have been written. I was struck over and over again by the disconnect that was happening between conversations public and private. Even folks who were not 100% on board with inclusion were able to have much more nuanced conversations with me one on one. Conversations in public became about platitudes, trite talking points, or shouting.

I am concerned about the ways in which queer people were isolated from the main stages. There were a few that were asked to speak on panels, etc. but most of the main talks about sexuality featured white, cisgender, straight men. Queer people were not invited as main speakers (to talk about queer issues).

The two main talks about queer issues (not including the panel discussions) were these: Jay Bakker talked about what it means to be an ally and I am totally in support of that. We need fierce straight folks to speak about what it means to be an ally. And Tony and Peggy Campolo did the same talk they’ve been doing for the past ten years about their disagreements on homosexuality and the Bible. As I watched them speak, all I could think was that this was so rehearsed. There is nothing new in what they are saying. Anyone who has done even a tiny bit of reading/research could have had the same conversation. At best it was innocuous. The problem is that it didn’t stay innocuous. As the conversation entered into a question and answer time, the talk got ugly. A questioner said that she belonged to a church that was welcoming and affirming but that they had not made a public welcome statement because they were partnered with an African American church and they were afraid they would lose their relationship with the church if they came out in support of queer people. Tony then said that there was a good chance they would lose their relationship because the African American community is more homophobic than white people. Then he went on to say that Prop 8 in California wouldn’t have passed if it weren’t for African American people. Several of us shouted “NO” to him on that point because not only is it incredibly racist, it’s also verifiably false. (You can read about why it’s false and damaging here and here.) And when he was told no he got offended and basically told us he was right about that. It is irresponsible for a public leader to be able to get away with saying ridiculously racist things from the stage. The reality is that it reinforces racism without at all getting called out. This is not okay.

We need queer folks to be able to speak for themselves.

There are queer theologians who would have loved to have spoken at Wild Goose. (I’m not going to lie, I am one of them.) There are queer people who are doing important justice work in our own communities. We are at a point when we need people to stop speaking “for” us or “about” us and start letting us speak for ourselves. And I say letting us because the reality is there are still gatekeepers at places like the Wild Goose Festival. There is still an invite list and a planning committee. There are decisions made on a higher level about who will be included and who will not. They made the decision to keep the conversation at a base level. They made the decision to invite straight cisgender men to speak about queer people. They made the decision to not include queer people as main speakers. That is troublesome.

I appreciated that there were fierce allies there, but I am also frustrated that there are people there who speak for my community that I do not want speaking for me.

Speaking now as a transgender person I must also say that my community was pretty much invisible on the main stages. Almost no publicly transgender people spoke from any stage anywhere. Some people tried to push for transgender inclusion (Phyllis Tickle was the most notable), but it was either brief or somewhat sloppily done. There was a lot of conflating trans* and intersex issues or of tacking on the “T” without having any idea why they were tacking it on. Peterson Toscano was the exception (and I will talk about his presentation more in a future post). He spoke clearly and strongly on trans* issues (as well as broader gender and sexuality issues). I know that this is because he has done his research and he has trans* people who read and comment on everything he does. He is the shining example of what it means to be an ally; to be led by the community you are being an ally for. (People, if you want to be an ally, you should follow his example!)

The reality is we’re still having the 101 conversation when we should be well past that. Here is what I want from my allies; here is what I want for the future of this conversation: That from the stage we REFUSE to talk about queer inclusion anymore because honestly? We’re in your churches. We’ve never left them. Queer people are preaching sermons, directing choirs, serving communion, etc. etc. etc. We are in your churches whether you think our lives are sinful or not. So let’s stop pretending that queer people are “outside”. Let’s also stop pandering to the lowest common denominator. Instead let’s try to raise this conversation to a new level. Let’s talk about the ways in which queer theology is opening up new understandings of God. Let’s talk about the ways in which the queer experience of God has things to teach straight folks. Let’s talk about how trans* theology opens up conversations about all of our bodies and how we learn to love them as holy in all of their complexity. Let’s move the conversation from acceptance to wholeness.

I left the Wild Goose feeling welcome but not celebrated. I am sick of feeling welcome but not affirmed. I am sick of still being considered suspect in a church that I was born in. I am sick of being treated like I don’t belong or that I am a newcomer in place in which I speak the language fluently and in which I have been nurtured since birth.

My friends, the conversation won’t change until those who are on board change it. It won’t change until queer people are given access to spaces to share their stories. It won’t change until queer theologians are given time on the main stage. Please, straight, cisgender christians, stop speaking for me! I beg of you, allow me to speak for myself!

If you want to be a good ally, then start calling out other straight, cisgender people. Stop speaking for queer people and instead start calling out people who aren’t for equality. I need you to confront other straight cisgender people because those folks need to hear it from someone who is not queer. But when it comes to speaking around queer issues, let us do that for ourselves.

* Next year I want to see the conversation shift from 101 to actually talking about queer theology.
* I want queer theologians to be invited to talk on the main stages.
* I need Tony Campolo to not be invited to speak about my community. There are plenty of spaces for folks who are not affirming to speak. They are welcome at churches and conferences all over the world.
* I want people who refuse to fully affirm the humanity and dignity of queer people to be asked to listen and learn instead of to speak. If Wild Goose really wants to be about justice then it needs to lead the way by inviting people to speak who are actively pursuing justice.
* Let allies do some trainings on how to be an ally.
* Let queer people lead the way on our own lives. You might be surprised how much queer theology has to say to straight, cisgender people.

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24 thoughts on “Public Vs. Private (part one)

  1. spacer Travis Mamone on said:

    You know what’s funny? I was actually thinking about this the other night! I don’t know why, but it seems so easy for privileged folks like me to dominate conversations about queer inclusion, poverty, women’s rights, etc. I know this is something I struggle with (mostly because there’s a part of me that wants to be seen as a good person, rather than actually go out and doing what’s right).

    That’s not to say that people of privilege are not allowed in these discussion (at least sure hope not, or else I’m in trouble!). I’m saying that in order for it to be a real conversation, we need to include queer voices, female voices, black voices, etc.

    And like I said, this is something I’m still working on: listening instead of talking all the time.

    • spacer admin on said:

      i think allies and people with privilege definitely need to be involved in the conversation; i think the change needs to be that the conversations need to be led by queer folks (or whoever it is the conversation is about). the change needs to be led by the people most influenced.

      have you read paulo freire’s “pedagogy of the oppressed”? i think you would get a lot out of it.

  2. spacer Kyla on said:

    Good thoughts, ones that I haven’t considered because conversations on sexuality are new to me. I’ve heard them, but not participated in them, so the festival gave me a chance to participate and see new ways of both thinking and acting. I think that if you want to speak next year, all you need to do is ask. I don’t think the absence of queer presenters was a matter of purposefully not inviting queer people to speak. From what I understand, many of the presenters asked to be there instead of being specifically invited. I’ll look forward to hearing your talk next year, and hopefully my conversations until then will allow me to be more engaged in what you have to say.

  3. spacer Rachel on said:

    Dang, go on now. Preach it.

    (one note: you say “Next year I want to see the conversation shift from 101 to actually talking about queer theology.”

    1. Its hard to imagine trying to have 201 without the 101.
    2. I think you are making a HUGE assumption about LGBYQI folks being isolated from the main stages. By framing it in that way you assume that there was intentionality in this decision.
    3. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the Goose set out to have a conversation on queer advocacy/affirmation. I think it dreamt of ways we can live into the fullness of God and God’s imagination for God’s people: hmmmm… advocacy vs. reconciliation.
    4. Can we, the body of Christ, have a conversation about sexuality (without relegating the queers to the queer box) and our bodies AND find the ways in which we share similar spaces, and hold them, talk about them in community? Can the queer community lead the way by instead of shouting about our otherness and instead point out / share our commonality? Will the queer community be willing to come into a space without its arms, but with plowshares, to do the work the Body of Christ is crying out for?

    ok, rant over. Really thought provoking friend. Thank you for your brave post.

    • spacer Brian Gerald Murphy on said:

      The Rev knows how to preach, eh?!

      Some thoughts on your thoughts.

      1) You’re right, it’s crucial for folks to get the whole educational journey in there. If we try to skip over the foundation, it all comes crumbling down eventually. I’m not convinced though, that this 101 stuff takes very long. During my time at Wild Goose, I got to know straight folks who knew next to nothing about queer issues but were able to approach them with an open heart and open. We were able to have the 201 and 101 conversations side-by-side. “Here’s some queer theology…” “Wait, is it ok to say queer?” We brought up gender and transgender lives and experiences right alongside LGB ones. Of course, nuance is easier in personal conversations. Still, I think that through conversations about actual queer theology, folks will begin to understand queer 101. No one ever taught me about heterosexuality, I learned it just fine. I think the same can be true about gender and sexuality minorities too once we start digging deep.

      2) It’s not an assumption, it’s an isolation. No queer person had a main stage to *talk* about queer issues. Only straight people did. Jay Bakker, Tony/Peggy. The incidious thing about straight supremacy (and white privelege, and male privelege) is that we’re taught not to notice it. “It’s only racism when they are doing it to be mean,” we might think. It is a valid assessment to say “A group of (mostly) straight (mostly white) people got together and ended up putting together a lineup featuring (mostly) straight (mostly white) people.” I don’t think anyone setup to marginalize queer people (or people of color), but the way oppression/privilege works is that when we’re not actively taking stock of our own privilege and working to give it up or use it in solidarity, we end up abusing. That’s important for me to remember as a cis, white, male. It’s important for the organizers to remember as straight. Sometimes well-intentioned people mess up. Or don’t do enough. This is one of those times.

      3) There was a panel entitled “Sexuality & Justice” … is it possible for LGBTQ people to experience justice without being fully affirmed? I don’t think so. The festival was also, broadly, about justice (and music and art and faith) and sexual and gender minorities need justice too. Reconciliation is the oppressor saying: We have messed up, we have been hurtful, here is how we are going to fix it. And the oppressed saying: Beautiful, we can move on together now. One of the things that every straight person needs to do in order to be reconciled to queer people is to take a clear stand on the rightness of our lives and relationships. You can’t have reconciliation without justice (see: writings of MLK, and others)

      4) There was a bit in this piece about how we are not outside. How we’re already in the church. Anarchist Reverend works at a church. I served as a leader on the young adult committee. I worked at The Simple Way. We are already inside the body, bringing our lives and our plowshares. We can do all of those things AND take care of ourselves, AND point out where justice is still lacking AND call our friends and siblings to a more whole, more reconciled body. Never ever does Jesus or the Prophets condemn the oppressed for speaking out or standing up. God is a God of liberation, always on the side of the oppressor. The beauty is that we get to do all of this with love. And love is not the same thing as self-flagellation or of complacency or complicity .

      My 2 cents spacer

      • spacer Rachel on said:

        Appreciate your two cents.
        Perhaps I am ready for 201 behavior vs conversation. I am blessed to be in a community where actions do and are speaking louder than words. Perhaps that is my point of privilege.

    • spacer admin on said:

      First, I don’t disagree, but I do wanna offer some clarifications/additional points. I agree that 201 is difficult without 101. But we’ve been stuck in 101 forever. What if we were to offer 101 resources outside of the main stages? I think we allow people to remain lazy and uneducated when we continually cater to their need for 101 instead of asking/requiring them to do the work themselves.

      2: When I said excluded from the main stages I meant in the conversations about sexuality and gender identity. Not excluded in general because obviously there were queer folks on the main stages, but when conversations were happening on the main stages (not panels) specifically about queer issues the people speaking about our community were not openly queer.

      3: I don’t think the conversations had publicly will help people to live in the fullness of God’s dream and imagination.

      4: I mean, I would love to talk about bodies and sexuality without it being about queer people solely (as we ALL have bodies, genders, and sexualities!!), however I can’t enter into that conversation if people are thinking about my body and sexuality as less-than. And until I am affirmed fully I can’t help but shout about my otherness. Others might disagree, but for me that’s where I’m at.

      I also think there is a misunderstanding in the church about reconciliation (and I am still working out my thoughts on this and it will probably need to be an entire other post), but reconciliation isn’t just about people apologizing to queer folks and then we all move on. It requires change and reparation, and it needs to be on the terms of the oppressed. We bandy about reconciliation and it sounds to me like cheap forgiveness. I worry when the expectation is the queer folks have to do all of the heavy lifting. Because we’ve been doing the heavy lifting for a very long time.

      I know we have very different approaches to this subject and I’m okay with that. I appreciate you and your witness. I hope that we can continue to be in relationship even with our different approaches.

      • spacer Rachel on said:

        oh good gravy – of course we can be in relationship – I would be devastated if that we not the case.

        I appreciate the comments and conversation ongoing.

  4. spacer Mike Croghan on said:

    Thanks for this. I agree, and I am grateful for the advice on how to be a good ally. Peace!

  5. Pingback: What I Blurted out at Wild Goose « Peterson Toscano's A Musing

  6. spacer Robyn Josephs on said:

    As a person wanting to be an effective ally and kind and welcoming to all, thanks for the education and clearness of this post.

  7. spacer Tamara on said:

    I’ve been meaning to msg you for a couple days, but this is a good place to post my gratitude. Thank you for the 101 conversations around the campfire. I’ve been torn with whether to feel ashamed for feeling so “behind the times”…but then how do I account for the fact that I have only been exposed to the subcultures I’ve been in and those cultures have not been 101 conversation-friendly. I’ve tried to always treat people with love and kindness, and as my experiences have expanded, I’ve tried to be open to learning and changing.

    I hope I did not dominate our conversations with too many of the annoying questions…I know there are plenty of other things we would have enjoyed talking about as our little tribe around the fire. At the same time, I admit my selfishness that I have so many questions and so much to learn…so much to re-write in my mind’s scripts and understanding.

    I was incredibly blessed by your patience and your gracious, intelligent answers. I loved getting to laugh, drink beer, eat marshmallows…. I just hope I didn’t make myself look like to much of an ass with my honesty…it’s not always easy to be honest about one’s ignorance…it takes safe places for people like me to come out too.

    I hope to see you up on that main stage…but I also hope to share a campfire with you too!

    • spacer admin on said:

      Thanks for your comment. Just to be clear; I loved the conversations I had with you. Your questions weren’t annoying at all! I loved getting to hang out and be silly and become friends. It was one of the highlights of my weekend.

      I think, for me, I don’t mind having the 101 conversations one on one. My frustration comes when the 101 conversations are the only ones that are publicly sanctioned. I understand that there are folks who need those conversations, but I think we can have those conversations privately while also have conversations that move past that level. I think we can get people “up to speed” as it were while also pushing the conversation along if that makes sense.

      I don’t begrudge anyone the need for 101 conversations or belittle anyone for where the