So let’s start where all the women in the room have been. Hi, ladies! You’ll know this story.
An old white haired regular at my bar sidled up to me, drunk as a possum, told me I was adorable, grabbed me by the waist, and kissed me on the cheek.
What’s there to do? He’s very old, and very drunk, and has been coming to my bar for over thirty years (Maybe closer to 40. He’s real old). If he hadn’t been a regular, I’d have smacked ‘em. But there’s so much going on: “customer service,” industry subculture, and the family/awkward holiday gathering nature that happens at a historic tavern full of regulars who have come there every night after work for fifty plus years.
Also, as an intense, assertive, (aggressive?) woman, some days you get tired of being the bitch who can’t take a joke. When a coworker teases that you’re a ballbuster, or when someone tells you to stop taking it so seriously when your ass gets grabbed. Can’t I control who touches my body… and be someone that people want to be around? Some days, I sit back down to roll silverware without saying anything, because today maybe I just want everyone to like me. Let’s hear it for trading bodily autonomy for smooth interpersonal relationships – the trade that women have been making since forever.
But the night the old drunk white-haired kind, funny, sexist, sexually assaulting old man kissed me and rambled back to his barstool, my male co-worker said to the group of us at the table – “God, I’m so sorry that shit like that happens to women.”
What a damn small thing for him to do. He didn’t stand up and smack the offender; he didn’t yell at him to leave me alone; he didn’t go and talk to a manager. Was it enough? Probably not. Was it something? Yeah. Was it justice? Not enough. But it was in the line of justice. It was the stuff that justice is made of. It wasn’t charity, it wasn’t kindness. It was recognizing injustice, and not being silent.
When my co-worker acknowledged that not only was this shitty, but that it was a particular shitty thing that happens to women in the world, he stood next to me and carried a little bit of my backpack of being a woman in America in 2017. Now, for just one moment, it wasn’t just my job to complain or yell or say “DOES ANYONE SEE THAT THIS IS HAPPENING?” I got to rest for a minute.
It gets so tiring to yell that all the time. It gets so wearying to constantly stand and point and point and point, and yell that this is unjust until your voice is hoarse and your knees burn from standing. For everyone else, that conversation is one moment of their day – for women, it starts to become all days, every moment, until you just want to shut off everything and sleep for a thousand years.
When someone steps up next to you and asks for the megaphone – when they pull up a chair and say, hey, boo, sit down for a second, I have this one – when someone who isn’t suffering the cultural, daily wounds of a broken system that doesn’t like women except as sex symbols and mothers – when someone who could just keep walking stops for a minute, and says I’ve got this one –
What a relief.
What a relief to have an ally.
“Be an ally” can get you a funny look from religious circles. It’s a “social justice warrior” word. It’s a “liberal” word. I think putting “ally” in the title of my post has already meant some folks have scrolled on by.
But being an ally is just washing each other’s feet.
We’re all perfectly capable of washing our own feet. But Jesus asks us to look to our right and to our left, and do the dirty work for our neighbor in humility and in love, instead of snorting that “they have two hands, they can wash their own feet.”
Of course we can wash our own feet. But we are tired.
Of course we can wash our own feet. But when we wash our neighbors feet, we learn about love.
When we wash our neighbors’ feet, we kneel next to Jesus who “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.”
Being an ally means listening to your neighbor, listening to what it’s like for them to be a woman, to be a person of color, to be gay, to be an immigrant, to be a refugee. It means washing their feet instead of demanding that everyone does their own dirty work.
It means believing them when they say that they’re tired.
It can be very, very tiring to be a woman in America. Watching male Christian pastors line up to say that our President’s sexual abuse of women is not a relevant part of their decision to support him – well, no wonder sexual abuse thrives and flourishes in Christian organizations and churches. Abusing women is not a disqualifier to Godly leadership. The fact that you grabbed or raped or abused a woman isn’t relevant data to your ability and capacity to lead. Not relevant to your ability to preach a sermon on a Sunday. Not relevant to your book writing and book selling.
But being a white woman in America is nothing like being a person of color in America.
There is a war on Black bodies in this country, whether y’all want to see it or not. It’s waged in our justice system, halls of power, streets, schools, and churches. It’s in financial institutions when loans are being given out. It’s in parks when little boys are shot and killed. It’s in courtrooms where judges refuse to bring charges against officers who kill unarmed pedestrians. It’s in our fashion industry, in our film industry, in higher education, in White evangelical churches when 72% of White Christians disbelieve that racism is still prevalent in our country, in White feminist circles where nice White ladies chide Black women for being too sensitive.
As a queer woman, I need you to be my ally.
As a White person, I need to be your ally.
As a queer woman in American and in the Church, I desperately need allies. I need people who can come alongside me, stand in between me and the culture or church or the majority and say “I am with you. I will take the brunt of this attack for you.” I need men who will speak up when “locker room talk” takes the floor. I need straight folk who will step in at a bar when someone gets biphobic. I need you in staff meetings at church defending my love for Jesus, I need you in Bible study to bring up how awkward this passage is for women in ministry so that for once, I don’t have to be the one to say it out loud. I need you to say “I will put myself in harms way by choice, because you have no choice about whether or not you’re in harm’s way.”
As as a White person in America, I desperately need to be an ally. I need to speak bravely when my body and beliefs aren’t at risk, to protect POC’s bodies and beliefs. I need to be willing to speak, act, and write on behalf of people who are exhausted from speaking, acting, and writing. I need to learn to listen and not speak when oppressed people are on stage – because being an ally isn’t barging into spaces with POC and women and queer folk and explaining to them what they need, what you know, how you will ‘save’ them from the rest of the evil world. It’s often choosing to step back. It’s choosing to listen. It’s being present to the needs of a person who is different from you, who experiences the world differently, who sees life from another direction and has experiences you can’t know about unless you listen. It’s asking people what you can do. It’s standing alongside so folks don’t have to walk alone. As a White woman in America, I need to say “I am with you. I will speak to people who look and act and think like me, because they aren’t listening to you and you are tired.”
And as a Christian, I need to look to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of my faith, who continued to put aside His “rights” to stand next to people who didn’t have anyone else standing alongside them. And when I look to Jesus, He is kneeling in front of my brothers and sisters of color, my queer family, in front of refugees and immigrants and trans kids and women and the poor and the homeless and the mentally ill, and Jesus is washing their feet.