Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stepping into another world

One of the emphases of CPT is undoing oppression.  Since it is a central point of CPT's work, the theme occupies several days of our training.  We started today with a focus on heterosexism.  For those who may not know the term (I didn't until just recently), Wikipedia provides this definition: "Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favor of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior."

In exploring the topic, we did a number of activities. We talked about Biblical interpretations that support heterosexism.  I stress the word "interpretations" because, since we neither live in the culture in which the Bible was written nor can we (at least most of us) read it in its original language, we have no choice but to read versions that are someone's interpretations.  I will not contend that one translation is more accurate than another, but will simply offer that we need to remember both of the above when we read.  We also need to consider that we have our own paradigm that we ourselves bring into our interaction with the text.  None of us come into the conversation neutral.

Our group imagined a world in which heterosexism was considered deprave and therefore not supported socially, religiously, or legally.  In the alternate reality activity, our leaders invited us to draw our current family into that reality.  Thinking about the implications of living in such a world made me ill.  One of the laws in the alternate reality was that heterosexuals could not work with children.  As I imagined my life and that of my family, I wondered if my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law, my aunt or I would still try to be teachers and if we did, what the security and legal consequences would be if we were found out.  In my drawing, the houses had wavy walls, indicating the constant state of fear we'd live in.  Knowing that that kind of terror and insecurity is the life that some people live because they don't identify as heterosexuals (or other dominant groups, but today we talked about this particular one) makes the pain in my body continue, even as I feel guiltily grateful to identify with the dominant culture.

We role-played a number of scenarios between heterosexuals and members of the queer community.  Role plays are a safe space to explore how different situations may play out.  After each scene, we debriefed what it felt like to put on the parts: the gay person or the new neighbor who clearly doesn't approve, the bisexual man or his heterosexual friend who makes gay jokes.  Our trainer reminded us that the various ways we acted out the scenes are how such situations may manifest themselves in the real world.  While we could laugh about the role plays, the gravity of the truth our trainer called to mind sunk in.

As we delved into the topic, the day brought back memories from teaching ... I remember that it was thinking about the struggles of LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) folks that prompted me to create and hang in my classroom my "Love Thy Neighbor" poster.  I remember the boy who was terrified that his classmates would find out his dad was gay, the boy who was outed by his friends, the boy who tried to deny his homosexuality by self-punishment.   I remember seeing their pain.  I remember knowing that I would never fully understand what it was like for them.

Today I am reminded that my reality and my privilege as a heterosexual are not everyone's reality or privilege.  I am reminded that I have a lot to learn.  I am reminded of the importance of stepping into someone else's reality, even if only for a short time, in order to understand it and explore my own biases.  I am reminded that only by stepping into someone else's reality can I better envision a world in which my experience is not one of privilege, but of mutual respect and equality.  I want to live in a world in which I would be equally happy walking in my own shoes or those of any other human being.  

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