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Rev. Jay Emerson Johnson, Ph.D. Headshot

Vagina Dialogues and White Gay Men: A Lenten Discipline

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Dear gay male comrades:

Have you talked with each other lately about how important vaginas are? Or about the women who need to guard those precious organs at nearly every turn from the hands of prying male politicians? If you're gay and white, have you talked with each other lately about the poison of white supremacy infecting our relationships and sabotaging social progress?

As a white gay man, I am dismayed by the near-deafening silence from my gay brothers concerning the twin poisons of sexism and racism in our society. This is deeply troubling, especially since homophobia is the result, not the cause, of a much deeper confluence of male privilege and white supremacy in our history in our world today. If we fail to link male privilege with white supremacy, we do so at our own grave peril.

It is no mere coincidence that the latest battle in the war on women is transpiring with an African American in the White House. It is also no more coincidence that so much white panic over immigration transpires in the same state where women's access to birth control is at serious risk. (Read about the latest legislation proposed in Arizona and think about it the next time you buy condoms.)

I also want to make a confession. (This is Lent, after all, and I'm also an Episcopal priest.) I confess my own failures to connect the dots among sexism, racism, and homophobia and my failure to act on those vital connections. I make this confession not for the sake of indulging in the luxury of guilt; we don't have time for that. Guilt is utterly wasted energy. I make my confession instead for the sake of reenergizing my commitment to building a better world, and for the sake of being held accountable to that commitment by others -- especially by women and people of color.

The struggle for control over women's bodies is a struggle for the liberation of all bodies: women's bodies, men's bodies, children's bodies, the bodies of all other animals, and the body of this planet itself, "Mother Earth." There is a direct link between the kind of male privilege that lays claim to women's bodies and the male privilege that rapes this planet for resources. Just consider what Rick Santorum had to say recently about the environment.

Accountability for a better world would be a great Lenten discipline. After all, as the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah once declared: "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" (58:6). Now that would certainly be a spiritual discipline all of us could, quite literally, live with.

Making the world a better place often begins in one's own backyard and indeed with one's self. I'm taking that to heart this Lent and spending time thinking carefully and writing about my own white male privilege and how it functions in our society and in our religious institutions. I'm also seeking ways to put my white male privilege to use for the sake of women's thriving and the flourishing of communities of color.

Religious or not, here's a great way to begin: get some of your gay male friends together and read Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. Then talk to the women in your life. Let them know that you're committed to their freedom, their dignity, and their autonomy. Ask them what you can do to be supportive -- then do it.