I believe in the transformative power of words.
When civil unrest occurs, I search for words to make sense of what I see. Facebook helps with this because my friends are politically interested people. We read CNN and Fox News and Vox and Huffington Post to see what is being said. We also post from UpWorthy, For Harriet, Salon, Latina.com, Gawker, Feministing, The Atlantic and other sources to help give each other a broader picture. We write our own posts.
And though I have reposted articles about what is happening in Baltimore with brief comments like "YES!" and "This!!!" and "Oh my gee, you guys, this!" I have largely left my thoughts and feelings about what is happening in Baltimore unwritten. But I do have thoughts. I do have feelings. It's not that I simply have difficulty expressing them. It's that I also don't know when to do it.
There is a concept in rhetorical studies called kairos. Kairos is the right moment to speak. It's a sense of time that skilled speakers and writers must understand if their words are to be impactful. Justice Ginsburg demonstrated her supreme rhetorical skill and understanding of kairos when she challenged the "definition argument" for marriage discrimination. Ginsburg reminded us that heterosexual marriage has been redefined frequently in its history. Her response came at the right moment and when it needed to be said.
I have been thinking a lot lately about kairos as a cisgender, white, queer man who has found himself middle class. I have a lot of privilege, which makes my voice easier for many people to hear. I worry about speaking because when I speak, I take speech away from someone else. As a queer person I want to speak to the outrage I feel about systemic injustice and the sanctioned violence facing black and brown cis and transgender men and women in the United States. I want to shout that these are not isolated instances, but moments in a long history of cultural oppression that press down on people. I want to shout down those whose understanding of civil unrest leads them to believe that such unrest is destructive, undemocratic and insulting. I want to write in ways that make the lived experiences of people who are beat down better.
In this moment, I don't think I can do that when I am the first to speak.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer communities need our allies. We need them so much that sometimes White LGBTQ people forget that we must also be allies. White LGBTQ people must be allied with our siblings of color who, in this moment in time, are facing challenges that should ignite our furious righteousness. All LGBTQ people must remember that our own histories are marked by similar struggles. Harvey Milk fought against the same institution that the people of Baltimore are fighting against today. His defense of the "Castro 14" reminds us that police brutality is a part of our histories. One path to civil rights began at Stonewall with an anger that could not be contained. Martha P. Johnson (a trans person of color) and her siblings fought for their humanity against the very institution that the people of Baltimore fight today. Let us not ignore these similarities, but let us also not ignore the differences.
How can members of LGBTQ communities be allied with those in Baltimore? We shut up for a while and seek out a different moment in time for our voices to be heard. We listen to those closest to the pain and rage. We do better at processing our anguish and the anguish of others before we speak about that pain. We demonstrate our processes for others who are looking to us for help and support.
How can members of LGBTQ communities be allied with those in Baltimore? We invite more nuanced readings of the situation than those who would reason the unrest away with dismissiveness. We listen to the ways in which "riot" is understood and offer different understandings of the term. We ask questions of others and challenge premature closure. We remind ourselves that our histories are also violent before condemning so quickly.