October 24, 2017

Thoughts on “Me, too” and the communion of saints

Me, too.
Thank you to everyone whose honesty invited me to share my truth. I've had a year that has reminded me of the long reach of sexual assault and harassment in my own life, the ways that years later those experiences can still creep up to steal my perspective, my patience, my creativity, my sense of humor. I mourn for the cost of all the healing that our world makes necessary and wonder what we all might do and be if that energy could be turned outward to building the world around us. I struggle to raise daughters who will be strong enough if they must join in saying, "me too" while my heart breaks with hope that they never will.

I posted this on Facebook today. It was harder than I thought it would be to bring myself to do it. Even with way too much company. Even having talked about my experiences to lots of people in lots of contexts over lots of years. I couldn’t have done it without a whole communion of saints who taught me how to do this, how to speak in a healing way about my own brokenness, how to keep the faith that God wants wholeness for all of us.

I was born in 1971. That doesn’t make me old just yet, but it makes me old enough not to have grown up with any language or narrative around sexual harassment. Anita Hill’s courageous voice gave me those words and many other brave women in the generation ahead of mine filled in the blanks in their responses to those awful hearings. I was able to make my first workplace sexual harassment complaint because things my harasser said were so pathetically similar to the things Anita Hill reported. Her witness and the conversation she sparked led me to recognize the connection between what I had experienced and how it made me feel.

Just as I am grateful to those baby boomer women who testified to their workplace experiences, I am grateful to the generations that have come behind me with a whole new vocabulary and set of expectations. From Black Lives Matter to the college campus-based struggles against rape and assault to this week’s outpouring of “me too,” to the stunning complexity of my own teenage daughter’s critique of my binary understanding of gender and sexuality, I am drawing strength from people who were raised to believe that we should hold the world accountable to its reported progress on equal justice for all. When their own life experiences and the realities they see around them don’t match the glowing descriptions of civil rights secured and workplace equality won, the millennials and my kids’ yet-unnamed generation speak up. When there are no words, they offer us new ones and expect us to learn them. They demand safety, respect, dignity and self-determination. They expect trauma to be treated as real. They expect their lives and the lives of people in their communities to matter.

There’s a fair amount of mocking of the younger generations among my fellow Gen-Xers and my Baby Boomer elders. People complain that the young are oversensitive, too precious, that their expectations are too high, their vocabulary is too weird. But listen again: They demand safety, respect, dignity and self-determination. They expect trauma to be treated as real. They expect their lives and the lives of people in their communities to matter. Is that really too much to ask?

In a week when it’s my trauma and my pain that are front-and-center in the strange hive consciousness that is social media, I am grateful for those who came before and those who have come up after me. In their honor, I commit myself to being as gentle as I can, recognizing the hard work of healing that so many of us are engaged in, even as we would rather focus on other more outward-directed pursuits. I commit to making my church and the other spaces I am a part of places where no one is mocked for asking for (even demanding) safety, dignity, respect and self-determination. I am endlessly thankful for all the saints who have played their parts in teaching me that I and all of the rest of you are beloved of God and worth fiercely defending. That’s what saints do for each other.