Sunday Reflections: On Trying to Be Better
As the kerfuffle about the Andrew Smith interview blew up on Twitter, I laid in bed with my babies trying to make sure my 6-yr-old child who was struggling to breathe in her sleep did in fact keep breathing while also trying to follow the various trails of conversations happening over Twitter. The truth is, there were so many offshoots and branches and blog posts, it is, for me, impossible to keep it all straight. But I have been reading and thinking and listening. I am still.
But one thing I keep thinking about is the part where Andrew said “I’m trying to be better though”. It may seem odd, but in many ways this is the part that resonated the most with me personally, which surprised even me. But let me tell you why.
When I was a senior in high school I became a Christian, and a fairly conservative one. I went to youth groups and camps and weekend retreats where I spent all my time with like minded Christians and part of our ongoing education was the idea that homosexuality was a sin so uniquely different than all others that we spent a lot of time talking about it, condemning it, and pulling away from those who identified themselves in this way. I then went to a conservative Christian college where I majored in Youth Ministry. This meant that I spent several classes every. single. semester. surrounded once again by similarly minded conservative Christians where we were taught time and time again this notion that homosexuality is such a heinous crime against God that this group of people alone somehow defied the very loving nature of God and were shunned by Him in unique ways. I tell you this because I want you to understand how deeply a teaching can go, how strongly it can influence you. Who I was, how I defined myself, was rooted in these teachings and they brought me a great sense of security and well being. This was a world I felt safe in. I knew who I was, what I believed, and where I was going.
But the thing is, a friend I knew, love and respected revealed that she was gay. A cousin I adored more than any others revealed she was in a same sex relationship. My friend’s 5-year-old child tried to commit suicide three times because although born a girl, he felt uncomfortable in that skin and needed to be a boy so fiercely it caused him great pain. I read Ask the Passengers by A. S. King. I saw people holding up signs saying “God Kills F*gs Dead” and couldn’t resolve this with what I perceived to be the central message of the gospel I had signed up to share with teens as a youth minister, the idea of love and forgiveness and grace. And I began to change. I began to question. I began to doubt. I began to stand for what I believe my faith calls me to stand for: basic human dignity and rights for all.
So now I call myself an ally. But the truth is, I am an imperfect ally. It’s hard to move from the secure world of black and white thinking to a world of grey. Certainty is so much easier to live with than questions. Changing the fundamental core of who you thought you were and how you defined yourself and what you believe, moving the goal posts, is scary and hard. But I’m trying to be better.
So when I read Andrew Smith saying “I’m trying to be better though”, I understood what I thought he meant and I identified with it. I’m trying to be better. I’m trying to listen. I’m trying to embrace the scary world of greys. I’m trying to be an ally and a friend to those who my faith has spent years telling me didn’t deserve any of those things. I’m trying to be a better feminist who understands that although I am treated unfairly because I am a woman, that women of color are treated even more unfairly because they are both a woman and a woman of color. I’m trying to be a better feminist who understands that others approach their feminism in a way that is different then mine and that is okay as well. And it’s not an easy journey; it’s bumpy. I make a lot of missteps. Sometimes I am afraid of saying the wrong things so I say nothing. Sometimes my own insecurities keep my silent. Sometimes the fact that I know I am an imperfect ally keeps me silent. Sometimes I know I just need to be open and willing to listen to others.
And sometimes I need to get over all of that and speak more boldly. But moving from that black and white world, it can be a terrifying journey. Moving from the fundamental core of who you thought you were to a new place, recalibrating your thinking, knowing that some of the people you love will reject you because of your new thinking – none of that is easy. Changing what you think, what you believe, how you speak – all messy and complicated and sometimes overwhelming. And sometimes you get it wrong.
So when I read Andrew Smith saying “I’m trying to be better though”, I think I understood what he was trying to say. And I empathized. And I thought that trying to be better had to be enough because those of us who are trying to change know that you don’t wake up one day and you are a perfect ally, a perfect feminist, a perfect advocate. It’s a journey that you decide to take knowing that you will make missteps, that you will question, that you will fear. But you choose to take the journey anyway because you think it is the right journey to take.
I am not a perfect ally. I am not a perfect feminist. I am not a perfect advocate. I am not a perfect Christian. I am not a perfect person. None of us are. But I am trying to be better though. And sometimes admitting that is the bravest act I do all day.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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