It could be a discussion with a family member who hasn’t accepted what they call the “lifestyle.” It could be a discussion with anyone we hope will at least listen to what we have to say even though they’re not fully supportive. It could be a conversation with someone we lovingly hope for change.
There are two responsible people in all such conversations. So, what do we need to do to take responsibility for our part in them with the realization that they are responsible for their own reactions, attitudes, openness or closed-mindedness, and, yes, their biases and prejudices?
We’ve written about such encounters and their pitfalls before, but, more than ever, thinking about what we can do in challenging conversations to keep our side gentle, understanding, and self-nurturing needs renewed reflection because it’s easy to lose track of ourselves in these days of renewed and more open and even threatening anti-LGBTQI rhetoric.
We know that most of the prejudice we encounter isn’t based on facts or corrected by agreement on the facts of the matter. But once we’ve chosen to engage with someone, what can we do and say even if they will reject our overtures?
The most challenging element for us is that no matter how calm, cool, and collected we try to look on the outside, we’re dealing not with “those people” in the abstract, as they might see LGBTQI people, but participating in the defense of those we love, maybe ourselves. These conversations are not set in the coolness of abstraction but are existentially personal.
This means that we’re going to feel, we’re not going to be objective and theoretical. It means that we’re likely to make mistakes along the way, get triggered by what is said, become frustrated with what we consider bogus points, and maybe even lose our cool.
Of course. We’re talking about the people we care about, and that should matter.
So this crucial difficulty is perfectly understandable. It means that we must give up trying to do any of this perfectly or feeling guilty when we don’t meet any standards we’ve set for ourselves. The world does not rise or fall on this one conversation.
On the other hand, when we seek to do it perfectly, we put too much pressure on ourselves or anyone, and that in itself will actually stifle our own thinking. It will hinder our presence in the conversation. Kindness for ourselves means we need to be the first one forgiving our inevitable mistakes.
In preparation for these conversations, we’ll need, therefore, to explore what triggers us. Because these arguments are personal, we’d be an unusual and uncaring human being if we weren’t triggered.
Because so many have been hurt by religious people and their religious arguments, for example, is that something that when brought up actually prevents us from not reacting out of our hurts around religion? If so, we’ll need to take time to reconcile ourselves to our religious backgrounds even if we’ve rejected them. So many who say they’ve given up religion still seem to react as if it’s still there down deep enough that they just have to keep proving it wrong.
We’ll need to recognize that “religion” is not the real reason people argue against LGBTQI people. It’s the excuse that covers up the real reasons, and we don’t fully know the personal issues that that person has. Understanding this in itself will help us focus on the person in front of us rather than the smokescreen their religious views have become for them.
No matter what religious arguments we might choose to make in response (or none at all), the key is to focus on the human being in front of us and what is being said behind and beneath the religious or political rhetoric.
So, how can we keep the focus on the human element of the human being right there here and now with all their problems and even vitriol?
First, we must give up the idea of trying to win an argument. If not, it’s become a contest of egos. Actually, winning is hard to measure anyway even if the person walks away from our conversation unconvinced.
Second, we must maintain the focus on our personal story. We don’t respond with our own excuses for what we believe but speak out of our own humanity even when the other person constantly continues to want to draw us into other arguments.
In other words, we take full responsibility for our position and we speak as one who knows our position and how it affects those we argue for, including ourselves. This is done no matter how the other person rejects our position and our responses.
For example: if someone says they have a child who is LGBTQI and are rejecting them, we might answer: “If I couldn’t accept my child as they are, it would be very hard on me; it would tear me up inside.”
If someone says that they cannot accept their LGBTQI child because of their own chosen religious beliefs, we might respond: “That would be so difficult for me. I am glad that my beliefs don’t put me in such a hard spot because I love my child too much and that would get in the way.”
If someone continues to use religious arguments, we might respond: “I know that there are many people who believe what you do, but I don’t.” Or: “I just don’t have those religious beliefs.” Or: “I know some people interpret the Bible that way, but I don’t.”
Any of these can be repeated over and over and over. Good teaching always requires lots and lots of repetition.
But they keep us fully responsible and human in our position. And doing this will help us not to get caught up in all the arguments they want to use to keep their responses from hitting home personally with them.
What human beings need, then, is another human being standing right there in front of them saying: “This is what I believe is true.” Just as we talk about people experiencing out LGBTQI people as a way to change society, so what people also need are people who will appear confident in their positions and who take full responsibility for those positions with no excuses.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.