- Chrisaleen Ciro
(September 23, 2020)
Throughout my four years at Trinity Western University (TWU), I got the question, “how can I be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community at TWU?” over, and over, and over again. I have provided a variety of answers over the years, but the past few months have forced me to interrogate my definition of allyship.
Most significantly, I have recognized that the instinct to categorize people as either ally or not, is almost entirely unhelpful. It puts some people on a pedestal and demonizes others. It even allows some people to take on the title of “ally” without being recognized by the community they intend to serve.
So, then, if “ally” is not an identity, and maybe not even a role, what is it? Put simply: ally is a verb. “Ally” should not be a declaration that you speak over yourself. Rather, it is a mindset of radical hospitality and right-relationship that you allow to compel every action and every space you enter.
Allyship is not something that you are, it is something that you do.
Moreover, I believe it is something that defines everything that you do. Here are four actions that can help you live like an ally for the LGBTQ+ community at TWU.
On modelling rest: For decades, the first readers of the creation narrative, the formerly exiled Israelites, and God’s people called out of Exodus, did not have autonomy over their rest. Sabbath was a gift to the formerly enslaved community. Imagine what it would have felt like, as a politically marginalized first-century reader, to hear about a God who spoke beginning into being, triumphed over the chaotic deities of the deep, and who also rests. Rest is a radical repudiation of consumerism and grind culture. Rest is integral to any form of anti-oppressive practice. I recognize that this task that I am setting before you––that all actions should come from a place of radical, Biblical hospitality––is a big one. Therefore, you will not be equipped to meet it if you are not embracing God’s gift of rest, especially amid deadlines, community involvement, and newfound independence. So yeah. Consider this permission to go take a nap.
On being vocal: One thing that I hold onto from my early understanding of allyship is that being an “ally” is not a silent position. The duties of allyship require vocalizing your support for the LGBTQ+ community, incorporating LGBTQ+ perspectives into your classroom discussions, and calling out harm you see perpetrated against LGBTQ+ members of the community. For me, an integral part of manifesting my vocal allyship is holding the theological perspective that God affirms LGBTQ+ people, their participation and leadership in the global Church, and the sanctity of their love. Others, including some LGBTQ+ Christians, argue that it is possible to be an ally and believe that queer Christians should be celibate. While I affirm and remain committed to walking with my LGBTQ+ friends and family who have chosen that path for themselves, I also believe that it is important to remain critical of supposedly “safe” spaces where this is the only portrayal of Christian queerness.
On interrogating your own gender and sexual identities: You, dear reader, are made in the image of God. As you probably know, these words are ripped straight from the first pages of the Bible. The next words are, “male and female,” God created them––demonstrating that, from the beginning, God was interested in femaleness and maleness, and that Their image exists in both. This is a profound and intensely mysterious truth. We do not really know how the original authors imagined gender. Gender performance changed radically throughout the Bible and continues to change throughout history. Therefore, in the pursuit of radically hospitable allyship, I suggest that you think critically about your own experience of your gender and your sexuality. Frankly, the worst thing that can happen is you learn a little more about the way God created you.
Here are some questions to get you started: has your gender, or another’s perception of your gender, ever held you back from doing something you desired or felt God was leading you to do? How does your gender influence your perception of God? Once you have begun to think about these questions for yourself, begin asking them openly with friends and family. Even if your friend-group and family is majority straight, I think you will be surprised at the diversity of thought, insight, and experience regarding gender. Begin to take note of what jokes are being made. Be attentive to the relationship between gender and emotional (or even physical) violence in your community. Most importantly, do not mistake a “majority” straight or cis group with an entirely straight or cis group. You never know who might feel affirmed and seen if you talk openly about your gender experience, or if you speak up against a crude joke.
On educating yourself: Finally, remember that your learning about queer experiences of faith is not, in the (paraphrased) words of Rachel Cargle, “self-improvement work.” If your “allyship” begins and ends with reading some queer theology texts, it probably is not allyship. Yes, read Torn by Justin Lee, but also educate yourself on the resources available in the TWU community.
Be a safe person for gay people to come out to and, in the mean time, meet some other gay people. Ask your professor if you can write on a topic relating to queer theology, or how educators and employers can support queer students, or queer contributions to art or music. Normalize professors reading the hospitality and inclusivity section of the syllabus out loud, so new students know that this is a conversation generations of TWU students have been having in preparation for their arrival. If more of us allow every action to come from a desire for right relationship, radical inclusion, and biblical hospitality––including every updated syllabus, every dorm meeting, every issue of Mars’ Hill, every paper topic, every TWUSA budget––we stand a chance of creating a community that is defined by Shalom. We will belong to a beloved community.
And no one will need to call themselves an “ally” anymore.