This morning I read Sheila Kennedy’s blog post, “Wisdom from RuPaul”, that talks about an issue that has also been bothering me. I would ask your indulgence here, because the discussion runs the risk of offending the very people who are working very hard to address issues of injustice.
Time Magazine recently published an interview with RuPaul, the celebrated drag star, and one exchange in that interview struck me as particularly perceptive and politically relevant.
The interviewer had noted that millennials “take a harder line on issues of identity” and are “a bit more affronted by the sort of wordplay and free-associative identity play central to drag.” RuPaul’s response wasn’t only wise and adult, it also put into words the proper approach to an issue that has been increasingly nagging at me.
I think the Trump era will wipe that out. To be that particular about words, you have to be in a place where you’re not under attack. I believe that those same people, right now, are so under attack that ain’t nobody got time to be dealing with “Did you call me a he or a she?” That is going to change real fast. When it gets down to survival, you have to pick your battles, and you don’t pick battles with your allies. And I think, as the Trump era moves on, your allies and your enemies will become more and more evident. The people who are mulling over certain words will have to ask themselves, “Is that word coming from a place of love, or coming from a place of hate?” That’s how you differentiate. That’s the real thing.
Pick your battles. When you fight everything, you win nothing.
If I had failed to differentiate between behaviors and attitudes that were a result of ignorance or insensitivity and those motivated by misogyny or prejudice, I wouldn’t have been a very effective lawyer–or member of society. More importantly, I wouldn’t have been able to educate people who inadvertently gave offense–to explain, nicely, just why that phrase or that stereotype might be sending a message that I knew they really didn’t intend.
We need to listen to RuPaul: When you’re under attack, when it gets down to survival, you have to pick your battles, and you don’t pick battles with your allies.
This is something I’ve often thought about over the years related to environmental concerns. I realized early on (40 years ago) that I was offending people I respect very much when I would talk and write about giving up personal automobiles. This was especially problematic in rural settings, where there are very few transportation alternatives. And it was mainly Quakers in my Yearly Meeting, many of whom live in rural settings, that I was saying this to. I am grateful for the many, many times Friends would patiently engage with me regarding their situation. And, after many, many years, I came to accept this.
I wish I had begun to think of different approaches earlier. Now I think about how farming practices can help with greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon dioxide in the soil, for example.
I also hope to raise awareness that it is possible to travel long distances by bicycle when I return to Iowa soon.
So I think we do have to pick our battles. My battle continues to be related to getting off fossil fuels immediately–that is the one I was led to work on. Fortunately, the renewable energy sector is growing much more rapidly than anticipated, and many, many people are turning their attention to creative ways to address this.