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"Understanding" - Monday Moment - February 5, 2024

Happy Monday, my friends! Even though you’ve been getting Monday Moments from me the last four weeks, they were written ahead of time, scheduled out, and for the most part left untouched. It’s been four weeks since I wrote a Monday Moment! A lot has happened in Ohio in those four weeks and little of it good. We witnessed HB68—the ban on gender affirming care for minors and the ban on trans athletes in K-12 and college sports—be vetoed and then have that veto overridden by the General Assembly. Though it was said many times by the bill’s supporters that the ultimate goal was only to restrict youth access to gender-affirming care, those same supporters have now said, no, the goal was always to restrict gender-affirming care from all trans people. A goal bolstered by the governor’s administrative rules on Trans health care.

 

Whenever a marginalized group is targeted, some well-meaning person, usually an ally, says that if we could just “understand” the experiences of the marginalized group then hatred would go away. Often that “understanding” is limited to a thought experiment about “walking in their shoes;” a one-dimensional activity where we imagine being such and such identity and going through life in the ways which we believe people from that identity experience the world. Not only does this activity negate the intersectional ways in which each of us lives our lives, it exposes us not to the truth of a person’s experience, but rather the often-rosy portrayal of that person’s experience which we conjure somewhere in our minds.

 

True understanding requires both the willingness to understand and the capacity to understand. First, a person must be willing to set aside their doubts and their preconceived notions so that they can really learn about the ways in which another person or group of people move through the world. That willingness usually requires a person to acknowledge their deeply held views. This is why it is often so hard for cisgender people to try to understand the experiences of Transgender people. Most people have never had to consider that there is, could be, or ever will be anything less than complete congruence between their sex assigned at birth and their gender identity.

 

Second, a person must have the capacity to understand. For some people, what they call their “opinion” is so ingrained that even the action of imagining a difference would destroy their carefully designed worldview. For others, it is impossible to truly imagine a different situation. For example, white people, even white people who really want to do better, routinely fail so miserably at understanding People of Color. We—white people—cannot set aside our experience of white supremacy and white privilege in ways meaningful enough for us to understand any experience that does not involve being white. Let me be clear, that statement is neither an indictment of white people nor an argument in favor of white people not trying their best to do better. It simply is the truth.

 

Even if neither of these points were true about understanding, understanding is too often a bedfellow of tolerance. It only gets us to a surface level sense of “getting a long” rather than truly learning or creating substantive change.

 

How can you learn more about other identities? What are your sources for education?

 

Let us pray: God, you made us curious creatures, but we often lack the willingness and capacity to understand each other. Guide us in the paths of learning, listening, and doing our best to build connections across our differences. We know that you meant humanity to be one family, but we fall far short of that goal. Help us do better. Amen.

 

Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

 

Faithfully,

 

Ben

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