Last week well-known Christian author Anne Lamott caught a lot of flak for her tweets about Caitlyn Jenner, many of which were deemed insensitive by transgendered people and their allies. In response, writer Jonathan Merritt called for grace, noting that many of us are just now learning about transgender issues: “…[W]hen people with limited knowledge begin to engage complex issues, those people often misspeak and misstep.”
All of us have blind spots about other people’s experiences. I am a straight, white, middle-class, Christian, American female. I can know and speak with certainty only out of the overlap of those categories. To know about the privileges and concerns of people from different intersections, I have to be willing to learn, and the experts on those intersections – i.e., the people who live in them – have to be willing to teach me.
How, then, do I deal on a practical level with my gaps in understanding?
- Acknowledge having blind spots. There’s plenty I don’t know, and sometimes I don’t even know what I don’t know.
- Look for conversation partners. Who will take the risk of sharing truthfully with me about their struggles?
- Refrain from arguing with someone else’s experiences. They were there. They have lived this. I was not and have not.
- Ask for feedback. Whose perspective(s) am I still overlooking? What language should I be using?
- Let the dialogue change me…and my ways of doing and being. Now that I have this knowledge, there are realities that I can no longer ignore. So what now?
No one wants to be told that her/his understanding is deficient and that his/her comforts come at the expense of another. But the hard work of knowing and being known by others pries ever more open the curtain between this world and the one to come.