I spent some time Friday morning updating the Pink Gear store, adding our Pittsburgh t-shirts and updating the stock levels for sizes and such. Unfortunately for folks who weren’t at Pittsburgh, we have very few left. But the good news is that we sold a lot of pink! And that means that pinkmenno gear will be showing up in communities, schools, family reunions, baby showers, Targets, and county fairs all over!. And I know from personal experience that wearing a pink menno T-shirt, or even a little bit of strategically placed pink in public is bound to prompt at least basic conversations of explanation and in some cases opportunities to engage friends and even strangers.
When I got back from Pittsburgh, I decided to leave my pink shoelaces in my favorite pair of shoes, at least for a while. And I found myself with new courage to accessorize with a pink sweatband on my arm that I wore most days in Pittsburgh. “What’s with the sweatband?” people ask. Then I tell them. And I’m proud to.
To be completely honest, I wasn’t proud of my pink in Columbus two years ago. I was terrified in fact.
In my personal journey, I had been “out” to friends and family about my sexuality for 6 or 7 years, but I had yet to find full self-acceptance and therefore, did not allow myself to accept God’s love. I didn’t feel lovable. And now I can honestly say that my church taught me that. My community taught me that. Without intending to, my family taught me that. Of course all of those people love me, but out of fear of the unknown and the misunderstood, I learned growing up that because of my secret difference, I was unacceptable in God’s eyes.
Here in Chicago, my partner David and I went on a boat cruise one evening in June downtown with a big group of friends, all of us gay, many of us in relationships. I quickly realized that there were tourists on this cruise who were clearly from “out of town” who were clearly somewhat uncomfortable sharing the boat with a bunch of gay men. And for perhaps the first time, I didn’t care. I held David’s hand. I didn’t second-guess my voice or my posture or how “masculine or feminine” (what do those words even mean really?) I might appear to be.
In Pittsburgh, I finally understood why some people get a kick out of making people a bit uncomfortable by not holding back who they are, by not filtering or apologizing for who they are. And sadly, it doesn’t take much more than a man wearing pink to ruffle some mennonites’ feathers.
Last week, a frustrated PinkMennoPress reader’s comment on a previous post “The Scarlet Letter” actually helped me reflect on exactly what wearing pink at Pittsburgh meant to me. He wrote:
“You have alienated yourselves by wearing a distinctive color and creating “tribal warfare” as stated by Shane Hipps on Monday eve. I found your pink presence at the convention to be arrogant, threatening and overt. You have separated yourselves even further by your flamboyant displays…I really, truly harbor no hatred toward your group but I have come to despise the color pink.”
Naturally I was offended, annoyed, sad, angry, etc. But this comment led me to realize that my gut reaction was that while making folks a bit uncomfortable is a productive side-effect, I wore pink primarily for me, other pink mennos, and for folks who are longing for what pink menno offers. Here’s part of my lengthy reply to his comment:
“…As for the our alleged acts of “tribal warfare”: We wear pink for the same reasons that youth groups come to convention proudly displaying bright, distinctive, and descriptive T-Shirts unique to their local churches AND for the same reasons that conference participants can choose to wear an official t-shirt that sets them apart from the rest of Pittsburgh or whatever city we choose to inhabit for a week every other year. Our reasons are the same: 1) we want to be able to look across a convention hall lobby, across Penn Ave, or across the giant hymn sing and KNOW we are not alone, that someone present near us understands and comes from the same place that we do. And 2) we want those outside of our sub-group to know who we are and that we are proud of who we are, rather than ashamed.
Our pink is not primarily intended to make you feel anything. From my perspective, I can only imagine that those for whom pink causes discomfort would rather continue to believe naively that GLBTQ members and straight Allies do not exist in MCUSA. I imagine they are frustrated by the sudden crumbling of a false sense unity now that they can’t go to convention and assume that everyone there believes exactly the same, experiences God the same way, and is straight. Making this GLBTQ/Ally “other-ness” outwardly visible makes people uncomfortable for the same reasons that people’s skin color used to and sadly still makes some people uncomfortable–Lack of understanding and unwillingness to cultivate authentic relationships with the ‘other.’ “
In light of my personal pink revelation, I hereby pledge to wear pink every day going forward. Whether it’s a pink menno t-shirt, my sweatband, my shoelaces, or a pink-painted fingernail, I will no longer be ashamed of who I am. Being ashamed of my sexuality prevents me from being fully the person God created me to be. If I hide this part of myself from others, I am judging God’s creation in me to be unacceptable. And if people in my community, my church, my neighborhood, my classroom where I teach, or my family observe that shame in me, I implicitly teach them that they too should be ashamed of my sexuality and suddenly my passive fear turns to active perpetuation of homophobia. Not worth it.
So for now, I have my pink sweatband, my favorite shoes with pink shoelaces, plenty of pinkmenno t-shirts, and a rockin’ pink deep v-neck t-shirt. If anyone runs across a really classy men’s ring with some pink it in, let me know. I’m lookin’.