pink: a daily practice

(photo by Lisle Bertsche)

T-Shirts and other PinkGear available in the Pink Gear Store! (photo by Kerry Bush)

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.

No more.

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.

Pink HymnSing (photo by Arthur Kauffman)

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’.

"Pink Laundry" (photo by Tim Nafziger)

Posted in Pink, Pink Perspective, Take Action
8 comments on “pink: a daily practice
  1. Rachel says:

    Amazing, right, how just being yourself can be so threatening to others? I don’t think twice about holding my husband’s hand in public…and I don’t think that you should have to either.

    I truly hope that all of the Pink Mennos felt the massive support of your allies. How boring we’d be if we were all the same! I, for one, found the pink in the crowd heartening. I didn’t have a Pink Menno t-shirt but pulled all my pink shirts (all two of them) out of my closet and wore them happily during my time in Pittsburgh. I loved the smiles of understanding passed between pink-wearers.

    Before the conference, I was having a good rant about the discrimination that I find so frustrating in our larger church body. My eight-year-old asked me what I was upset about, and I said, “Well, some people feel that there are people who shouldn’t be a part of our church, like men who fall in love with other men, or women who fall in love with other women.” He thought for a moment and said, “Well, that’s really stupid.” Amen to that.

    I’ll do my part to keep working toward a church that embraces all of the wonderful members of our family. Keep wearing pink–you’ll make some of us uncomfortable, but there will be plenty of us whose hearts will sing!

  2. John says:

    Philip, I realized the harshness of those words after I posted them and asked for forgiveness both in a comment and an email which you chose to ignore. Instead of responding you take my words and use them to portray me as a mean-spirited gay basher. Is this the way you express forgiveness?

  3. Sonja Andreas says:

    John, are you wanting Phillip to forgive you or are you wanting him to forget what you said? If you are wanting the latter, that probably will not be possible. Even if you have moved on from the place that you were when you wrote those words, they still reflect the judgment and negative emotional reactions of many people other than yourself that we glbtq folks have to encounter and learn to cope with.

    While Phillip initially may have felt hurt by your words, he was also blessed by them. In this post he is not focusing on you so much as he is sharing the blessing that he received from your words in that they helped him to clarify his own motivation, claim his own value, and rise up free of the shame osmosed when who a person is is deemed despicable by others. His message is valuable to me and to others who also have to cope with the judgment embedded in sentiments such as those you originally expressed.

    May the Peace of Christ Jesus be yours.

  4. John says:

    I don’t expect him to forget, Sonja, and I don’t care if he wasn’t focusing on me,but I’d appreciate an acknowledgement that he heard me. No, I have not moved from the place I was when I wrote those words, but I regretted the harshness of them after I posted the comment. I recognized that I could have used more tact in saying what I wanted to say. I felt regret after posting the comment but then I see them pasted on his blog in what felt like an attempt to generate sympathy and happily portray me as the “frustrated PinkMenno blog reader” whose comment backfired. Maybe that was not his intention but it’s not hard to see it that way, especially when I get no response. I’m sorry for causing hurt and I will make a conscious effort to speak in love when I give my views , but I make no apologies for where I stand on the issues.

  5. StephanieKrehbiel says:

    John, Philip has acknowledged that he has heard you. I don’t mean you any personal disrespect here, but many of the people who are reading and writing on this blog have heard viewpoints like yours a million times already. We know how you have chosen to interpret the Bible. We know you believe this is God’s truth. We don’t agree with you, and we choose to be public about that, which does not mean that we hate you or think that you are a horrible person. No one has accused you of this. No one has been hateful towards you. You have been heard.

    What more do you want? You are not a vulnerable party or a victim in this conversation, although I know that you feel that you are. You’re asking Philip to interact with you as though your vulnerability in commenting on an LGBTQ-friendly blog is equivalent to the vulnerability that he accepts in walking into the largely hostile territory of an MCUSA national convention. There is no comparison, and to ask this of him is oblivious at best, cruel at worst. Philip has been hurt by words like yours, and he has chosen to be open about it, because the issues your comments bring up go far beyond your personal feelings. Please, just accept this and leave him be.

  6. Crystal Boson says:

    John,
    I feel the need to second StephanieKrehbiel’s statement. I am not a Mennonite, but I feel as though I have a personal stake in this fight. I am both member of the GLBTQ community, and a person of colour and I daily have to stare both racial and orientation based discrimination in the facs. Phillip’s “outing” you as a frustrated commentator was neither malicious, nor mean spirited. He was acknowledging your comment in a public forum; as you did comment on his post, you did insert yourself into that conversation.
    I have found that those who claim neither to be racist or homophobic usually use that rhetoric as their sentimental stronghold. I do not know you, nor am I attempting to directly accuse you as such. But I am directly saying to you: You are not a victim here. It is rhetoric such as yours that makes houses of worship unwelcoming, and forces people to examine whether their mental and spiritual well being are more important than being part of a worshiping body that claims to send out the word and love of God.
    People hear you. We have heard you all our lives. I, as a religious outsider, hear you. What harm does it do to you to allow our voices to be heard? What harm does it do to allow me and others to worship, to love, to live and let God’s light shine through us?
    I think the members of PinkMenno have done nothing but show forgiveness, even though the offenses against them have not stopped happening. As a “haunting” body, they are very benevolent ghosts. Please consider this. When you enter a public dialogue, do not bemoan the answers you receive.

  7. philipkendall says:

    John,

    I do apologize for not responding directly to your e-mail. I do appreciate your willingness to reach out in that way. I completely believe you when you say you don’t mean to be hurtful with your remarks. And I believe that your comments don’t come from a place of intentional ill will.

    We could go back and forth picking apart comments, but as we’ve both acknowledged, neither of us come to this conversation with a willingness to change our points of view.

    So what’s the point?

    Just as I don’t wear pink to try to convince you of anything, I don’t write these blog posts to convince you of anything. I simply share my views and stories because stories I know that 10 years ago, when I was a terrified, self-hating youth, I desperately needed to hear a story about people like ME different than the once I pieced together from fragments of fearful, embarrassed, and hushed conversations, rumors, and hateful comments.

    I wear pink, I blog, I attempt to live honestly every day without offering unnecessary apologies for who I am.

    Having lived much of my life “apologizing” for who I am, I know how painful it can be to deny a part of who you are. But I respectfully reject the notion that “where you stand” or “your views” are similarly a part of who you are. Your views on an experience of sexuality you don’t experience and can never fully understand aren’t an integral piece of your body, spirit, or mind. And I don’t see how it could have anything to do with your spirituality and relationship with God.

    I hear and acknowledge that you feel badly that I and many others receive your comments as hurtful, even hateful. But the fact that in the same voice, you express unwillingness to make apologies for where you stand (even though you acknowledge your potential to do harm) once again seems to demonstrate a contradiction. If God’s love is perfect and our primary mission is to love others as God loves us, then how can we claim our words to be out of love when we see them causing pain, tears, damage, self-hatred. The only way I see that as being humanly possible is by rationalizing our fears as being “of God” and then living in denial to the extent of damage we do as the result of our fear. So perhaps I’m willing to accept your struggle to know how to engage me in conversation without offending me–but I need you to know, that while I can accept that sentiment, there is no authentic apology there while you still claim to somehow know without a doubt that God does not accept me.

    As I said in my original response to your comments, I can live in harmony with you and your views because you have nothing to do with my spirituality, my salvation, and my relationship with God. I can accept you as a child of God with your own identity, your own truth, your own fears. But as I hear you, you can’t live in harmony (and in church community) with me and my views and you would ask me to change who I am to make myself acceptable to you.

    I hope that someday we can meet, sit down, and share our stories with one another. That would be a true opportunity for reconciliation. I intend to email you personally this week and I hope that we can both be at peace, even in the midst of these passionate blog comments.

    Love and Peace to you,
    Philip

  8. John says:

    Philip,
    I’d love to have a conversation, however I’m not sure there’d be a point. I can’t change who you are nor am I asking you to change. By the same token, don’t attempt to change me. In an email to another member of the gay community I asked how she thought an all inclusive MCUSA with LGBTQ’s in leadership positions would respond if I remained but continued to voice my resistance. I was told I’d be looked on in shame and disgust. I’m guessing I’d be also be asked to be silent or leave. So we’re left with a significant element of conflict that would inhibit any reconciliation. The best solution I can think of, is to part in love, and go our separate ways. I have little doubt that someday you will have your Pink MCUSA but sadly, I would not be a part of it. No, I would not consider myself a victim nor would I feel sorry for myself but I could not remain in a church where I would be looked on in “shame and disgust”.
    John

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