How Do We Speak Against Shame?

This Friday, i’ll be sitting in my best blazer on a panel with some of the best womyn i know, talking about shame at Homegrown: North Carolina Women’s Preaching Festival 2013.

Talking Taboo is on the launchpad, y’all, on a catapult ride to a Mary Daly-esque outerplanet. (Or maybe that’s just my personal NASA-themed fantasy…) The books have shipped, and orders are coming in at local independent bookstores across the country so you can get your hands wrapped around our 40 essays dismantling taboos and reconstructing faith.

And somehow, as deliriously excited as i am to be in print, i’m also still kind of crapping my pants. My essay is, after all, entitled “Sex, Shame, and Scarred Knees.” It doesn’t take too much imagination to realize it is acutely personal and confrontational in one swath of five pages.

But that’s the whole point, for me, in talking about taboos: going for the gut, the personal jugular. I get so frustrated with academic hoopla that over-objectifies ideas and only wants to talk about problems as if they exist in this neutral universe. Like system problems exist outside of our own experiences.

It’s partly a feminism thing; i can only tell my story, and my story is a gradient of privileged (white, cisgendered, American citizen, middle class…) as is the stories of every thinker from Max Weber to Alice Walker. It’s also partly a theological thing; sitting in a stuffy room all day talking Christology is a necessary part of the learning curve, but it’s only relevant when we can embody what we discuss. Feminist/womanist theological ethics – my particular field – is a brilliant, needed, complicated, and an evolving facet to the study and practice of religion. But i still believe feminist theological ethics (or any conversation, really) matters most when we can implement what we talk about in the academy in to real life.

And real life can be some tough shit.

Tough, personal, painful shit. Like feeling isolated, marginalized, ridiculed for pushing back on heteronormative and sexist sexual ethics. Or thinking my body was too fat and too hairy and too imperfect to be lovable, even by its inhabitant.

It was not easy to write about my shame in any place other than my well-hidden cavern of angst and Kahlil Gibran quotes: my journal. My first twelve drafts or so were so externally-focused it felt more like a gender studies essay than a personal confrontation with taboo.

But i knew, i knew i was not the only person in the world who had struggled with the church’s perfectionistic teachings on human sexuality. And it was the thought of writing to younger me that made me be bold. If one – just one – pre-teen girl could crack open my story and heave a sigh of “it’s-not-just-me,” than my exposure would be worth it.

So on Friday, i’ll be talking about just that: how do we speak out against the shame that has silenced us?* I’m the first to say i’m no expert. Hell, my therapist would gladly tell you (were she not bound by HIPAA) i’m in a daily uphill slog against self-shaming. There’s no five-step plan that frees us for life from shame. It’s a systemic thing, shaming womyn for our sexuality (and you know, a million other things people of every gender are shamed for).

But the thing about systems is this: we’re all participants in the system, which means we all have the potential to disrupt the system’s power over us in our own narratives.

buy the book here!

best thing: flights home in less than 24 hours.

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

resources on shame, courage, and radical self-love: dr. brené brown’s TED talk & website,  audre lorde’s article “uses of the erotic,” wehappytrans* website.

*not a rhetorical question! how do you speak against shame? what barriers prevent you from speaking against shame?

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