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finding hope in being human, or when tokens rebel

Everything

finding hope in being human, or when tokens rebel

Courtney Bither

by Courtney Bither

I pride myself on my ability to remain calm under pressure. I’m generally a fairly quiet, composed person.

But some things really get me.

About a month ago I found myself lacking composure in my workplace. Fuming and crying, I sat in my office exasperated and said, “I am a real human being with feelings.”


I wonder if everyone feels the need to declare themselves a human.

I feel the need because I am treated like a token. Being treated like a token is not fun. Because a token is an object. And the people who have tokens normally get to decide what their tokens are for.

My job as a token is to validate the people who objectify me. It lets people off the hook so that the system can keep going comfortably.

This is interesting and confusing. While I have very little power in this system, I am not without importance. My validation makes me important to my department and to my major and to certain people who want to be feminist.  I may not be valued as a whole person, but I do have value.


As long as you follow the rules, there’s a strange sense of security that comes with being a token. I am certain to be well-liked because I am providing necessary validation to people.

My problem is that I’m actually a person. And I don’t always believe in validating the things that happen around me.

This is scary.

This is scary because I find myself wondering if I really understand my reality. Because when enough people fight you for asserting your humanity, maybe you start to believe you aren’t a human after all.

But I am not a good token. I have feelings and thoughts and sometimes I even express those publicly.  I choose to speak. Maybe into the void. But I don’t want to be silent.


Many religious institutions silence people in order to keep peace.

My university and my church and my denomination are not exempt from this. Women and people of color and the LGBTQ+ community are gagged in order to keep the peace.

I guess the price to a seat at the table is our life and livelihood.

But there is no justice when marginalized people are silenced.

There is no justice when individuals are forced to keep the secrets of institutions or when individuals are kept secret by institutions.

This is not peace.

How can we be Christian when we fail to name and reject racism, patriarchy, and heterosexism?


Don’t point out that there are no women on your reading list.
Don’t point out that there are no people of color on your reading list.
Don’t point out the terrifyingly explicit acceptance of rape in the text book.
Don’t point out problematic portrayals of women in the Bible.
Don’t expect your professors or peers or colleagues to make gender, sexuality, or race a real priority in their realm of influence.
Don’t challenge your staff on what “diversity” really means.
Don’t call out your church for being racist and exclusive and white.
Don’t argue with pastors or professors.
Don’t call out your professors for making jokes about slavery.
Don’t call out your professors for making jokes about pregnant women.
Don’t call out your professors and pastors for remaining silent on LGBTQ+ inclusion.
But stand up for yourself.
But be a female presence.
And talk about rape. Be a resource.
But don’t talk about rape culture.
And there isn’t time to talk about gender.
But it’s your job to talk about gender.
And if you don’t feel safe in this program, then don’t be in this program.
And explain yourself. The burden of proof is 100% on you. Make your story fit into our lives. Make your life palatable for us.
Engage.
But don’t criticize.

Work for our institution, rock the boat, fight for injustice.
Don’t do any of these things if you see injustice in our institution. If you do, you are wrong. You’re too angry, too broken, too bitter, too revolutionary.
Love your institution as a family.
Ignore power dynamics in families.

Don’t be poor. Don’t be LGBTQ+. Don’t be woman.  Don’t be a person of color.  Don’t challenge our heterosexual, patriarchal, white narrative.  Don’t be anything other than what we tell you to be. (White, straight, cis, male, middle-class, evangelical, able-bodied.)
Be known. And we are holding you in the light.


It is not my job to be silent for the sake of cheap peace. Or for the comfort of people in power.

I’m sick and tired from being silenced and from watching my friends be silenced so that the narrative of institutions and empire and power can continue without complication. Fit our stories into the “Be known” promise and into the narrative of “trying” and “justice.”

Because I don’t feel known or included by the institutions in my community. I am only allowed to be heard in secret meetings and behind closed doors and in whispered conversations. I feel known in ways that communicate to me that I am not supposed to be known or heard or seen. My story is too dark or too complicated or too angry to be valid. My body precludes me from being listened to and respected. And my body is privileged. I am white and able-bodied.  Because of this, I am afforded more respect and safety than others.

Many people hear the message that they don’t belong.

Some people hear it because of the bodies they were born with.


Right now I hear people with power telling me they are FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE while they are communicating to me and others to SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN BECAUSE I AM SAFE.

I wish everyone could see that we don’t get to declare ourselves safe. Other people do. Marginalized people do. Hurting people do.

I dearly love individuals in my community. I hope that these individuals love me back enough to sit with my experience.

Even when it calls into question the ways they have contributed to my pain and to the pain of others. Even if they have done so unintentionally.

I hope these individuals are willing to hear me plead: do better. Listen.


Justice is costly. I am tired of marginalized people always paying the price for change. Maybe it’s time some people with power and status paid part of the price.


But for now, I’m stuck here.

So here we go again. Another day. Another confusing, complicated day.

I am stumbling along, discovering my humanity and my voice. It is hard. It hurts. I am breaking the “good token” rules and asking for things that I’ve been taught I don’t deserve. Like respect. And space.

I am finally, finally, finally learning that love exists even for people like me.  And that I shouldn’t feel the need to write “even.” Because I am a human with feelings. There is love and grace and community for people who demand their autonomy and then feel guilty for asking for it. There is love on this messy, terrible, wonderful journey. And hope.

Maybe the hope is in the speaking out. In the things that remind myself and others that I am a person.

Maybe hope is found in love. Love of self. And others.

Maybe hope is found in the tavern with a beer.

Or in making a meal. And eating it.

In feeling things because you’re allowed to feel things.

Or in writing.

Hope is definitely found in laughing. And crying.

Being human – truly, fully, beautifully human – is really hard.

Hope helps.


“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” – Maya Angelou