It was many years ago now, but I went to a meeting in Asheville where they were talking about creating an LGBT community center.
I like good meetings because I like good process. I give good meeting, facilitating expression and creating consensus without dull, earnest gimmicks from the manual.
I saw the direction of this meeting and so I asked to speak.
“Raise your hand if you think it would be nice to have a community center here,” I asked.
Most people raised their hand. It would be nice to have such a facility, all agreed.
“Raise your hand if you think having a community center is a top priority that you would be willing to put other priorities aside to work on.”
No one raised their hand. It might be nice to have a community center, but no one really had the passion to lead the drive to make it happen. At that moment, everyone in the meeting knew that the time we spent together was just blowing bubbles.
There is no staff in the queer community. We can’t just tell someone to make it happen, not unless we also give them the resources they need, in money & attention.
What we will do is what you will do and what I will do. Unless one of us leads, it won’t happen.
The biggest problem with building community functions in Smallbany (and community functions are what create community), as the “Uniting As Allies” work shop revealed so long ago, is the lack of leadership, which follows directly from the lack of support for leaders. This is a state-government based town where entrepreneurial spirit is not at the fore, and so the natural enthusiasm and encouragement doesn’t happen here so much. (This is not new — Albany audiences were known for “sitting on their hands” since the 1800s)
It is almost impossible for those who don’t lead to encourage others who do, because those others have not yet embraced the leadership & power that they hold inside, and that rejection is often focused on others. As long as we think it’s someone else’s job to be the parent, the one who gets the functions of community done, we will expect others to satisfy us, and, like a child, kick at them when they do not, rather than taking responsibility for our needs, and for leadership in the community.
Leadership is service, and service to those who do not honor their own obligation to service is eventually a wearing and exhausting act.
As any parent will tell you, working with and for others is challenging, because others come with their own worldview and their own desires.
Around transgender, I have seen lots of people create self-selecting social clubs and call that community. Those clubs are created around shared desires & belief structures, and those who might challenge the structures are shown the door.
What all these self-selecting clubs do is erase the needs, concerns and challenges of people who aren’t like them. When the leaders of these forums then hold their little whatevers up as a shining example of community that we should all follow, well, that rankles.
Healthy communities use diversity to create strength rather than purging it to create enclaves.
So these are the questions I would ask at any meeting where people claim to want community:
— Are you ready to face challenges to your desires & belief structures in order to create community?
— Are you ready to serve the community with your own leadership?
— Are you ready to affirm and encourage the leadership role of others, even if they don’t do things as you would do them?
— Are you ready to do your work of creating community functions, rather than just complaining that no one agrees with you and no one is doing what you believe should be done?
Leadership is service. And, as many of those who have tried to lead in the “transgender community” have found, unless leadership is valued, creating shared functions is impossible.
Community happens when we set aside pain and ego to create shared functions.
In a population of people who are claiming the ego right to be an individual, and who have been pounded with pain into the closet, that setting aside pain and ego is often impossible.