Recovering Good, White, Church Lady

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A few weeks back a friend posted a photo of a woman in a Humans Of New York's post. The woman was quoted explaining that she worked 3 jobs and was putting two kids thru college. My immediate reaction was hero worship, but as I read thru comments the overall tone was one of pity, a few said they were 'exhausted for her'. The truth is, I would have had the same immediate reaction of pity in my former life.  I spent much of my time and energy working to maintain myself in a world as a 'good person' who does good & has it together & from that place, reaches in and helps out to those who are less fortunate. 

Maintaining the piety, the feeling of detachment, from those less than. If I really reached in and admitted to my own less than, I might not be on the inside of my community. I might lose my standing. So I maintained my status, till my status almost undid me. 

When we live in the reality of status, we are navigating an oppressive system of the insiders and outsiders, and who can really blame us for trying to stay on the inside. But it is this coming together and eradicating lines between us that frees us. Both internally, in relationships and family dynamics & in society in it's systems placed around us, maintaining fear and control.  

Women are an interesting thing, yes we are. We navigate a system designed to oppress us, sexism, but we actively play a role in that system.  I did so many things to maintain my own status, most of them have to do with my femme identity, a few have to do with my being queer, but all I internalized into a pretty complex act that will be all too familiar to those who I share identity with. 

  • good girl = non sexual

  • church lady = helping people who have 'need' = white saviorism

  • wife and mother role = playing the game of normativity

  • not sexy = not attractive to men = safe from male gaze

At the same church and in the same community where I had actively 'helped' so many, using my social power which I always felt I had cheated to gain' I was the same person, but suddenly I found myself on the 'outside'.

In shifting my status to... 

...a single mom, a lesbian (which meant I was a sexual person & that my sexuality (!!) was not for the male gaze). Owning mine and my families struggle with mental illness & the effects of trauma on my family by seeking medical & psychological help, decreasing my socio economical standing radically, and not participating in the polite white christian girl rituals any longer. 

Suddenly, I was the one in need of help. And once the role was reversed and I was the one in relationships with people who saw me as the less than & in need. Suddenly the lens of scrutiny was upon me & my children were seen in the same light. Not to be invited to birthday parties or play dates. I was seen as the one  in need and any hope for me was hope in reentry, if only working thru the hoops to place ourselves back on the inside. Most of the HELP offered was not in the form of relationship. It was in the form of a lot of suggestions on how I navigate myself back into the stability and comfort of polite, white,  hetero, christian, society. 

The problem was, I had seen everything from the outside now and I wanted nothing more to do with my internalized oppressions. If I could not be myself, and had to fake it to maintain my status, I was not free. I decided I would rather be on the outside and free. I started seeing the heroens all around me who dwelled outside the status quo & I realized the strength and bravery it took to exist in this space. I started hearing biblical narrative and seeing the people around me with the most radical new eyes.  

So what does one do if they want to do good in this world. 

Well, you can join me. 

If somebody like me does not exist in your world, is not allowed to be open in your church, is silenced and ridiculed for stepping outside. You need to step with them. 

Sitting in the seat and participating in the system that oppresses your siblings is a big part of the problem. There is no 'THEM' to fix this thing between us. Either you are with me or you are against me. And once you see that you are part of the problem, there is a world opened to you to be part of the solution. 

It might mean loosing your status in polite church culture. It might mean being free. 


God never used a good church lady. Jesus never raised up that narrative. God uses that woman scorned in society. The woman shamed. Not broken, shamed. I am not broken, and neither are you!

And, after years of work around this exact idea... I finally understand why. 

Maybe Jesus loved this woman because He Saw Her. Maybe she was deserving of love not despite her 'afflictions' because he did not consider her afflicted at all. 

Kathy McDougallComment