Friday, November 4, 2011

Queer Tribalism (1 Chronicles 7:13)

The line of Naphtali: Jahziel, Guni, Jezer, and Shallum; these were the descendants of Bilhag.
1 Chronicles 7:13

I have a unique claim with my ancestors – they arrived in North America thirteen years before the Pilgrims. The Popham Colony did not survive and so appears at best as a footnote in the annuals of New England history.

What captures my attention about Naphtali’s lineage is the lack of names – only five. The other tribes of Israel appear more robust in descendants. Obviously Naphtali was a minority in a larger society. I wonder if there was a temptation to skip over this tribe all together. Relegating it, like my ancestor’s colony, to the forgotten notes of history.

We who are queer know what it means to live in a tribe that is overlooked. Here the forgetting begins in the most intimate of personal settings – our families of birth. When I came out to my parents, my father – a minister in the denomination of my youth – made it clear that my name should be erased from any and all lists of ordained clergy.

We all cringe at the interjection “No kid of mine!” We know it means another daughter or son turned out and shut out from the family.

We too desire support and a place to belong. Not allowed to fill these needs in our family of birth we have forged our own connections and solidified our own communities. Along the way we created the phenomenal rainbow tribe known the world over as “queers.”

When solid history is written about the 20th century the greatest affirmation of the queer tribe will not be the Stonewall Riots or the liberation movements across Europe and Asia, as lofty as they are. The greatest affirmation will be the queer community’s response to AIDS.

True, we could have taken more responsibility to limit the spread of AIDS. Still as governments remained silent we looked to each other for love and dignity in death. We were not professional care givers, and were just as scared and confused as the straight population. Yet, we did not turn our backs in the time of need. The AIDS quilt – now so large as to ever be displayed in one venue again – remains a tenacious genealogy of people and personalities for us to recall and celebrate.

I give thanks to the Chronicler who resisted the temptation to skip over a small tribe. All who read the scriptures are reminded that once there was a son of Jacob named Naphtali. This son also had descendants who were part of a larger tribe known as the People of God. I look forward to the day when the same will be said of the Queer Tribe.

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