Finding the Right Ambassador

PaganAuth2By Tanya Mara - June 22, 2009

Who speaks for us? Well, since the greater "us" is made up of innumerable smaller identity groups, this is a tough question to answer. Unless the answer is me.  I am not just a Pagan, a lesbian, a woman, an environmentalist, a vegetarian, or any of the many labels that other people use to help classify and understand me. So when someone in the media or in the public spectrum starts speaking, ostensibly, for me, I usually cringe or yell or blush. (Yes, I still blush.) Occasionally I cheer them on. But in that moment, what I realize most is how important it is to use my own voice if I hope for truthful representation.

I cringe when some people speak for me because often those who speak out are so narrowly focused. They see the world in black and white, with absolutes insinuating that their issue is the most important, at the expense of all others. This one piece of their identity trumps all the others in their makeup, and so it is not only the speakers who are lost, but the rest of us for whom they are speaking.  It is these representatives who turn us into one-dimensional caricatures in the public eye.

I yell when others purport to speak for me because at times they use this piece of my identity to further an opposing agenda. A fringe that stands for so much of what I defy with my lifestyle and my dollars articulates all too well how differently they approach the world. And they use my name.

I blush for reasons that are more intimate and personal, so I'll move right on to the rare occasion that finds me cheering along beside my radio, a podcast, a podium, or TV. Sometimes someone gets just enough right that I can actually hear my own words or thoughts I've yet to compose as they are presented to a wider audience. I know that I am not a fantastically original thinker, so I shouldn't be too surprised by this phenomena, but when the message is delivered by the right ambassador, I can be stunned out of my silence.

And that's when I appreciate the significance of speaking for us. When I speak, I get to speak for queer Pagan women who compost, don't eat meat, speak some Spanish, compete in triathlons, and volunteer for the local bike patrol. Who else could I expect to do that for me?

Tanya Mara is a vegetarian triathlete, ice cream truck driver, proofreader, mental health counselor, special education teacher, and professional knitter. Educated and grown in Massachusetts, Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco. Currently marinating in the heartland.