This morning, I woke up at 8 a.m. and started cleaning. My landlord wants to come by next week to check out the floors, as she’s aiming to replace the linoleum in the foyer, kitchen, bathroom and laundry room, so I figured I’d better give the place a thorough spring clean before she arrives. After spending two hours cleaning out the bathroom – during which time I cleaned out the closet and the cabinets, scrubbed down the shower, sink and toilet, and mopped the floor with a rag, I grabbed a quick shower and headed out to Target to grab a few household items.
As I pulled into a space in the parking lot, another car pulled up alongside me. I glanced over and recognized the driver – someone who belongs to the church I previously attended. I’ve had some not-so-pleasant experiences in the past three years with members of that church – after I decided to stop attending services and to relinquish my role as a Sunday School teacher, people formed their own opinions. My interactions with congregants in public places like the grocery store or the mall parking lot were often marked by hostility on their part. At a viewing for a former acquaintance I knew from the church, I watched a mother pull her daugher back by the collar as the daughter attempted to come talk to me. Only recently has the congregation decided to attempt to bring me back into the fold, as evidenced by the numerous cards I receive, advising me that I’m being prayed for regularly.
Because of these previous experiences, I decided to sit in the car for a minute and let this gentleman head in to the store before me.
I walked in to the store, grabbed a basket and set about collecting the items on my list. Nothing too shocking: deodorant, tin foil, sandwich bags, household cleaners. I turned a corner and came face-to-face with the congregant. The following conversation took place:
Him: Oh. Hi.
Him: How are you?
Rachel: I’m good. How are you?
Him: Fine. So. I hear you’re living in [name of town] now?
Rachel: Yeah, I live over by [identifiable landmark].
Him: Nice. I hear you’re shacking up with some girl, too.
Rachel: (a bit stunned) Uh, well. I don’t, uh, really think that’s something we, uh, need to talk about.
Him: Uh huh.
Him: Well, you know, I just don’t really think that’s a good example for Jacob.
Him: Right. [walks away]
Ok. So several things:
1. I’m not “shacking up” with anyone. I despise that phrase, and find it a rude and offensive way to belittle or trivialize a couple’s relationship. I have a partner who is intelligent and responsible, and we have a positive and fun relationship. I enjoy our life together, and to make a derogatory comment like that is to display an aim to take something away from our relationship.
2. Donna is not “some girl.” She is, as I’ve already indicated, intelligent and responsible. She’s talented, humorous and compassionate. She has an education, a job, a lack of major addictions (which is more than I can say for a lot of people), and a sincere desire to make other people laugh. She’s not some random chick I picked up in a bar, and decided to keep because it’s easier than being alone.
3. The examples I set for Jacob are not up for discussion by the public. When there is a question about what I am attempting to teach Jacob, I will discuss it with the appropriate parties: his father and, potentially, his grandparents, should it be warranted. I am comfortable with my life, and with the values I intend to teach Jacob. Donna’s behavior and presence, in all aspects, fall in line with what I want Jacob to learn in this life: compassion, patience, tolerance and acceptance. No one else’s measure of morality or ethics applies here; only mine. Jacob is happy and healthy in my home, and shows no signs of distress or confusion about our life when he is here.
4. I am prepared for rude and phobic behavior at some points. I know when I go to Pride in Philadelphia that RepentAmerica will be there, and I expect to be antagonized. I know when I head to the Gayborhood that there is a risk of running in to some troublemakers looking to ruin someone’s evening. I recognize that attending events or visiting locations like these is putting something of myself out there for judgment, and I’m ready for it. I know how to keep my temper in those situations, and I know how to disengage from a verbal confrontation. I’m prepared for what I might encounter, and I’m prepared to walk away.
I am never prepared, though, for this kind of behavior when I’m at a store, alone, doing some shopping. Nothing about that activity is public, political or offensive: I was simply purchasing some much needed household items, attempting not to disturb anyone else’s life. I was approached and antagonized for living my life in an inobtrusive fashion.
There are all kinds of explanations that come to mind about this situation. I have some theories and ideas which I see no need to enumerate here, and while they make sense, they don’t make me feel any better. The situation mostly makes me sad, and makes me realize that no matter what I do (or don’t do), someone will always be offended simply by the fact that I just exist.
What I have the most trouble understanding is how anyone feels they have the right to interfere when I have done everything I can to avoid interaction. It’s a question I don’t think I’ll ever get a satisfactory answer to. I suppose it has to do with a certain sense of entitlement that some people have.
And people wonder why I don’t go back to church.