“Who are you?”
She asked- looking at us all. The question was one of the bullet points in the list she had been writing on the white board as people filled in and sat. Now she asked it directly. When the room stared at her, lack of verbal response punctuated by a few nervous chuckles, she asked again. And again.
I was a visitor. Let them answer their own speaker.
The shape of the sound of her words was a little strange to me. She asked people to repeat themselves if they were looking away from her when they spoke. When the meeting began, the organizer had introduced her.
“She’s deaf” the organizer added.
She said hello to every one and then indicated the organizer.
“You never tell people that about someone. It’s rude.” she looked around at us. “That’s for me to tell.”
Outing is on my mind a lot. Being outed by someone else- in certain situations- was a fear that crawled around the floor of my mind. So- that made- sense-
I sat up a little, interested.
A little later, the lady sitting next to me referenced the organizer’s introduction and the speaker’s response.
“I appreciate that you stood up for deaf culture-” she explained.
The situations I don’t give out information about myself have nothing to do with LGBT culture. They have to do with my personal fear of the human capacity for cruelty and my personal desire to not be it’s object.
The church flyer had said this was a talk on how to “create inclusive partnerships”. The description turned out to have been ambiguously worded. Buzzwords- our theology of wholeness- oblige- values- our congregation allows full participation- I had come expecting to sit and listen as someone explained what the church thought. It billed itself as the most progressive church in town.
At the very end of the talk, it was mentioned that this was not an action committee on inclusion. The speaker expressed surprise. She had been under the impression that it was. She moved on from that discovery and continued grilling the people who had wandered in at the beginning- how would they create change? what steps were needed? who did they need to talk to in the organization and how would it be carried out. She carried them through. There were actually steps possible. A national organization had given them a list. They could petition the board. They could do a lot more, they realized, then they had thought they could.
After “Who are you?” the next item on the list was “Who are they?”
Meaning the people who walk into that church building.
“We know that they’re people seeking something!” suggested the lady next to me.
I’d spent most of my life- adult and otherwise- visiting churches. To prove they didn’t have anything for me or to make sure that the thing I was looking for wasn’t there. Sometimes I had been seeking something from them. Usually not.
“Would you know that without asking them?” I finally made an interjection.
“I mean, why else would you drag yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning, get dressed, and make the trip to church?”
A little more surreal.
“So- you wouldn’t go to church except for that reason?”
More possibilities were suggested. ‘They’ were this. ‘They’ were that.
The lady sitting next to me was my new favorite enemy. A woman with disordered grammar came in and sat down by us. She had come up to me after the service and started talking about the government and incriminating papers that had been hidden and people thrown out of helicopters.
The lady plucked a paper plate off the top of the stack and slapped it down in front of the woman, face plastered with a curling smile. Her canines were showing. She shoved a bowl of grapes at us.
She made another suggestion to the speaker.
“They aren’t allergic to white people!” She nodded, smiling widely at the only person of color in the room. One of two persons of color I had seen in the entire church.
Because if you’re uncomfortable here, it’s your problem- not ours. And not a social or emotional problem either. It’s probably some kind of weird medical condition relating to your body.
“They aren’t bothered by being in a room full of white faces.” she clarified.
Because she isn’t racist. People who object to being around her object because they’re racist.
The talk went on.
Near the end, the speaker stopped suddenly.
“Who am I?” she asked us. There were almost tears in her eyes.
She handed out orange printouts. Lists of phrases. Person who uses a wheelchair. Person with deafness. Person with hemiplegia. Not crippled. Not afflicted. Not normal. Not abnormal.
“You need to hear the language you are using.”
“Who am I?”
“I am a person. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am Jewish. I am a rabbi. I enjoy cooking. I love horses”
One of the ‘normal’ people leaned over and whispered to the person next to her.
“What did she say?”
“She loves horses.”
“I am deaf.”
The room was quiet.
“Do you understand?”
“I do not have a hearing problem. I can’t hear. It is not a problem.”
“What you are able to do for others depends on who you are.”
“Who are you?”