It happened again. Ledcat and I ventured out to a local venue where we found ourselves donning the veil of discretion we know so intimately. The tacit agreement to not hold hands, not use endearments, not draw attention. It is a traveling closet that one uses when necessary. How on earth, you might ask, does a lesbian blogger willingly go back into the closet?
We were in Washington County as the Triple B Farms. A friend invited us to accompany her and her 7-year-old son. I noticed right away that he was one of the few children of color at the event. It was very white, very traditional family and very much exactly what we expect in this rural area. Washington County isn’t a hateful place, but it does lack non-discrimination protections. It was just a year ago that a City Councilor in Washington has used a gay slur.
But this was also something new. I am used to “passing” as a heterosexual women, but as I looked around at this crowd I felt something new – fear. I wondered exactly what would happen if children asked questions. Would there be a confrontation? There was no visible security so what would happen? After all, the owners of the property could eject us for being lesbians with no questions asked.
The event itself was fine, if not far too crowded for my taste. We toured a tired old exhibit of fairy tale characters with pumpkins. Some were cute, some were lame but it was sweet and we enjoyed discussing how the characters related to the show ‘Once Upon a Time.’ The pumpkins were plentiful as were the bales of hay. We opted not to purchase them because we were parked 1/2 mile away in a field. Ledcat and our friends went on a hayride which they enjoyed. The only really down side was the really long line for the food vendors and the fact that the only drink options were Pepsi and Mountain Dew.
The drive home along the Monongahela River was lovely. It was a sunny day with a slight wind and leaves just starting to turn. We spoke about my anxiety and how we don’t even need to speak out loud in the situation. Ledcat is a very small woman and careful about her personal safety. But I felt the tension leaving my body as we crossed the Elizabeth Bridge and closer to the City.
I’ve lived in rural communities so I wasn’t simply uncomfortable with the environment. But something I had learned was that acceptance on “their own” wasn’t the same thing as two city lesbians coming to their community, especially with a multiracial child. Ledcat confirmed my heightened vigilance. When we visit her mother in Mercer County, I don’t feel the same – with her – because Ledcat is one of them. But there’s a Sheetz along the way where we stop on the trip and I always feel a bit of an edge.
I am a little more afraid in these communities because the increasing rhetoric of intolerance hate guised as religious liberty taps into the general unease people feel and certainly taps into economic uncertainty. The right trots out simple country folk to tell their stories of woe over being forced to bake cake or sew dresses for gay men and lesbians.
And there’s nothing to protect us. We can be denied access to a gas station, a restaurant or a pumpkin patch. And I’m more likely to speak out in those spaces if I’m treated differently, but not a farm filled with hundreds of people who may not be friendly.
Being scared for your safety is not a pleasant experience. In addition to the fear, there is a sense of shame at letting them win. It reinforces my sense that I should just not visit those counties and spend my money unless they demonstrated value for us. Passing as heterosexual is not something to which I aspire, but I’m quite aware of the privilege doing so brings to me. How I use that privilege is part of the reason I’m writing this – I’m sure I’m not the only person who has this experience. And I can only imagine what it must be like be in my shoes, but be genderqueer or non-conforming in some other way.
I don’t think everyone in Washington, PA is hateful but that experience of sitting in a very traditional, family oriented venture that was about profit just left me feeling so vulnerable. And thinking back upon it proves useful. It helps me clear out the cobwebs.
Now to get a pumpkin …