It was the beginning of August. I was getting ready for my first day back at the job after a week off. I'd been dreading the commute as it would involve driving around throngs of anti-gay customers dutifully swarming the Chik Fil A adjacent to my workplace. The national boycott had been in effect for a few days, but the counter protest was undoubtedly far stronger and very much alive here in Chattanooga. At least I knew what to expect.
What greeted me on Facebook that morning was more startling. My coworker - a very sweet, deeply religious woman who rarely posts updates - had been tagged in a photo. She was not actually in the picture. Rather, it was a shot of her husband, seated behind the wheel of a convertible, sinking his teeth into a chicken sandwich. The caption read, "Forty minute wait for Chik Fil A - don't mind if I do." There were two comments -
"traditional marriage, yay"
I felt nauseous. My heart raced. I began writing a comment, then erased it. Ultimately, I said nothing but quietly unfriended his wife. I didn't know to what extent his photo reflected her views, but that wasn't the point. I just didn't want any more of this ugliness thrown in my face.
Yet I'd already been exposed. His photo haunted me throughout my shift. Sure, I could do my job, assist customers and engage in banter, but it was always at the back of my mind. I would think about my gay family and pals. I would consider my coworker's lengthy friends list and wonder what portion of that group represented the LGBT community - at 10% that would be 150 people, maybe 200?
I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind that evening so I could be festive and fun for my manager's going away party. Oddly, it didn't occur to me that I might run into my former Facebook friend until she walked through the door. And there was her husband. She introduced him to me. I could barely muster a "hello". After their arrival, I was so out of sorts that I couldn't conduct a normal conversation. It was a perfectly awful end to a grim day.
I've been carrying a piece of that bitterness inside me for over three months. I think of it as shrapnel, those icky memories leftover from some acquaintance's bigot bomb. When I've witnessed such explosions on Facebook, my response has generally been the same as it was in that situation - unfriend, hide, try to ignore. The problem with that approach is that even after I passively eradicate that person's vitriol from my sphere, I'm still stuck with the shrapnel. All these shards of disappointment and sorrow build up until I get super bummed and I have to wonder, when did their intolerance become my problem?
I have a new approach. When someone says something ignorant or hateful, I call them out on it. I don't do this because I expect to change that person's mind. I do it because it makes me feel better. So far, this strategy is working very well. At first I thought it would be really tough because I'm so non-confrontational, but the result always trumps the initial discomfort. For example, while attending a recent party I argued with a young man who claimed that elderly people can't be held accountable for using the n-word because they "don't know any better". All I said was that plenty of older people manage to not spew epithets and therefore age is no excuse. Wow, was he offended. He expressed his antipathy in bizarre, passive aggressive ways, like bumping into me and taking the cheese platter I'd been grazing and licking it clean. So, that was weird. But I didn't have any trouble falling asleep that night. No shrapnel.
I wish I'd confronted my coworker's husband. I would like him to know that he ruined my day and that his presence upsets me. In lieu of that, I'm blogging about it. Sharing this unhappy tale, which involves a person I know and frequently see, is definitely a breech of my personal code of online conduct. No doubt this could get back to my coworker and her spouse. And while I don't particularly wish for that to happen, I don't really care if it does. His prejudice is his problem, not mine. All I know is that telling my story makes me feel better. What a relief to finally get that splinter out of my skin.