Just When I Thought I Was Finally Safe…

Anonymous
Note: In consultation with the author, we unanimously decided not to publish her name in order to protect her safety and identity.

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This morning, I made my usual trek up to the mailbox and noticed a hand-addressed envelope. I was curious to see who had written to me, so I quickly opened the small envelope. Inside were two pamphlets, one titled “The Real Story of Christmas” and the other, “Sin City.” The first pamphlet quoted scripture and invited the reader to use a simple prayer if they were ready to receive “the Christ of Christmas as your Saviour.” The second pamphlet had a more sinister message depicted in comic-book fashion. “Christians are being overrun and targeted by homosexuals for hate crimes. They are perverting the word of god and are ruining the lives of many young people by enticing them into the gay lifestyle.” On the back of this pamphlet the sender wrote,

GHG image

This message was wake-up call that my relatively new home in the Appalachian Mountains might be even more dangerous than my last in the Midwest.
Although I find the word distasteful, I am lesbian and have been careful not to disclose my sexual orientation in my new community. They do not know me or how I lived in denial of my own homosexual orientation for many years. I tried in earnest to not be gay, only to live feeling deeply repressed and knowing that I suppressed a most joyous part of myself. Coming out for me was the most transformative experience of my life, an experience of liberation that I would not deny anyone, gay or straight.

Although I accept who I am and have no personal reservations about disclosing my sexual orientation, I learned in the last community where I lived in that it would place me at risk. As university faculty, I felt it was important to be a role model for students who are gay by openly sharing my background. I quickly discovered that most faculty in the social work department, all of whom were heterosexual, avoided any interactions with me during the three years I taught there. During my last year, several vocal students interpreted everything I said through a homophobic lens and spread ugly, untrue rumors about me. Only one colleague was supportive. I learned that although I am comfortable with who I am, others might not be.

In my new community, I have kept to myself. Only my colleagues at my new university know my sexual orientation because it is the focus of my research and writing. I rented a little log cabin nestled against a forest some distance from campus. It is a beautiful and serene little place where I enjoy being out in the woods, meditating and gardening. My dog and cat enjoy the freedom of living away from the confines of city life and provide me with many hours of love and entertainment.

My first two winters here were financially challenging. I couldn’t afford to run up high energy bills, so I had to rely on a wood stove for heat. Getting enough firewood those first years was a challenge, but my landlord connected me with a resource, the local wood ministry. I would go on a Saturday and work all day splitting wood with other members of the community, as well as young men out on work duty from the local jail. Although distant (which seems to be a normal reaction to outsiders or folks not from the south), everyone treated me respectfully. And after a day of hard work, they would bring out a load of cut firewood for me to use to heat my cabin.

Last year the wood ministry provided such a needed service to people in the community that they ran short of wood. Consequently, I asked my landlord if it would be all right for the ministry to come and use wood from the property that had been cut down by the power company, clearing a path under the power lines. This year, the week before Christmas, I was surprised by my neighbor, who stopped in to tell me that the wood ministry had sent him out to begin cutting and splitting up the huge pile of logs. The next day, more men from the ministry showed up and deftly cut up the logs, hauling them off to benefit the community.

Although I do not know for sure the originator of my hateful mail, I cannot help but wonder if it has come from the few people I have interacted with most recently, perhaps a neighbor or someone involved with the wood ministry. During the 2-1/2 years I have been living in my little cabin, I have been minding my own business, keeping mostly to myself, and conscientiously supporting local business. I felt that I was at last starting to meet my neighbors, only to then receive such a hurtful message in the mail.

On another level, I am disturbed that my own personal space can be penetrated so easily by a hand-addressed letter. Although I am careful about my personal information, I am not a hermit, nor do I harbor paranoid inclinations that everyone is out to get me. But I am careful and understand that not everyone needs or wants to know I am gay, or that it even matters.

It is distressing to think that because I am a self-sufficient and independent female living alone that a stranger would make the assumption that I am, or choose to be, lesbian—or, to them, a deviant, perverted homosexual. And I wonder why anyone would feel inclined to send a so-called religious message steeped in intolerance and bigotry.

My first inclination was to throw the letter away and not give it anymore of my time or energy. And yet, I do not want to feel alone in this. I want others to know that this is happening. And so I choose to speak out.

Bigotry and intolerance need to end. They thrive under a cloak of secrecy and darkness. I am sharing my story to let others know how important it is to look beyond the superficial differences that separate us.

 

Copyright Notice: © Carol A. Hand, Cheryl A. Bates, and carolahand, 2013-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carol A. Hand, Cheryl A. Bates, and carolahand with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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About Carol A. Hand

What matters are not the titles I’ve held or university degrees I earned or the size of a house or bank account. It’s really what I’ve learned from ordinary people like me whom I’ve met along the way. They taught me to live with gratitude and give thanks for each new day.
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11 Responses to Just When I Thought I Was Finally Safe…

  1. nicciattfield says:

    This is really sad! In Cape Town, there is the pink triangle project who offer up support and assistance regarding gay rights. Do you know if there is anywhere to support the writer? Pierre de Vos at UCT has a blog around constitutional law and has spoken of law and gay identities, but I think SA law is different. I wonder if one of the US lawyers could assist?

    Identity threat is so unfair isn’t it?

    Like

    • Carol Hand says:

      Thank you for your suggestions, Nicci. The author has asked me to post her reply. “In the buckle of the bible-belt, homophobia is especially dangerous. Resorting to violence is not the answer for me as a response to hate, and attempting to create a protective spiritual bubble around myself has only led me to believe that I will be safe from harm if I remain kind, accepting, and hopeful. In my professional life, I do what I can to support other gay people and am collaborating with colleagues to build a network of heterosexual allies through the development of SAFE Zone Training on the university campus. Yet in my personal life, I now face difficult decisions because of others’ intolerance. Do I remain where I am in an environment that nurtured me with its freedom, serenity, and beauty, but now feels unsafe? Or do I move to the “gay” neighborhood of the city surrounded by allies but also surrounded with the noise, pollution, and chaos of city life? This is still the lived reality for gay people despite important gains in marriage equality.”

      Like

  2. She should create a physical and spiritual cone of protection around herself because if a person can take time to write out threatening letters, they may go further. And the suggestions above are good too.

    Like

    • Carol Hand says:

      Thank you for your suggestions, Skywalker Storyteller. The author has asked me to post her reply. “In the buckle of the bible-belt, homophobia is especially dangerous. Resorting to violence is not the answer for me as a response to hate, and attempting to create a protective spiritual bubble around myself has only led me to believe that I will be safe from harm if I remain kind, accepting, and hopeful. In my professional life, I do what I can to support other gay people and am collaborating with colleagues to build a network of heterosexual allies through the development of SAFE Zone Training on the university campus. Yet in my personal life, I now face difficult decisions because of others’ intolerance. Do I remain where I am in an environment that nurtured me with its freedom, serenity, and beauty, but now feels unsafe? Or do I move to the “gay” neighborhood of the city surrounded by allies but also surrounded with the noise, pollution, and chaos of city life? This is still the lived reality for gay people despite important gains in marriage equality.”

      Like

  3. tubularsock says:

    That is scary. It would be difficult for me under those circumstances not to be a bit paranoid but more often than not, Tubularsock has found, that in the woods most people believe in live and let live.

    This may be just an idle scare tactic or even a person with these beliefs who will put action behind these words. The fact that you are minding your own business seems to lead to the idea that whoever is doing it are assuming and doesn’t know. If that is the case then any further action on their part may not occur.

    But for me, just in case, I’d get myself a gun and learn how to use it. It can’t hurt if you don’t use it but having one and having the knowledge to use it properly could come in handy.

    In rural areas it is common to own a firearm and I’m not a big promoter of them but under these circumstances I’d feel more comfortable with one than without one.

    If you are going to live in the woods, be prepared.

    Now excuse me for trying to “solve” your problems. You have to do what you do in your way and I respect that. My suggestion is one step that I would take.

    I prefer understanding and cooperation but that doesn’t mean I always get it.

    I wish you well.

    Like

    • Carol Hand says:

      Thank you for your suggestions, tubularsock. The author has asked me to post her reply. “In the buckle of the bible-belt, homophobia is especially dangerous. Resorting to violence is not the answer for me as a response to hate, and attempting to create a protective spiritual bubble around myself has only led me to believe that I will be safe from harm if I remain kind, accepting, and hopeful. In my professional life, I do what I can to support other gay people and am collaborating with colleagues to build a network of heterosexual allies through the development of SAFE Zone Training on the university campus. Yet in my personal life, I now face difficult decisions because of others’ intolerance. Do I remain where I am in an environment that nurtured me with its freedom, serenity, and beauty, but now feels unsafe? Or do I move to the “gay” neighborhood of the city surrounded by allies but also surrounded with the noise, pollution, and chaos of city life? This is still the lived reality for gay people despite important gains in marriage equality.”

      Like

      • tubularsock says:

        Ok. Tubularsock suggested the easier way but I see you have a belief structure that will only allow you to proceed in a more positive possible way.

        Well, Tubularsock has had plenty of experience with the non-violent path as well but only in the urban setting.

        I to, for different reasons, have run up against the right wing fundamentalist Christian mind set and had to deal with the possible threat. It’s scary because it’s an unknown.

        In both my encounters with the note in my mail box I continued with my life and did not get scared off. Most of the time people that are doing this don’t do anymore than harass.

        In your area it may be different but here in Oakland, CA this tactic seems to pass without incident. Not that two incidents are any major cross section to make wholesale assumptions but it seems that the “warnings” don’t go anywhere.

        For me, I’d stay put and live my life and see what happens next. But do please be careful.

        Stay safe and good luck.

        Like

  4. Neil says:

    Reblogged this on Take A Stand.

    Like

  5. Pingback: Just When I Thought I Was Finally Safe… | in search of school that can change the world

  6. cthebean says:

    letting others know is a very good first step. sometimes it is enough. be safe.
    in solidarity!

    Like

  7. cthebean says:

    and I re blogged this to strengthen the bubble

    Like

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