Wednesday, October 29, 2014

When It's Always Safe

A few years ago now, I was out with friends on a Friday night. One of them, I had known for several years and love dearly. The other was her girlfriend. They also happen to be an interracial couple. By that point in my life, I didn't even think twice about their relationship. It worked for them so it worked for me; I was glad to have a friend from a previous life there in that unfamiliar midwestern city. As we walked along the city streets that night, a man veered off course and leaned far out of his car to yell at us. He drove away quickly. I hadn't been able to understand what he said. In all my naiveté, I looked at them said, "What was that all about?"

They knew. It was about them. That wasn't the first time they had been yelled at in that way. Interracial and same-sex couple were both problematic in different places.

A few years later, I've finally found a man with whom I've been on more than three dates. It's still new. It's still weird at times. We're still figuring out each other. (Seriously, he doesn't like watermelon or  cheesecake. Who doesn't like watermelon or cheesecake? These things are the nectar of the gods!) But it's always safe. I've been weirdly conscious of that lately for all sorts of reasons, at least in part because of stories like that night years ago. Actually, people are nice to us for no reason than the fact we're on a date.

We get smiles and jokes from waiters when we have a three hour dinner on a slow evening. Those same waiters assume we're on one check. No one looks at us strangely when we're walking down a street together. In fact, cultural norms say that I'm safer when walking down a dark street with him than I would be by myself or with another woman. PDA is totally acceptable, even though we're not PDA people so that's mostly irrelevant. Everywhere, anywhere we go, it's safe for us to be together.

We're safe because we're heterosexual, cisgendered people. We're safe because we're both Anglo at a "Please give me some sunscreen" level. We're safe because we embody what is "normal." We're what this society has always privileged. There's something decidedly eerie about that fact. Maybe unsettling is a more accurate word.

Now, a few days after same-sex marriage has been legal in the state where I live and work, that privilege is even more unsettling. Ministers willing to perform same-sex weddings the day the ruling came were asked to be in pairs for safety. I was not among those performing weddings because of a funeral, but I have heard of the tears, and the joy, and the incredulity. I started this particular post weeks ago, unsure of how to end it.

Now I know: we're closer to the reign of God than we were a few days ago. Of that I am certain. Still, I long for the day when safety isn't a privilege for people who just happen to be walking down a street.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Drive Along the Border

I've lived in Arizona well over a year, but it took a trip to San Diego to actually see the United States-Mexico border. When I looked at the route my phone told me to take, I knew I'd drive along the border for a few miles. I was excited to at least look into Mexico, especially since I've been cautioned not to drive into Mexico and my expired passport means I won't even be walking into Mexico.

And I did, indeed, get to at least look into Mexico. The memories of those few miles of road make me wince. You see, when I started looking for the border fence I've heard so much about, I wasn't quite sure what I was looking for. So there was this not too intimidating fence that I drove by and wondered, "Is that it?" I should have known that if you have to ask, no that's not it. For when I saw the looming border fence, there was no doubt that was it. It rose dark on the horizon. In a different landscape, it would look quite large. Open desert tends to dwarf things and throw off perception, especially for people like me who have mostly lived in other places. Still, the border fence rose out of the ground, twisting and turning, snaking its way across the desert.

Rationally, I knew that the landscape on either side of the fence would look mostly the same. Still, I found myself a bit surprised that the dunes to the left and to the right of the road looked the same, as did the distant mountains on either side. In between, there was only this winding, snaking fence--more shadow than anything as the road moved me farther from it. Without it, there's no way I could have drawn a line in the sand between the U.S. and Mexico.

On the way to San Diego, it seemed I followed the fence for miles and miles. On the way back, it seemed so short a distance. I can't say which perception is truer. By the time I was driving near the border fence headed back to Phoenix, I'd come to recognize the white and green vehicles of border patrol. Some were sedans, some vans, some SUVs, some trucks, but all with the same distinct markings. I didn't worry about my speed so much around those vehicles, which were far more numerous than any regular law enforcement vehicle.

I learned to recognize those vehicles when I went through a border patrol checkpoint. It was clearly designed to be mobile, or at least moveable, which I imagine happens with some regularity. All the traffic on that stretch of I-8 was funneled into a single point by concrete barriers normally used for construction. A construction site style trailer sat to one side. Border patrol vehicles were everywhere. I sat there, behind maybe half a dozen vehicles in line. Six cameras were pointed at me before I reached the officers. One of the officers had a dog. Another officer held a flashlight. I think there were more officers standing there, but those are the two I remember. I rolled down my window because that seemed the most logical thing to do. The officer barely glanced at me before he said, "Thank you, ma'am." As I drove away, I wondered if it was the color of my skin that meant I was waved away so freely. My old pickup truck has caused suspicion at other times since moving to Arizona, but that suspicion always wanes quickly. I'd bet a great deal of money that happens because my skin is light.

And still I wince at the entire experience. My stomach feels a little strange when I think about the fence and the checkpoint. I can't put my finger on why those things happen. I know I'm bothered by such visible symbols of a fear of people other than us. I know I'm bothered by the Christian failure to welcome the immigrant. I know the feeling of military presence--even if that's not what it should be or is called--is unnerving to me. For once, my mostly dormant patriotism rises from its sleep, certain that we've somehow traded freedom for an illusion of security. I know that I'd rather any government spend money on schools than guns.

The best summary of what I know: we're getting it wrong. Our resources--money, time, energy--are being spent in ways that don't fix our problems. We're getting it wrong. There has to be a better way to live together than what we're doing now.