I went to the local church today. I was warmly welcomed. A woman invited me to have coffee with the congregation after, introduced me to others, and I was still chatting forty minutes later. She is a lovely person. She told me how much she loved the church, how she started going there, the social events it has, and I told her a little of my church journey. I could enjoy going there. It is a community, and I could be part of that community.
The hall has an internal door from the church, and we sat at a table. A couple and a single woman joined us, and my first host introduced them. She interrupted our conversation for brief chats about church business, and I turned to A., sitting on my right.
What can I say about A? I have seen her on the road to the town. Once I was pushing my bicycle, and we chatted a little about cycling locally. I have said “hello” to her since. Now, she seemed to be looked after by the others. How has her week been? they ask, solicitously. “You were going to see a friend.” A, talking to me, seems not nervous but watchful. How is it to be with a crowd of strangers, she asks me. Oh, lovely, I say. New people! I am Extrovert! She speaks simply and slowly, and it seems possible to me she has reclusive, possibly depressive, tendencies like I have.
The new baby- just a week old!- is brought over. We look delightedly at her, and the mother offers her to A to hold. A is nervous of this, but is persuaded. People take photographs- A must be smiling at the camera. Oh, you moved your head again. Possibly, looking down lovingly at the baby would do. The third picture satisfies my hostess- third time lucky, she says.
My hostess feels the need to explain A to me. She leans over, drops her voice in a confiding way, and says, “A’s twin died last year.” Oh. There is nothing to say to that. I don’t ask if the twins were monozygotic, or whether it was a month or a year ago. I could be insulted for A, or for myself. My hostess feels A is a person for whom we must make allowances. Do you think I did not see something about A that would result in my being confused or offended by her manner? Did you sense any discomfort in me, talking to her, or project your own?
I would hate to be explained in that way. “She’s trans, you know.” I was going to write it might be just about bearable if the person who was explaining me was rebuking the person being explained to- ‘How could you say such a crass, offensive thing? Can’t you see she’s trans?’ But even then it is patronising. Don’t say offensive things to anyone. Don’t protect me from knowing how offensive some people are, defend me against their offensiveness.
And yet I can see that my hostess is a lovely person. Absolutely she means well.