Are you normal?

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.


6 thoughts on “Are you normal?

  1. The last paragraph of your post summarizes the dilemma well. Good intentions don’t always result in good outcomes. How can that be conveyed without also causing offence to the other person.


    • It depends how willing to learn they are, how invested in your good rather than their feeling good about themselves. I believe in her good will, but possibly she wants to gather us damaged ones under her wing, and care for us; and that could get stifling.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your hostess feels the need to explain to you, perhaps, some lack of joie de vivre in another of her friends. According to her, that’s fine, polite, even, though you haven’t a clue why, and don’t feel like asking, in a deep philosophical way – which, of course would be considered rude – ‘why do you feel the need to explain this to me? What about A’s behaviour needs explained?’

    It reminds me of the old saw, ‘What’s wrong with her / him?’ which, in the old days would just have been answered with ‘oh, he’s got CP’ or ‘She’s got MS….’ Nowadays it totally unacceptable to predicate your knowledge of someone you’ve never met on a prejudice offered to you by a third party.

    Your hostess meant well, but can’t be up to speed with modern preferences. If A burst into tears, I have no doubt you would be sympathetic anyway, and ask her what was wrong, and she would tell you. Otherwise, she deserves to be left alone with her private hell. 🙂

    I love visiting your blog, because you write so well – a relief.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Does he take sugar?”

      She seemed fine to me. It’s not just not explaining, it’s not criticising. It’s not only that it is not her fault, it is that it is not objectionable. Getting to know her I would discover her strengths.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Beyond the pale – we have to watch out for that now, don’t we? Or we shall be pussy footing around all sorts of people who say all kinds of stuff in the name of free speech, and who then object when we object. ‘I have a right to hate them, and you are oppressing me for not allowing me to hate them…..’ Freedom of speech depends on reason. xxx


    • Reason is in short supply. Oddly enough, I am just reading the cognitive scientist George Lakoff on conservative morality (including I have a right to hate them, moral hierarchies placing men above women, white people above Other Races, Humans above the rest of the biosphere) and why poor conservatives vote against their interests- because they are voting for their world-view and their self-image. I have just written my post on abandoning any shared idea of truth, and Lakoff tells me to abandon reason- in favour of metaphor and values and reframing.


Comments are closed.