If She Had Been A Man
I was thinking yesterday about how things would have been different had the woman who attacked me at church been a man.
Had he caught me off guard shortly after we met, and forced me into a long, aggressive, and uncomfortable hug and had to be told not to hug me (or try to hug my kids) again.
Had he tried to interject himself into a separate situation involving me and had an angry, profane outburst when I told him that it wasn’t his concern.
Had he stalked me around the church for months after that, always seeming to know where I was, huffing past me, muttering, and “accidentally” bumping hard into me or my husband when he brushed past either of us.
Had he been the reason I wouldn’t go to the bathroom alone or let my kids out of my sight at church.
Had it been a man who made me feel like I had to look over my shoulder everywhere I went and keep myself visible at all times to people who knew what going on.
Had it been a man who came at me looking ready to attack, hand raised and screaming profanities in the church foyer.
Had my husband had to put himself in front of me because a man was coming at his wife. (And thank God my husband happened to be coming to check on me at the exact moment this person went off on me.)
Had it been a man who needed half a dozen people to keep him from getting near me, remove him from the building, and prevent him from coming back in, all while he screamed horrendous profanities, threats, and accusations at me (and Glenn by the end).
“But did she hurt you or did she just yell at you?” I was asked later that day.
What a ridiculous question, but it’s the one that made me see the situation for what it is. Abuse.
I have struggled with wondering how I could have handled everything differently. As a leader, as a pastor’s wife, as a mother, and as a Christian woman. It never should have gotten that bad and as I usually want to grow from experiences just in general, I have done a lot of self-reflection over the last few months to try and understand how I could have done or said anything differently to prevent it from escalating to that point. It’s kept me up at night, wondering, blaming myself, going round and round in circles chasing a way to make sense of this and have peace.
Until that question replayed in my head yesterday.
“But did she hurt you or did she just yell at you?”
Nobody would have asked me that question if she had been a man. I wouldn’t have second guessed my own responses to her if she’d been a man. A light bulb moment if ever I had one.
If she had been a man:
-The leadership of that church would have done me the courtesy of having the conversation about what happened to my face and not on Facebook messenger.
-“He” would have been talked to and dealt with long before things escalated to me being attacked in the first place.
-Nobody would have suggested that Glenn was too aggressive in stepping in front of me to block me.
-The attacker would have been dealt with more seriously after the first woman he targeted in this way.
-Someone would have called the police without thinking twice.
-I would not have been told to just pray for “him”, call “him” up, and try to be “his” friend moving forward, after the fact.
-Nobody would have tried to laugh it off as simply being “annoying” behavior.
-My husband would not have been asked what my problem was when I absolutely refused to put up with any more it.
-Nobody would have told me that “he” could still come to church even if I got a restraining order, which I was going to do had my husband not been fired.
-The behavior and attack would not have been minimized on the basis of a possible difference in sexual orientation, which I personally have no issue with for starters, and also find it offensive to insinuate is the kind of behavior inherent in being LGBTQ. It isn’t.
-Had she been a man targeting men in a church, instead of a woman targeting women, the response would have been very different.
-My husband would still have his job. (This is not officially why they fired him but as I’ve said before, I will believe that when hell freezes over because his job certainly wasn’t on the line before this happened and firing him 4 days later looks pretty damned shady to anyone paying attention.)
When I started to think about how everything would have been different if she’d been a man, I felt a weight lifted off of me. We’d still be there, talking about how the church had to remove a volatile person for the safety and well-being of its people, if a man had pulled that. We’d be talking about how lucky it was that Glenn stepped in right when he did and that the ushers moved to help so fast. I’d be writing about not being afraid to use your voice and how to say no to people who make you feel threatened or uncomfortable, and nobody would be arguing with me. The last thing anyone would be concerned with is my beautiful f-word coffee mug that I posted a sarcastic photo of the day the attack happened as stress relief, but which sent the leaders into a massive tailspin because GOD FORBID anyone find out that there’s trouble in the church.
(UPDATED EDIT RE: THE MUG
People keep asking me if I regret the now infamous “mug-post” and I mean, obviously I do. But I regret it for the sake of my OWN integrity, not for the church. I might find the mug funny but *usually* when I am *not* having a mental breakdown, I wouldn’t post anything like that for the entire internet to feast their eyes on. Actually, I removed the post shortly after I put it up and replaced it with an apology photo in case I had truly offended anyone. So no, I would not post it again. Also, no I do not believe that whether I’d posted it or not posted it would have changed the outcome there regarding my husband being fired. My feelings about how it exposed the hypocrisy going on remain unchanged but my desire now is for ANYTHING ELSE to have achieved that end. I won’t pretend now that it didn’t happen, but I definitely have different thoughts about it as time has gone on. Also if you’re having a bad day and come over here for coffee I can guarantee you that THAT is the mug I will serve it to you in.)
The last I heard, nobody is allowed to talk to anyone else about what happened. They’re all supposed to talk only to the pastor, presumably so that he can tell them what to think and squash any rational questions about the matter. It’s out of my hands whether people want to subject themselves to that, but the larger issue here is that there IS a larger issue here. This situation is freaking tiny compared to the landslide of stories like mine and much, much, much worse than mine which are coming to light en masse thanks to #metoo.
We are a long ways to go in our culture both in the church out, before people are believed when they say they don’t feel safe at best or have been victimized in awful ways at worst. I was lucky. People saw what happened – a lot of people. It couldn’t be denied although it was swiftly covered up and we were sent packing before we could speak up for ourselves. Now I’m home and I have a voice. I can talk about what happened. She never got to lay a hand on me that day, which was by the grace of God alone I’m sure.
I do wonder though, if maybe it would have been worse, had she been a man.
Maybe I would have been blamed for being too friendly or not friendly enough.
Questioned about what I was wearing that day or how I carried myself.
Doubted for how I interact with men in general, and had my friendships and relationships with the opposite sex scrutinized.
I probably still would have been told I was lucky he didn’t lay a hand on me.
We may still have been sent packing to minimize fallout and keep people from asking questions.
Church. I am begging you to wake up. If we aren’t willing to open our eyes and see how deep and wide the problem is, we have such a long way to go. It’s systemic and the scope of it is only just beginning to come to light. It’s time to get out of the dark, pay attention, and step up to the plate in being agents for change. What does that look like? I’ll have to not get kicked out of a church first to let you know the answer to that, but I think listening is a good first step. Just listen. And call the bloody cops when necessary because not everyone is as lucky as I was that day.
copyright (2018) Jenna Pelias // all rights reserved