My Neighbors Put Up a “Defend Marriage” Sign

And I Was Shocked

Photo by yoav hornung on Unsplash

I live in a fairly conservative neighborhood in a fairly conservative state.

My social media feeds and family tree are chock-full of Republicans, NRA members and people who will probably, OK, definitely, vote for Trump again if they get the chance.

We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things and sometimes that’s hard.

It has led to a few heated exchanges on social media (before I decided to dump Facebook because, turns out, I really don’t care what that random kid from high school is doing nowadays.) It’s also led to a fair share of disagreements in the family living room, around the dining room table, and any time one of them leaves Fox News on longer than I can reasonably stand.

Full disclosure, I don’t know these neighbors, though I live in the type of Midwestern neighborhood where you might drop in to bring your new neighbors cookies or something.

I was going to bring them cookies eventually — maybe, but then the other day, they put up the sign.

I’ve never actually seen my new neighbors, so what I know about them is pretty limited. They have a minivan with a Christian radio station bumper sticker. Their dog barks too much and one of their first acts of homeowners was to go out into their yard in the cold and put up a sign that says “Defend Marriage.”

And now, I know they don’t deserve my cookies.

I don’t respond well to hateful things. I know this about myself. When met with anger, aggression or intolerance, my initial reaction is not to fight or flee. It is to stand there in complete and utter confusion.

Once in elementary school, I got in what I thought was just a conversation with a friend. She thought it was a disagreement and she started kicking me in the shins and I just stood there. All I did was ask her “Why are you doing that?” as my legs got bloodied and bruised until someone came and pulled her, still kicking, away from me.

It is not the most useful response. In the moment, I never do as good of a job defending myself or defending others as I wish I could.

Instead, I just stand there utterly perplexed, because, truthfully, I don’t understand how people can be such spiteful, hateful jerks. I don’t understand, why in a world so already full of pain, some people decide to willingly inflict it on others because they’re ignorant, fearful or they think their way of life is the only one worth living.

The weird thing is, if the neighbors met me, they probably wouldn’t mind me. After all — I fit most of the criteria they seem to look for in a person: in that I’m a woman married to a man.

When they look at me, my neighbors would see someone like them so they wouldn’t direct their hatred and intolerance in my direction — not unless I opened my mouth and started arguing with them. And even then, I know I would be spared the worst of it because of who I am in their eyes — someone who fits their archaic, limited and just plain wrong version of what it means to be a “good person.”

I know I am spared knowing more about the hatred and intolerance of the world because I am in so many privileged categories. For God’s sake, I am a white, college educated, middle class, cisgender, straight, Christian woman. I’ve got things pretty good and I see that.

But I want to do better at seeing other things too. I want to do a better job of recognizing and confronting hateful bullshit when I see it. I don’t want to be someone who is blindsided by a yard sign — who is surprised to be met with hatred and intolerance in her own neighborhood.

I want to see more, learn more and not sit there in confusion, because there are things in this life worth defending.

(And marriage is not one of them, because that started looking a lot better on June 26, 2015.)

I’m a freelance writer and editor. I’ve written nonfiction children’s books, bar reviews, health care communications and more: https://ashleystrehlehartman.com/

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