Susie Survivor

I walked down to the Monument Market a few Saturdays ago (the fabulous new farmer’s market being sponsored by Richmond’s First Baptist Church), and had an encounter with Susie Survivor.

I saw her crossing the median strip as I approached, dressed in a silver cape and matching boots, and wearing a shocking pink wig.  At first glance I thought that maybe “she” wasn’t a she at all.  My former church was in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, DC, where it wasn’t all that uncommon to see a man walking down the street in women’s clothing.  In fact, one of the big annual events on 17th Street was the Club Chaos “drag race,” where men wearing three-inch heels would race down the street with their skirts flapping around their knees.  And even here, in Richmond, I’ve seen the occasional cross-dresser. 

So, I wondered if perhaps this person in the silver cape and boots was coming to the Monument Market for a reason.  Had she heard that it was sponsored by a church, and did she want to see just how full of Christian love we really were?  Could we handle her, for instance, a confrontational cross-dresser, sashaying from one booth to another and making suggestive comments about the produce?

When I got to the market I saw her already chatting it up with someone at a booth, and then I saw one of our members watching her from his booth.  I went over to say hello and he nodded in her direction.  “I guess that’s what you call ‘diversity,’ huh?” he said, with a smile.  “I don’t know,” I said, suddenly determined.  “Let me find out.”

So, I walked over and said, “Hi.  Tell me about your costume.”  And she did.  She said she was “Susie Survivor,” a survivor of breast cancer, and that she’d been to the Susan G. Komen “Race for the Cure” that morning to cheer on the runners.  “This is my husband,” she said, introducing the man beside her (whom I hadn’t really noticed before), “and this is my son,” patting the head of the adorable three-year-old boy at her knee.  I swallowed hard and introduced myself as the pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church and she said, “Oh, how wonderful!  We’re Baptists, too!”  Her husband was a deacon, she was a Sunday school teacher, and I…was just about as embarrassed as I’ve ever been.

This is what fear can do to you: it can make you think—even if it’s just for a moment—that a beautiful and courageous breast cancer survivor, a devoted wife and mother who teaches Sunday school at her Baptist church, is actually a confrontational cross-dresser who has come to the Monument Market looking for a fight.  When I went back to the booth where our church member was waiting I told him what I had learned, and then I said, “This is why you have to talk to people: because you can’t tell who they are just by looking at them.”

I think that’s probably true for all people, and not just the ones wearing silver capes.

8 thoughts on “Susie Survivor

  1. You might not have had these thoughts if you had been reading Richie Hilbert’s “Do Not Judge by Appearances Only” Appointment with God this week! No, wait–this incident happened BEFORE Richie’s devotions came to your email account, so this error in judgment can be overlooked.

  2. As a survivor also, I say hurray for her! That is a great story with a valuable lesson.
    Doesn’t God work in mysterious and wonderful ways?

  3. This reminds me of Richmond’s legendary “drag queen,” Donnie Corker, aka “Dirt Woman.” I’ve known of Donnie since I went to Richmond as a 19 year old in 1973. Donnie is a kind soul at heart. I buried his Daddy when I was with Bliley’s and had the chance to speak with him at length.

    There was another soul who was a (partial) cross dresser who attended Wenesday night suppers at First Baptist and told me that he had counseled with Dr. Flamming and/or Dr. Roberta Damon.

    These two individuals had troubled minds, but their hearts were in the right place.

    If I remember correctly, I told them about “Set Free” ministries in Richmond.

  4. Jim, That’s a very good reminder why we shouldn’t judge people based on outward appearances, no matter whether they conform to our stereotypes or not. Peace, Travis

  5. WOW! Thank you, Jim. What a great reminder. I need to make a copy of this story and carry with me at all times.

    Some day, when you write that book, I want a signed copy. 🙂

  6. While we’re on the subject of Ms. Survivor and her “husband;” a related question: how’s First Baptist Church going to respond when a same-sex “couple” comes forward for membership? It will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

  7. @Mark It is my understanding that when we raise our hands to affirm new members, it is simply that; an affirmation; not like a vote in the old days. I would also doubt that our pastoral staff is in the business of turning away those that have a desire to grow closer to Christ. While it may become a point of conversation, I hope it will be a non-issue.

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