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.