Yesterday I met someone formally who I’ve known for about two years now. It was a delight, really.
Joe works construction. For the past two years he’s been the gate guy for a building under construction at UT. So every day that I’ve gone to UT over the past two years, I’ve passed by Joe. If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I often encourage my readers to say hello and engage with their communities around them. Generally I’m encouraging you to do this with the teenagers in your community, but the principle holds regardless of the age of your friend-in-potentia. So taking my own advice, I’ve said hello and then later good-bye to Joe about three days out of five for the past two years. Joe’s got grown children and six grand-kids. When there’s something official going on at the gate, he’s all business, but when there’s not, he’s delighted to chat for a minute or two. But for whatever reason, even though we always said hello and chatted, Joe and I had never formally introduced ourselves. He knew I had kids because sometimes they came to campus with me, but that was about it.
The building that Joe’s working on will be finished this month. So as my class ended yesterday, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t see Joe again. As I was leaving campus, I stopped to say a final good-bye to Joe. Here’s how our conversation went:
Me: Well, today’s my last class day! I probably won’t be back until the spring at the earliest.
Joe: I guess that means we won’t see each other again. My name’s Joe.
Me: Hi Joe. I’m Karen.
(we shook hands)
Joe: I’m going to miss seeing you here. It’s been nice saying hi whenever you’re coming in.
Me: Yes, I’ll miss seeing you too, Joe. Here’s one of my cards.
Joe: Oh good! Can I call you sometime to say hi and see how your little girls are doing?
Me: I would love that, Joe.
And then Joe looked at my business card. And suddenly I wished I hadn’t given it to him.
Because here’s the thing. I love my work. I think it’s important work. Critical, even. But there are people who I don’t talk with about my work. Like my grandparents. Don’t get me wrong, my grandparents know what I do. I tell them when I have parenting classes coming up, and I’ve given them this blog address. But they tend not to read it, and they don’t ask me probing questions about my classes. My grandparents expressed some sadness that they wouldn’t be able to watch the documentary I was interviewed for last month. (It will come out next March probably – I promise I’ll let you know!)
Back to Joe. He’s a bit younger than my grandparents, and yes, I was jumping to some huge conclusions and making some brass, potentially unfounded, judgments about what he would think of me when he read my business card. (It says “Adolescent Sex Education”.)
So I’m worried that Joe thinks…well, poorly of me because of what I do. My grandparents are proud of me, because that’s just the kind of grandparents they are. If they heard of someone else doing what I do, they would probably say something along the lines of, “Well, I never!” Because I’m doing it, they probably say something more like, “Well, it must be important then! Good for you, for doing something important!” Joe, of course, has no such compunctions about being proud of me.
And this is why I find it hard to state my business outside of business circles. If I meet someone in the context of my work, they’re welcome to disagree with me and argue with or ignore me. But it saddens me deeply when I’m suddenly worried that someone I’ve met in social circles won’t want to continue our friendship because of my work. I’m sad when I realize that in addition to being not-safe-for-work (yes, I know there are plenty of you who consider me that, regardless of my tastefully worded content), I am also sometimes not-safe-for-friendship.
That, in a nutshell, is actually why I do what I do. Sexuality needs to be talked about. It should be a topic appropriate for public spaces. And eventually, it will be. Between now and then, I just hope that Joe and others accept me for who I am: someone whose business is to talk about sex.