“You Do What?” Small Talk with Colleen Lord
|“Who knew the what do you do question could cause so much thought?”|
“You get home pretty early… you must work nearby, right?”
I was standing on my front lawn making small talk with my neighbor. We just moved into our new home a few months ago and are still getting to know the folks in our little lakeside community.
“Yes,” I said, quickly trying to think of how to steer the conversation in a new direction.
I love our new neighborhood. There are many young families who live nearby and they all seem incredibly sweet. People pleasantly wave to their neighbors. Block parties, neighborhood bike nights, and Fourth of July parades are the norm. There’s even a monthly neighborhood newsletter. It’s a little haven in a town filled with mini malls and chain stores.
In the world of small talk, sharing what you do for a living is generally a benign topic of conversation. It’s up there with questions about the weather or sports. But, not everyone in this world understands or appreciates Planned Parenthood and sex education.
Please don’t get me wrong—I LOVE my job. I’m very passionate about sex education and am proud of the work we do at the CFLE. But—I’ve been burned a few times before. In the past, when I shared that I work at Planned Parenthood, a friend of my mother’s was brought to tears and said she was going to pray for my soul. There were the comments I got while I was pregnant with both of my kids, about me not taking my own advice about practicing safer sex. Of course there are the people who ask me incredibly personal questions. Yes! I’m comfortable discussing my “bedroom” habits in minute detail. Not.
Comments like this paint a clear picture of what some people think of me and my colleagues: if you work for Planned Parenthood, you are a sinner, you are against people having families, and you must have a wild personal life.
With those past experiences in mind, talking about my job with the person I see every morning as I walk out to get our newspaper produced a bit of anxiety for me.
If only people could be a fly on the wall in my workplace … they’d realize that a day in my life of most of my sex ed colleagues is in fact …
Ok, maybe boring isn’t the best way to describe it. We do get to do some interesting stuff. The words “penis”, “vulva” and “masturbation” are standard work vocabulary. In other work places, the lack of professional context for their use could be cause for a sexual harassment charge. We often get to be crafty and think out of the box. My friend and colleague created a large female reproductive system, decorated with glitter, pom-poms and felt. She’s lovingly called “Ginny, the Vagina.” I guess that may be titillating to some.
But, if you look at the everyday lives of my co-workers, they’re surprisingly… average. When we talk about our personal lives, the conversation leads to chatter about children, puppies, dinner recipes, and plans for a weekend hike with our partners or families.
Just like most people in America.
We’re all very passionate about the work we do and are thrilled when we see one of our students make steps (however small) toward living a healthier life. We want to empower the folks we teach, young and old, to make healthy choices about their lives, their relationships and their bodies. We want our young people to achieve their life goals, including having a family one day, if and when they are ready to do so.
I ‘m sure most people in America want this, too.
I am an example of the average American, who likes to watch cooking shows, works hard and supports sex education in schools. I’m also an example of the average sex educator, who loves her family, her job and the community that I serve.
Taking a deep breath of air, I looked at my neighbor and said, “I work in the education department at Planned Parenthood.” Whew.
“Oh, and you’re close to home, that’s great!” she replied. Such an underwhelming response after all the buildup in my head; maybe she’s an average American that supports sex ed, too.
Thanks for this, Colleen! I hope one day we don’t need to worry quite so much about revealing our profession!
You’re doing a good thing, Colleen. I’m glad you told your neighbor what you do. As with many things, we need to break down the walls of ignorance our society has built around certain topics. Unfortunately, that often means putting our feelings on the line to hopefully make a difference in the long run.