Doughnuts and name-calling

When is it all right to tell drivers who advertise their bigoted politics on their bumpers exactly what you think of their self-righteousness?

BY Will Shank

December 08 2005 12:00 AM ET

MARRIAGE = MAN +
WOMAN, the bumper sticker screamed from the butt of the
flesh-colored SUV. My husband, U.B., spotted it first as we
pulled into the parking lot of a Maple Donuts
franchise in my hometown, York, Pa. Anxious to make a
beeline into the shop and share one of my favorite
childhood treats with my family, I pulled the red rental car
right up against the sidewalk. “She’s in
there,” U.B. said, indicating the SUV driver,
“so you could go inside and call her a c---.”

The woman was at
the counter asking for directions from the salesclerk.
Their transaction had just wrapped up when I walked in, and
the SUV woman—who was petite, with no-nonsense,
short-cropped hair—walked toward the door. On
impulse I spun on my heels and followed her out to the
sidewalk. “Excuse me, is that your car with the
‘marriage equals man plus woman’ bumper
sticker?”

She turned
halfway around to look at me. “Why yes,” she
said smiling. Her teenage son was approaching from the
other end of the strip mall.

“Well,
that’s my family in this red car,” I said,
pointing to U.B., who was extricating a wad of Silly
Putty from the golden curls of our daughter Stassa in
the backseat. “And you’re a self-righteous
bitch.”

Her smile faded
and her eyes widened as I continued, “You put your
politics on your car, so you asked for it.”

U.B. told me
afterward that the woman looked as if she had seen a ghost.
Her son, about 13, opened his mouth wide in a stunned
half-smile, suggesting that he too thought his mom was
a self-righteous bitch. They both picked up their pace
and scurried back to the safety of their car.

At dinner that
night in a nearby college town, where we were celebrating
the opening of a show of my photographs and U.B.’s
sculpture, the curator of our exhibit, Molly, said,
“Bumper stickers open dialogue. She had it
coming.”

My ex-boyfriend
Steve, who had introduced me to U.B., observed, “But
you attacked the person instead of her
opinion.” U.B. said, “You wouldn’t
have done this five years ago, when you still had your
establishment job. You’re ballsier.”

I had blurted out
my feelings in the heat of the moment. Calling the
opposition names is never effective. The woman no doubt went
home and told her story of being called a bitch by
some homosexuals. I could have left out the
“bitch” part and engaged her in meaningful
dialogue, politely introducing her to the kind of
family she had never met, and perhaps swaying her opinion.Shank Family | Advocate.comWill Shank (right) with his family 

But na-a-ah!
People who advertise their opinions on their bumpers think
that they are safe behind the wheel, where other drivers can
only grumble their opposing views while passing them
on the freeway. As this woman peeled the backing off
that sticker and put it on her car, she probably
thought smugly that all of her neighbors felt the same way
and that she was performing a cheerful public service.
She needed to know that she, and her community, were
not necessarily right. Just righteous.

We hadn’t
gone to the trouble of getting married at San
Francisco’s City Hall during the Valentine
ceremonies of 2004 for nothing. We were not the type
to shut up about marriage equality.

I had felt
vindicated in a small way. And with my heart still pumping
adrenaline, I had gone back into the sweet-smelling store
and bought a dozen doughnut holes: three glazed, three
cake, three cinnamon, and three chocolate.

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