This year for my birthday I bought myself a beehive. After painstakingly scouring the internet I settled on a vendor on Etsy who handmakes beautiful hives. These raw-wood masterpieces have windows so that my children would see the bees and we could learn about their interconnectedness with our world. I had dreams of teaching them how the bees work together as a colony to create honey. That they pollinate our plants and crops, and about their vitality to our environment.
My husband surprises me by painstakingly painting our beehive. He places our children’s fingerprints on the hive with their names making them little bees. At the unveiling, I find that he has placed “Queen Bee” on the hive and has me dip my thumb in white paint to finish the home. Being a Type A person, I sign up for a beekeeping course at our local community college. Our pretty hive sits uninhabited but perfectly majestic in our backyard on our acre of land.
Not much time passes and I receive a note from our homeowners’ association. The note informs me that the “insect” house is in violation of homeowners association (HOA) rules. In my attempt to mitigate the situation, I reach out to the farmer who lives behind us and ask if it would be possible for us to place the house on his property. I plead, stating that my children and I would care for the bees. The farmer declines, so seeing no other alternative, I donate the bee house to the local Boy Scouts.
Not too long after, I start receiving notifications from our HOA requiring application or reapplication for permits for improvements that have been completed on our property. Reapplication is needed for a patio that was poured a year earlier and for pillars placed by a stonemason at the end of our driveway. I want to boast for a moment. We keep a really beautiful home. Our glorious rose bushes radiate beauty. Lilacs, hydrangea, and lilies bloom in chorus. My children know that Saturday is fish emulsion day in our home. All of our flowers get the elixir so that they shine the brightest blooms. We weed the garden. Painstakingly move plans from here to there to get them just the right sunlight and let them show off their beautiful majesty.
But we also live on the main drive. In fact, our home was formerly the model home for the neighborhood, so we are on display for all to see and to speed past. Two weeks ago a near-miss event with a small child took my breath away. After another neighbor emailed our HOA, I took to our private neighborhood Facebook group to discuss the situation. My point was simple. This is scary. We are a young neighborhood with a lot of children and someone is going to get hit. The reaction that ensued was a spectacular combination of blaming parents, blaming children, discussion of the merits and drawbacks of speedbumps, and ultimately attributing all speeding to FedEx, UPS & Amazon. What the conversation lacked was ownership by the community for the care and concern of the children.
Within hours the HOA sent out a survey to ask if the neighborhood thinks a speed study is warranted. In the instructions, it notes that responses would not (their underlined, not mine) be anonymous. The questions were simple. Do you think we need to have a speed study done in our neighborhood and do you support having speed bumps?
Having already seen the neighbors who live on cul-de-sacs tucked safely away respond that they’ve not seen any type of speeding and that children need to be taught “the rules of the road”, I put pen to paper and wrote a letter to the HOA. I believe this to be an attempt at gaslighting. They put the survey out and the majority of people don’t think that there’s a problem…that was indicative of what we saw on the post and they addressed the problem. They addressed it, problem solved.
Consequently, I submit a letter to the HOA. The response is that they need data to submit to the police to see if it warrants a survey. That 75% of homeowners on the street would have to agree. That the HOA is composed of volunteers who are just doing their best. And unkindness is not necessary. I feel kicked in the gut. Sat with it for a while and took down the post.
You see my closing words in my letter were that I believe in community. I believe that we are stronger together and that coming up with creative solutions and finding a path forward is the way to go rather than using percentages and language to suppress a voice.
I know that behind the scenes neighbors are talking about buying their own radar guns and looking into the cost of purchasing speed bumps. It was pretty clear to me that the HOA was not planning to have dialogue nor send a simple letter to residents asking to obey the speed limit to watch out for children. They went from zero to police survey within a couple of hours.
The next day, I receive a call from someone I have not spoken to before. They explain that one of the board members keeps chickens in their backyard (against HOA rules), several have deer feeders and large piles of stacked wood, also violations. This is shocking. But perhaps not for the reason you think.
This is the definition of privilege. I am living in a microcosm of the systems that transgender and other marginalized communities including black and brown, have to navigate on a daily basis, for their entire lives. When the people who are in power and making the rules give themselves an advantage and make the rules harder for other people THAT is privilege. When they are allowed to “monitor themselves” while they monitor others, it welcomes abuse of power. It’s really mind-bending. Those in power tell you that you’re “being aggressive,” “loud” and they use words like “they’re just volunteers just doing their job.” In reality, they have created a hierarchy that benefits themselves and makes it harder for those deemed “other.”
Maybe I just need to reapply for my patio. But I have four children and two businesses that I run. Believe you me, filling out another set of forms, taking pictures, and submitting them to the HOA is a huge drain on my already limited time. The incessant emails that follow reminding me that I am missing my deadline for submitting and that I would be in violation if I did not receive approval again cause stress. Privilege is being in a position of power that can make it just a little bit harder for other people and a little easier for yourself. By using systems and structures in order to give yourself an advantage. But the worst part is when they gaslight you and say you are just a mean person. You are nasty. Because, my friends, that cuts to your character. And it hurts. Really bad.
I still believe in the bees and the colony that works together for the greater good. I believe that it takes determination and hard work to make honey. You leave your safe colony to help pollinate and proliferate the world, for the greater good. The bees are the quintessential personification of interconnectedness.
But I most certainly recognize the people and systems who are trying to hold down others. I believe and understand the mistrust and skepticism of the transgender, black and brown communities. This walk is not easy. I encourage my readers to listen when marginalized communities say something is wrong. Because just like I know people are flying up and down my road, they know. It’s time to listen.