Monday, April 13, 2015

Leaving Room for Novices and Good Intentions

Much of my life these days has me stationed inside of hospitals and doctor's offices. Part of treating a recent medical problem has involved lengthy phone consultations with a doctor. Much to her credit, she is helpful, knowledgeable of her field, and clearly loves her job. One of the things I've been adjusting to as I've continued to age is that, increasingly, some of those who treat me are now my age and some are even a little younger than that. This is the case with my gastroenterologist, a woman about my age who clearly sees me as a contemporary, else I know she would pick her words much differently.

After another intensive telephone discussion, she surprised me by breaking character, concluding our talk with a single question. Will you buy me some shoes? This was said with an impish flair and she immediately let me know she was jesting, but I have to admit that this mostly harmless gesture made me a little mad. It presumed that I was the default stereotype, the flaming queen. It left no room for other identities and iterations. Earlier, I had confided in her my sexual orientation, mostly because the nature of the ailment made prior sexual contact with other men an almost complete certainty.

I know from much past experience any number of men attracted to men who come across as masculine as I do. From gatherings of others who are LGBT, I've seen a dizzying array of presentations and personal fashion statements, each of which seeks to capture a set of complex feelings and identities that are not easy to define visually. It was never especially important for me to take much interest in handbags or accessories. That said, I do appreciate men who can let that part of who they are shine and don't mind mugging for the camera along the way.

Some of us have the same peculiar affliction, presenting in ways that do not preserve, nor validate the stereotype. And, if we are fair, the same is true for many women, especially those who aren't especially girly by society's standards. They too may be roped into discussions about shoes and fashion, subjects about which they are largely ignorant or apathetic. Advertisements and media continue to push a one-size-fits-all model of femininity, a belief that is sold and packaged as something that is the sole interest of women, and yes, some men.

I have learned quite a bit about these so-called women's issues over the course of the past several years. With enough self-study and observation, I've learned to see the frustration that has been present for many women long before I showed up to the party. It has become my own cross to bear, as I see how little really changes over time, and how real gender equality requires a kind of robust participation and mass realization that is not easily managed. The idealistic part of me has been confronted by the challenges I view and I am, hopefully, more tolerant of the frustrations of the women writers and activists whose words set me along this journey.

If I am to be entirely honest, I do sometimes envy people who fit narrowly defined parameters that are supposed to suffice for everyone. It explains why I left home in the Deep South. I was tired of not thinking or behaving just like those who never once seemed to worry about who they were. If I were to catch them at an unguarded moment, would they prove me wrong? Would my feelings of being different be revealed to be only a mirage? I know I'll never be able to answer those questions, but I think the answer to that set of rhetorical questions is probably yes. Some will live their entire lives never having any reason to ask themselves such things.

But to return to the beginning, part of me is grateful that an unintentionally offensive attempt at humor did not take the form of insult. She deliberately broke the fourth wall, pushing beyond the usually very businesslike, dull, perfunctory manner in which doctors interact with their patients. It was, in one sense, nice knowing that a real person existed underneath. I can't say I really know half of those doctors and specialists assigned to my care, as they are either too overburdened with work or too uncomfortable with introducing pleasantries.

My whole life I've been tugging madly on a metaphorical suit of clothes that doesn't quite fit. Now I have to decide whether to correct someone who, out of pure ignorance, misinterpreted who I was. This will not be the last time and I know it. I have learned to pick my battles, because I do not always have the energy to confront every inaccuracy about me. When my parents flipped out after I'd told them I was bisexual, I realized that they were only now recognizing a part of me that I'd been dealing with for years. And it is for this reason that I try to leave room for novices and those who mean well, while not giving up who I am as I am in the process.

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