Gaze of Another (Sometimes Me)
The space through which you move comfortably without a thought, skirting the coffee table there, slipping sideways behind that chair to reach for a novel on the fifth shelf of the bookcase, looms with obstacles for me. And although I do not expect you to reconstruct it to permit me access, a number of problems could have been eliminated in the original design.
-Nancy Mairs, Waist High in the World, pg 89
I walk down the stairs into the basement, where the "kids" hang out. There's an age range of high school freshman to senior in college, but most of them are about my age. Suddenly, one of the guys starts teasing his little sister about her new boyfriend, her first. She protests, then others start talking about their crushes.
I realize with a bit of vertigo that I'm the only gay person in the room, and that I'm not really out to anyone there. I'm sure many of them know, they just haven't heard me say it. If I started talking about my crush on this girl or that girl, there would be a pause in the conversation, a refocus of attention on me, nervous laughter.
Instead I retreat quietly back upstairs to where the "grown up"s are having safer topics of conversation.
At the end of fall break, after reading Nancy Mairs' Waist High in the World, I found myself walking up a hill towards a museum with my parents. As we crested the hill and approached the entrance, the sight of a line of accessible parking spaces hit me. As was inevitable with Mairs' voice fresh in my mind, I began to wonder if this museum, this public space, would prove accessible (to people with limited mobility) in other ways. There was the simple difference in parking already, with most of the parking at the bottom of the steep hill, but would it continue? As I opened the door, I noticed that it was fairly heavy, but that there were the doors that opened with the push of a button at either end of the rows of doors. As we moved through the lobby to buy tickets, I noticed that everything was flat and wide. Finally, as we entered the museum proper. I was surprised to see that, although the exhibit was arranged on levels, all the levels were connected by ramp. Then I noticed some children stepping on stairs, presumably there just for that purpose, that were located in front of some of the higher parts of the exhibit. Surreptitiously, I crouched down to an approximation of wheelchair height to see whether I could still really see the exhibits. I was disapointed to discover that I couldn't, really, in many spots. I had thought the museum was doing so well.
I remember one time walking into a Woolworth’s in Philadelphia. I’d been living as a woman for about a month. I came through the revolving doors, and stood face to face with a security guard—a young man, maybe nineteen or twenty years old. He did a double take when he saw me and he began to laugh—very loud. He just laughed and laughed. I continued round through the revolving doors and left the store. I agreed with him that I was a joke; that I was the sick one.
I went in there almost a year later. He came on to me.
-Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw, pg 48
As we finished going through the first part of the museum and sat down for lunch, I found my mind going on a more theoretical branch of thought. Was the museum accessible in a social way to people who were visibly variant in gender and sexuality? Forget the fact that there was going to be no gay history in this history museum. If I was sitting in the middle of the food court holding hands with my (hypothetical) girlfriend, what would the reactions of the people around me be? Would we get stares, averted glances, angry looks from parents there with their small children? Would we be asked to leave by staff or told we were disgusting by our fellow patrons? What about the nice man who had explained the old-fashioned printing press to my parents and I? Would he have gone on at such length if I had two dyke moms with me instead of a mother and father?
Keep your laws off my body!
Biology is not destiny!
-Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaw, pg 50
Oh Kate. I wish you could talk to Nancy Mairs about this. She's also having trouble with her fellow feminists. She has the uncomfortable feeling that they don't think she's worth much, that she shouldn't have been born, that they're not seeing that she has needs that are different than theirs, sure, but still there.
I can only represent my own experience as authentically as the tricks and vagaries of language will permit, trusting others to determine what similarities we share and making use of them as they see fit.
-Nancy Mairs, Waist High in the World, 44
I don't really know what it's like to go through life with a physical disability. I can watch my friends who do have them and try to guess why they act as they do, I can read Nancy Mairs and other writers, and I can be told that I'm allowed to compare and contrast it with being queer, but I still do not think that I understand, that it's possible for me to understand. The very notion feels arrogant on my tongue (my functional tongue, to go with my functional eyes and ears and limbs). I consider myself a sympathetic person, but that doesn't mean that I can speak for another. I will be considerate in any way I am told I should, I'll hold open doors or not hold open doors, I'll use inclusive language, I'll use accessible spaces, I'll remember that pity is to be pissed on...
...but that doesn't mean I get it.
Sophomore year of high school. We're standing in Leslie's bedroom, Leslie, Tom, Fred, and I. She says something, something about "all the faggots" that have graduated from our high school. The silence isn't comfortable, and none of us look at each other. I'm not out quite even to myself and am incredibly confused and self-conscious. Tom's not one for being self-conscious, but he's not out either, though Leslie's his best friend and it won't be long until he tells her. I don't know about Fred, if he's gay, bi, queer, asexual, straight, but he's got those mannerisms, likes to fix girl's hair and straightens his own, and if he's never been called a faggot I'll eat my shoe.
Four years later. Leslie starts talking about a girl. At first I don't catch on, and then I don't believe her. She lies a lot, to shock and confuse. (Like in Spanish class when she announced that she was pregnant. None of us knew whether to believe her, until Señora started giving her a piece of her mind. Leslie said none of us knew how to take a joke.) But, no, her new girlfriend's real.
I don't get it.