Friday, November 16, 2007

So, I came out to a bunch of people at work the other day. We were sitting at lunch, and my boss and I were discussing the recent visit of the Dalai Lama to the US (and to Ithaca, of course, where I had the excellent fortune to see him speak--he's indeed an inspiring and holy man). My boss, M, brought up the contrast between his visit and the recent appearance of Ahmadinejad (I think I spelled that right--and without looking it up anywhere! Who's the shit?) at Columbia University.
"It's amazing that we could have two such different people visit our country at the same time," he said, "The Dalai Lama talking about peace and love, and then this crazy man who denies the Holocaust and says there are no homosexuals in Iran..." First, let me hip you to something: anyone who uses the word "homosexual" rather than gay or queer is either a psychiatrist/ psychoanalyst in 'professional' mode, someone who not only isn't gay but doesn't have many 'gays' in their close circle of friends, or else is so deep in the closet they're finding next year's Christmas presents. That aside, I used the opportunity (why the hell not?) to out myself in front of roughly ten people in the break room.
"My first girlfriend was Chinese," I said, "And she tried to teach me some of the language--now I can say hello, 'I love you,' and order a few items from a menu. Anyway, she asked her mother, 'Mom, what's the word for a man who likes men, or for women who fall in love with other women?' Her mother answered her, after a long pause, 'That doesn't happen in China.'" I guess it went over well. The conversation didn't come to a grinding halt or anything, though I could feel a few people making a mental note: Homosexual, check. Just adding it to their list of attributes about me. I guess it helps that I've only been there a few months, so not many people have a really solid mental picture of who I am outside (or inside, for that matter) work. They're still piecing together, "German studies major. Former oboe player. Echo research assistant. Homo. OK, cool."
The only bad thing about being out to people who I suspect may not know a lot of gay folks (or who, for religious reasons, are opposed to that 'lifestyle'--which, by the way, I think is a hilarious way to put it--it makes me think that there must be a gay/lesbian lifestyle catalogue out there somewhere that I'm missing, a la Martha Stewart Living, with Indigo Girl CDs, flannel jackets, Danish Modern furniture and Subaru Foresters) is that then I feel oddly responsible for being a stellar example of humanity, for the sake of the 'family.' If I fall behind on a project, then the whole queer community suddenly becomes lazy or incompetent. If I snap at someone because I have PMS and they took the last of the coffee on a Monday morning, it's because all lesbians are bitchy and aggressive. I'm sure not everyone does this sort of thing consciously, but I know I do it myself sometimes, or poke fun at myself and others for some stereotype: When I'm jamming to Melissa Etheridge, painting an, ahem, yonic-looking calla lily (look up the word if you don't know it, it's fabulous), and a friend walks in and laughs; my Jewish friend who always scours the racks for the lowest possible prices when we go out shopping together; my Irish buddy, in the Marines, who puts away the stout and lager like it's going out of style.
Ultimately (here comes the PSA--public service announcement, for those in the medical field, NOT prostate-specific antigen) life's too damn short not to be who you are, not to move from your center just as you are, whether that puts you in the line of fire of hateful idiots or puts you in lockstep with inane stereotypes occasionally. Be you, because if you don't, there isn't anyone else to do it.

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