A while back I was working with a guy. We’ll call him Mr. Normal. He wasn’t a bad guy, but was very deeply invested in the paradigm of the world in which he had enveloped himself. Straight. Fifty plus. Had a fancy degree. Luxury car. Wife. A few kids in University – good schools. Everyone playing their role properly.
And that’s all OK with me.
He makes his way through his everyday, never having to clarify himself, or explain himself. All the assumptions everyone makes are true for him. He is in the vast majority and the world is set up to accommodate him. Again, I am not angry or bitter about this – it is the way of the world that the majority is accommodated most broadly.
For someone like me, though, who is generally considered unusual where my life’s construct is concerned – especially in most corporate settings – let’s just say I’m used to an occasional sense of confusion or need for clarification.
They will likely hear first that I have a daughter, because I speak of her often, like any parent. The funny things she says, pride over some accomplishment, worry over some wrong turn she’s made. Then, in a later conversation they will hear me say “him” when I refer to my partner, or use his very male-sounding name.
For most people, they do the math silently and I see the light go on in their heads. Aha – bisexual! Or, he must have come out later in life. I’m cool with these deductions – both are true to some degree. I am very fortunate to live in a very progressive country and in a big, diverse city, which also helps. For the most part, once they have heard about my “lifestyle” (although I don’t think of it that way – to me it’s just my life) they just accept it and move on, or are even positive and supportive. They might politely ask for clarity about my situation once they know me a little better – and I am totally OK with that. I think it is nice when people take interest.
But there are also times where I meet with some strange responses.
“How does that work?” asked Mr. Normal, incredulous, upon hearing that I have a child (yes, born of sexual intercourse between myself and her mother, and not an African orphan. Not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a male partner.
In the interest of not having a long conversation that will likely make him uncomfortable (“well, you see, Mr. Normal, I’ve had relationships with women and with men, and have enjoyed them both. For many years I felt ashamed about my sexual identity, and I tried to be what I was expected to be. But then I decided to accept myself and I fell in love with a wonderful man, who is now my partner. I believe we are all on a spectrum between totally gay and totally straight blah blah blah”) I try to just make a joke (“everyone has an off night!”) and hope they will move on.
It occurs to me though, that in this day and age, Mr. Normal must know precisely how “it worked”, mustn’t he? I mean – is it that alien to anyone that people can have sex with both genders, or that men can try to “be straight” only to later realize they prefer men and come out? Has he not seen “The Birdcage” on TV on a Sunday afternoon? Has he heard of David Bowie?
I wonder then – why the incredulity? Is the idea of a binary world safer to him, or is it an opportunity for him to point out that I’m different and somehow feel better about himself because of that? Maybe there was a night back in university where he and a male friend or roommate “experimented” that he has buried deep in the back of his mind and he needs to feign shock to keep it buried? Reactions like this make me feel like someone with a big nose might feel if they walked into an office meeting and a colleague blurted out “you have a huge nose!”
And part of me wonders if that is exactly the point. Mr. Normal’s formal statement declaring me an unfathomable weirdo makes him feel all the more normal. As if my life might “rub off” on him somehow and by displaying shock and giving the impression that his brain simply cannot wrap itself around the idea that I might have a child and a male partner, it certifies him as totally, 100% straight and normal. OK, if it makes you feel better…
But it isn’t just with the Mr. Normal’s of the world that I am met with some underlying “rejection” or judgment.
I am not overtly gay-seeming to most people. Some people can’t tell until it comes up in conversation. I am not very effeminate, and I am overweight, so I don’t fit the stereotype most people have of “gay” – including some gay people.
While working at another organization, I worked with another guy, younger than me, who we will call “Mr. Traditionalgay”. In the course of working together on a project, Mr. Traditionalgay mentioned his partner by way of sharing some anecdote about his life, and I responded with my own anecdote about my partner.
“Oh, you’re with a man?” he asks.
“Yeah, you didn’t know?” I say.
“But I thought you had a daughter”
“Oh, I do,” I say, “From a previous relationship. She lives with us half the time”
Then he says “I don’t get gay guys with kids”.
“Oh.” I say.
Then, with a more aggressive tone he repeats himself “Yeah, no – don’t get it” in a that-settles-that tone of voice.
“OK…” I say – because I am not sure what else to say? Thanks for sharing, but I wasn’t looking for your approval? I’m very sorry that I don’t fit into your small concept of “gay”?
And again, I wonder – what was he intending to achieve in saying what he said? To make sure I know I’m not really gay by his standards? That I’m not a member of some elite club he has constructed in his mind?
Some time passed and I sort of forgot about these incidents, which is probably for the best. Then I met someone who confided in me that many years ago, her mother had committed suicide. I could tell, by the careful and specific way she told me this that she, in her own way, was “coming out” to me.
In sharing this information, I imagine she has at times been met by false, over-the-top sentimentality and people shuffling their feet in their discomfort about the reality of life and death being placed in front of them. I’m sure most people were entirely decent and respectful upon learning this information saying “I’m sorry for your loss” or “That must have been hard” and leaving it there for her to elaborate upon or not, as she was most comfortable. But I also guess there are those, who, in order to reassure themselves, would provide a big, emotional, insincere reaction. Which has led this friend to be careful in how and when she reveals this information, so as not to be made to feel a pariah – strange and different, or worse, pitiful (which she isn’t, by a long shot).
And it was in this epiphany that I realized that there are those of us who own our differences, our scars, and even our deficiencies with as much grace as we can muster – and, when we’ve had enough time, perhaps even with pride, where applicable. And I think we recognize each other. Because we’re usually the most interesting people in the room. I’d much rather spend time talking to someone who has a few scars, bumps, and wear and tear than the alternative. Because I find that those who have been kicked around by life a little bit have the best stories, the most to teach, and often – if only as a means of survival – the most wonderful senses of humour.
So I don’t feel anger when I get the occasional strange, judgmental or ostracizing response to who I am anymore. I just think, it must be kind of dull to be you.