So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

11 February, 2008

From Gehenna, With Love

Dear Earth:

Did you know that you're kind of scary?

I mean, I'm lucky enough to live in an area where it's pretty much safe to be someone who looks at things on an angle, but that doesn't make it easier to figure out what to show. Not closets; I won't do closets. But ...

Mentioning that my boyfriend's wife asked around at the office to get me a recommendation of a place to get lunch and suddenly wondering what was behind the blink of response. Wondering if that's going to go somewhere unpleasant.

Talking to my father on the phone for my birthday, and he asks me if I have any exciting news. And I fidget with the ring on my finger, and stare into space, and eventually don't tell him, because there's no social space for that sort of news to come out easily.

Being directed to put on my collar and wear it out to a gathering of friends, and being consumed with a desperate anxiousness that somehow people will notice and object -- that knowing in a peripheral way that that relationship is kinky will be acceptable, but that wearing the token will be across the invisible line of acceptability, will be pushy, will be taken as some grievous offense against the social expectation of some level of nodding to conformity.

There are times that naming my liege as a partner of mine is frightening, dangerous, edgy, in a way that referring to my husband as my partner never can be. Because there are all these invisible lines, and different people touch off and go strange in different places, at the crossing of different taboos. There are times that there's a temptation to dodge the lines, make it easy, be who I am without ever confronting people with its reality, without ever naming any of the things that might fall over someone's invisible lines. Even though it mortgages my soul a little and makes to erase essential things.

I spent some time recently in the company of a married couple who happen to both be male. And every time one of them said "my husband", I felt the brush of a touch on the invisible line. And I pray that the little twinge is merely a twinge of the unfamiliar, that my unconscious heteronormativity is merely slow on catching up with the rest of my fervent belief in same-sex marriage rights, that my membership in the community of people who support and recognise their marriage is not compromised further than that. I hope that they're not burdened with the sense that they are being someone's object lesson in diversity, even while I know that that's a likely persistent subliminal effect.

I'm watching a discussion on usenet as well, in which a disabled person has managed to convey successfully to someone who had thought that "Why are you in a wheelchair?" was within the bounds of reasonable, civil conversation to have with a new acquaintance how intrusive it felt from the other side. And thinking of something a friend has been talking about elsewhere, about facilitating OWL (the Unitarian sex education program) and asking the class if they saw her as disabled. And a variety of other examples, recent and otherwise, of othering, tokenising, being the exemplar of an adjective -- the majority of them not chosen by the person stuck in the role of educator, reminder, example of Them.

I guess what I want to say to you, Earth, is that being the Visibility Fairy is exhausting work.

5 comments:

Darker said...

Being directed to put on my collar and wear it out to a gathering of friends, and being consumed with a desperate anxiousness that somehow people will notice and object...

Notice, yes. Object, no. :)

(Not that I expect you were worried about my reaction in particular? But subconsciouses can be funny things.)

"I'm watching a discussion on usenet as well, in which a disabled person has managed to convey successfully to someone who had thought that "Why are you in a wheelchair?" was within the bounds of reasonable, civil conversation to have with a new acquaintance how intrusive it felt from the other side."

Any chance I could get a pointer to that, or could you email me the explaining-post? I'd kind of like to understand, too; it's something I've never quite grasped on any level beyond "it probably involves personal medical stuff, which society at large treats as a taboo topic (except when it doesn't)".

I spent some time recently in the company of a married couple who happen to both be male. And every time one of them said "my husband", I felt the brush of a touch on the invisible line.

Likewise. Though touches on that particular invisible line seem to provoke emotions of happiness, contentment, and warm-fuzzies in me, so I'm pretty sure it's just the unfamiliarity of the context. :)

...being the Visibility Fairy is exhausting work.

Gods, yes. *hugs*

Daisy said...

Wonderful post, Kiya. I know I'll be going over it a few times, actually.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Any chance I could get a pointer to that, or could you email me the explaining-post?

The initial significant explanatory post was at this place; there is some discussion following that, but I think the clearest "Oh, I get it now" response is this one.

There was also a brief side thread along the lines of, "Sometimes it's just easier to answer the intrusive question than go to the work of educating about it, because it's just exhausting."

Likewise. Though touches on that particular invisible line seem to provoke emotions of happiness, contentment, and warm-fuzzies in me, so I'm pretty sure it's just the unfamiliarity of the context. :)

I get that with a twinge of irritation at myself for having the line to cross.

It's one of those things where I'm sort of hyperaware of the little internal pause to wait to see how people will react to things (because some people flip out), and I hope that I haven't done anything to encourage that sense of unsafety.

And like I'm discussing elsewhere, just because people haven't flipped out at me doesn't mean that I don't have the anticipatory moment where I'm waiting to make sure they don't. And that's why the Visibility Fairy is so damn tiring -- there's this spike of "prepared for fight/flight" that comes with anything that doesn't fit into 'normal'.

Darker said...

Cool - thanks for the linkage. It was helpful! :)

A. J. Luxton said...

Having not yet looked at the linked explanatory stuff, I can guess that at least part of the answer to why the question 'why are you in a wheelchair' is bad is because one gets it all the damn time. Like 'are you going to have surgery/did you have surgery yet' for anyone who reveals a trans identity, willingly or unintentionally. Or 'explain your tattoo', which despite the fact that I love mine, tends to make me want to hide it. Or 'what's that like, tell me about your sex life' with my marriage...

And the tendencies of my personality mean that I'm almost never content to give a snappy response and exeunt; no, it's always got to be the full tedious explanation, because... well, because I could save a life, or a few years of one, for someone who Really Needs to hear it.

In China I get a different interrogation: "where are you from? how can I learn English well?" A lot of teachers complain about this, but... well, honestly, it's less cumbersome than the get-to-know-you routine was becoming in the States.

And it's not ever, for me, that I have a problem with other people knowing the information. My sense of privacy in this regard is totally dictated by other people's needs. But damn, I get tired of dispensing it, and it's always the same thing over and over! It's like I have a blue rectangular sign on my forehead with a question mark in a circle. IZ POLY INFORMATION DESK, PLZ TO BE HELPFUL.