So, yesterday, I had Quite A Day. I had to take the standardized legal ethics exam for lawyers, the MPRE, which is COMICAL, of course, because 5 words: Jay Bybee and John Yoo. But anyway, it's a pain, and I really want to pass, so I don't have to take that stupid bullshit again. But. The day before the exam, my power goes off around 3 pm when Alexandria gets hit by a wild storm, and doesn't come back on. It then it still doesn't come back on. I cooked dinner by candlelight, which was kinda fun, but the greens came out a little underdone, because who can tell when the greens are done by fucking candlelight? But I was getting worried about the lack of power situation - my phone was running out of power, and I needed an alarm to wake me. Also, I needed to print out my admission ticket to this damn test. So I called my friend E., who printed it out from work (she is a lawyer, I knew she'd still be at work), and promised to bring it to me later in the evening. I camped out at Whole Foods, which is down the street and had power, to finish studying and power my phone. E. dropped off my ticket, I set my alarm, I went to bed fairly early, because this test is in the most inconvenient place ever, and I have to leave like 2 hours before I need to be there to get there on time.
And then my power goes on at like 12:15 am, and everything turns out and starts beeping and scares the fuck out of me and then it takes me forever to go back to sleep. Like, until 2 am. Then, I wake up in the morning, and I look at the clock, and I freak out, because it is REALLY LATE, and OH MY GOD, I must have slept through my alarm, I am going to miss the test, holy shit, I fly around the house in a tizzy trying to get out as quick as possible until just before I am about to run out the door when I realize that the clock was actually WRONG because of the power being out and I still have over an hour to kill before I have to leave and I have in fact slept like 4 hours and I am sort of a mess.
So. That was the start to my morning. I was a little, uh, brittle, is I think the right word there.
Anyway, I go, and there is a shuttle from the subway to the law school, because as I said, this test is in the most inconvenient place possible. Everyone kinda starts chatting up people next to them as we wait for the bus, and I start speaking to the woman next to me. She looks older, like me, and thus the least likely to want to talk about law school in that annoying insecure hyper-competitive law-students-really-are-assholes sort of way (true story - a friend of mine who went to law school before me warned me, "Law students are the worst people on earth." I never doubted her, but wow was she right). So, we start chatting, and she mentions she has never been out to American University. I tell her the last time I was there was for a gender and sexuality conference. And she says, "Well, that's appropriate, given that really interesting opinion that just came down the other day about gay marriage."
And the way she said it, I knew she didn't have a personal stake in that decision at all.
Now, ok, most straight folks are heterosexist - they assume whomever they are speaking to is straight like them. It happens all the time. I used to present much more butch - my gender expression has changed over time, and when I was in college, I had the short hair, the boy clothes, I was way more dykey (I went to Smith, SO). I didn't usually get mistaken for straight, and that was great. Because I didn't end up in these awkward positions with strangers who act like gay people are Others, not Us, some foreign entity that could not possibly be sitting next to them on the bus going to take a stupid standardized law exam. Yeah, looking dykey made me a target sometimes, but that was ok, because it was more straightforward, and I knew how to handle it. I yelled. I fought. Whatever. I am pretty feisty: I don't let shit go. But at least then I felt more in control of the situation.
So here I am, looking pretty fucking straight, passing, as it were, and that can put me in an awkward position if I don't want to out myself, or if the issue is so emotional because it actually matters to me and I don't want to even engage with someone about it because they clearly can't really get where I'm coming from. But also, and especially after the morning I just had, I was basically presented with two options, on this bus: I could casually out myself, and hope that would stave off any wayward homophobic remarks that I just could not handle at the moment, or I could continue to speak like I don't have a horse in this race, and yeah, I am totally discussing my civil rights as an academic thought experiment on a bus with some random straight lady. And I could just hope the person is maybe an ally. So I don't spend the rest of my morning shouting at her IN MY HEAD.
Most days, when I am passing, when I am "properly" performing my gender so no one can recognize me as an outsider, I do a lot of damage control. I speak about my ex-girlfriends early when I meet someone I know I will see regularly, hoping to stave off any hate that could come my way. When I got new roommates this summer, I was sure to mention I had former girlfriends. When one of my roommates told me her boyfriend was "kinda a hick" (her words) and was pretty conservative, I made sure that the next time I engaged him in conversation I mentioned I was queer. I use it as a shield now, a defense. It's like the very lowest end of a spectrum of continuous abuse; sometimes, those who are abused will start provoking the abuse after a while, do things that will may very well cause them pain, so they feel like they have some control. I am not always abused per se, not like we normally think of it, and this is certainly NOT comparable in any close degree whatsoever to being physically or mentally abused and unsafe, but an awful lot of terrible shit is said about me in the news, on the computer screen, on the TV, and now when I meet people, I want to control it. Either by making sure the non-confrontational stay quiet, or getting it out there, here, now, letting any bigotry come when I am the one who has called it forth. It is always the wayward comments, the ones you aren't ready for, the ones that come out of the blue, that hit the hardest.
Being queer is also the first thing I will sacrifice about myself. I know the surest way to reverse homophobia has been for people to come out, for homophobes to know and love people who are also queer. So, I will not tolerate sexists. I will refuse to engage with racists. But homophobes . . . I think to myself well, maybe, I should tolerate their bigotry. Maybe they will change their minds. Maybe they will come to understand. Maybe they will love me, and that will overwhelm the hate.
But that friend who became abusive? He was a bigot. I gave him too much rope, and he tried to hang me with it. I think I need to stop excusing homophobia. I need to stop letting it roll off my back, when someone I love doesn't support the right for gay people to get married. And not because I love the institution of marriage, we have kind of established that, but because it is a sign they do not respect me, and will not respect me, and I am in danger. I am not safe with them.
But I am not really safe with anyone who doesn't believe I am a full and equal human being, and some days, you don't have the fight in you to defend yourself. Some days, you can't drop your queerness as a defense early, before something gets said, and then something gets said, and you are in this strange position, because all you really want to do is take your stupid fucking law ethics bullshit exam and go back home and sleep because you are exhuasted.
But I realized I was also too exhuasted to be cagey, or detached. And so I looked that woman right in the eye and said, "I didn't think it was interesting. I thought it was glorious. I got up and did a happy dance around my room when the decision came down."
It turned out she was an ally. I was lucky. And I am also not so "lucky," because I mean, I live in a liberal city on the east coast and I can usually calculate I will not get outright hostility in response. My calculations have been different in other places - in some places in this country, or when I am abroad, I will absolutely never take a chance, never open my mouth,. never test the waters to see if it is okay for me to wade in. There are some queer folks, in some places, who can never take that gamble. Whether it is in Uganda or Iran, because they will be killed for it (yes, that link is from this morning, and even a straight man will be sacrificed and executed at the altar of sheer hatred for queer people), or in the U.S. Armed Forces, where they will be discharged for it. I took a gamble the other day, and I won.
I am not a betting person. I don't like games of chance, when especially when for some queer folks, our lives or our jobs or out families are on the line. I "won" the other day, but there is no winning. The only way to win this is to never have to play. I hope someday, not one of us will have to.