I'm working on an autobiographical thingy. Some of the old stuff I wrote impresses even me. I used to write a column, From Outside the Gender Prison, for the Arkansas GLBT newsmagazine Triangle Rising. I've posted some of those columns in my Gender Workshop series. But they weren't all strictly about gender. This is one of those others.
Though the pieces may be a bit dated, they are also timeless. Let's hope not. Maybe some day this won't need to be said.
From Outside the Gender Prison: Dear Distressed
[first appeared in Triangle Rising Newsmagazine, Little Rock, AR, January, 1998]
I received an email the other day from an unknown source. I'm sure the same question that "distressed" asked in that email has been asked by many. May my response help someone.
i am having an extremely hard time coping in society (specifically, the workplace). i am a lesbian woman and not ashamed of it. why do people try to make me feel like i should be?---distressedDear Distressed:
Western society, particularly US brand, has come up with the idea that life is some sort of contest in which there are winners and losers. At the same time, we are inculcated with the belief that is important to always strive to win in any contest. So people feel they need to prove that their way of living is a winning strategy.
Too many people believe that the only way to do that is to claim that any life that is not lived in accordance with their strategy is the life of a loser. Then they set out to make their belief a reality by making the lives of those they have labeled as losers more difficult.
There is a large group of people who believe that other people should be forced to adopt their life strategy (what they would call "be normal"). Any deviance from their "normality" is viewed with anything from disdain to hatred and may cause them to react with rumor, innuendo, discrimination, verbal, sexual, physical and/or emotional harassment or abuse and, in some cases, even violence.
All this is because it somehow is supposed to make them feel better about themselves and their lot in life.
Personally, I view the compulsion to strive to be "normal" as a dangerous mental disorder and believe that these people are in serious need of therapy. A society will stagnate if all of its members are the same. It is the "different" people who really make an impact.
Well, the gay and gender communities * are * making an impact. We display, through the very act of existing and being open and honest about who we are, that queer lives * are * livable and hence that it is not necessary to conform to their narrowly drawn rules in order to thrive. Those people I mentioned above find this extremely disconcerting, for it causes them to wonder about their own reality. Accustomed as they are to having a fixed mode of being that they deem acceptable, they view "difference" with fear, a fear that "people like them" will no longer have control of society...control of truth and shame and guilt. Like little children, this fear causes them to "act out." Unfortunately, we different people are the targets of this behavior.
You do no have to put up with behavior that makes you uncomfortable. You are a human being. You are living your life the best you know how, in the way that is appropriate for you. Other people may have a problem with that, but you know, it really is their problem and not yours. Provided that their actions and their words don't cross the legal line into harassment or discrimination or include violence, then their behavior is only your problem when you let their actions or words affect the way you feel or behave.
As someone who changed sex in the public eye (I am a professor working at a state-supported university, so pretty much everyone knew and knows everything about me), I had to learn to be patient with people and to be aware of their ignorance of what it means to be me. I have chosen to see the humor in their behavior rather than to feel afraid or ashamed or guilty. In short, I have learned to view my life as being lived in a larger reality than their conception. In my reality, my life has just as much value as theirs...perhaps even more value, since my existence adds to the diversity of life, while they strive very hard to make sure that they are totally replaceable by someone just like them.
So when someone tries to give me a hard time, I just smile or chuckle and shake my head. Then I go about my business. I figure it is up to other people to adapt to me, not my job to adapt to them.
I have made an effort to be a friend of other people who are different. With enough friends who care, who needs to worry about those who view me as their enemy?
Peace and Love,
© 1998 Robyn Elaine Serven