It has been a long time since I have had to come out to anyone. So imagine my surprise last week when, at the Y, I was thrown back to earlier days when I a) felt invisible; b) wondered what I would do, take the opportunity to “pass,” or say something. Here’s what happened:
I had decided to try a new weight loss group at the Y, looking for some accountability, preferring the camaraderie of group workouts (I am devoted to my spin class!). I thought a group with a challenge might be just the thing to get me focused on losing the weight I need and would like to lose, mostly in order to feel faster and stronger climbing hills on my bike though there are lots of reasons I really need to lose weight (that’s another blog entry). I sat in the small conference room, looked around the table at the other women–we were all women–a range of ages, races, body types. At some point the Assistant Wellness Director, an African American woman, walked in and commented on how quiet we all were, how we didn’t seem enthused for this group. I grunted something about being enthused but tired–it was the end of the workday, after all (and mine had involved talking with a student who had plagiarized a short story in Fiction I) — when the Assistant Wellness Director said in her cheerful, upbeat voice: “This is your time. No husband, no kids. Time to focus on you.“
So, I’m OK with the “time to focus on you” part. But the husband/kid comment threw me. Anger boiled deep within, familiar and unwelcome. You might think: c’mon, Patty. She didn’t mean anything by it. But here’s the thing–most of us don’t, when we make comments like that. We don’t mean to insult anyone. We don’t stop to think about it. And suddenly, I felt invisible. I was jolted back to those early years when coming out was my burden to bear, when almost every encounter forced me to make a choice–come out or play along and stay unseen. But as I said, those days have been, thankfully, long in the past for me. The school where I teach, the other gym to which I belong, the various groups I attend–in all aspects of my life here, I am seen. The people in these various groups know me, know Cindy, know we are a couple. I looked around the table again–most of the women were smiling, nodding. But who else might have been thinking what did she say? Who else might have been wondering at the assumptions in that innocent comment, the ways in which we’re all lumped together, the expectation that, because we’re women, we share a common experience? At home, I found myself fuming over a T.V. ad that featured several heterosexual couples discussing their financial needs; clearly, such matters don’t concern gay couples.
Maybe I should let it go. But what about the kids who are bombarded with these same heterosexist assumptions? In 2013, should coming out be their burden to bear? Shouldn’t we be beyond that? Every kid should attend a high school like the one where I teach, where gay kids can attend prom with a date of their choosing, or kids can attend prom with no date at all. Every kid should grow up feeling seen and loved for who they are. I remember years ago, when I was teaching in Cambridge at the Fayerweather Street School, another open and accepting environment, one of my 5th grade students said to me: “Patty, you must hate going to the movies.” “Why?” I asked her. “Because you never see anyone like you.” Smart kid. By now, she’s a young woman and I hope she’s out there making a difference in this world, confronting the heterosexism and homophobia that, in spite of the growing acceptance of gay marriage or perhaps because of it, results in a young gay man being murdered not far from Stonewall–the irony is too painful to bear.