Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Being polite (and generalising)

My new job has brought with it a sudden rash of people declaring that they are “totally fine” or that they “don’t care” about my sexuality. 

To be more accurate, they don’t care about what they think is my sexuality.  What they think is based on some reference that I’ve made in conversation, usually to some relationship I had many years ago.  They hear a pronoun and compute:  female person, used female pronoun, must equal… lesbian!  The thought process doesn’t stop there, either.  It then proceeds to: must reassure the lesbian that I’m ok with lesbians! 

This has taken me a bit by surprise, I must confess.  It’s a new dynamic for me.  I’m used to working with people who are much too polite to make reference to such things.  Other people that I have worked with obviously had the same thought process, except for the last bit. 

Gay men and lesbians tend to come to that conclusion before I ever use any pronouns, based simply on how I dress.  Gay men tend to be the worst, in my experience, in the sense that they assume they know all about me, my life history, my opinions and my values - all based on how I dress.  Lesbians have generally been around enough women who don’t wear make-up to know that there’s not a big future in assumptions.

Straight people tend to think, ‘lesbian’ and then don’t say anything.  Often they genuinely don’t care.  This is particularly true for straight folks who have been around a lot of gay people.  Others probably do care a little bit but they know that it’s rude to make reference to it in public, rather like making reference to someone being fat.  It’s only when they have a problem with me that I become ‘that lesbian’, and this only comes out in private.
I haven’t been present for these conversations, obviously.  But I have been present for some of the conversations where I’m informed that it’s my own fault that people make assumptions about me, that I ask for it, because … because I don’t wear make-up, apparently. 

I’ve also been thin – or at least not fat - at different times in my life, and heard the way women who aren’t fat themselves and are much too polite to say anything to women who are tend to change when they have a problem with the [fat] woman in question.  Clearly, good manners are only skin deep.  Or a layer of fat deep, I guess. 

Lesbians are no better, in this regard.  They don’t go to a homophobic place, obviously.  It’s just ‘that fat bitch’ rather than ‘that fat lesbian’.  Gay men, of course, don’t need much encouragement to go to either place – though there are some honourable exceptions.  And straight men… I don’t know where they go.  I think for them it’s just ‘bitch’. 

There is, therefore, no moral distinction to be made between those who say they ‘don’t care’ and those who don’t say anything.  I prefer the people who don’t say anything, though.  If they’re straight, at least. Because really, I don’t want to talk about any of it. 

Don’t get me wrong: I have the same need for affirmation and validation as anybody else, and there was a time when I did want to talk about it.  Talking about it, however, taught me that you’re not going to get validation from people who have no idea.  All you’re going to get is dumb questions.  And people who have some idea can be even worse: they give you fatuous, offensive assumptions dressed up as validation.  I guess there is a lot of good work to be done, if you want to be an educator.  I don’t.  

Consequently, these declarations that people ‘don’t care’ about something I had forgotten about are a bit of a new thing.  I don’t know why it is happening: maybe it’s because the folks I’m working with now are a bit younger.  But they are obviously trying to do the right thing so it seems a bit, well, rude, to say, “I don’t care that you don’t care.  In fact, I don’t care if you do care.  I just flat-out don’t care!”

Instead I just politely ignore it.  “Right.  Good-oh.  Well, as I was saying…”

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