All I Know How to Be

I am a straight, white woman. I was born that way. With the possible exception of a period of time when I was a toddler and told everyone my name was George (I have no idea), I’ve always been that way and I assume that I always will be. That’s good because at this stage of the game, I just don’t know if I could handle being a gay, black man. (Although Ru Paul does have a stunning wardrobe and I could use the make-up tips.)

The news this week has been filled with people that I’m not – Bruce Jenner, rioters, gay couples petitioning the US Supreme Court for the right to marry, a fan whose team is in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since I don’t have television, I don’t know what the news has been saying about all of these things, but I know what a lot of the print media has had to say. More than that, I know what the people on my Facebook feed have had to say and it’s been, let’s say, illuminating. The commentary has reminded me a great deal of an incident with my friends Diane and Sandy. We’ll come back to that.

I am a woman born in a woman’s body. I have no clue what it feels like to be anything else. As a result, I really don’t understand it. I’m neither Chaz Bono nor Bruce Jenner. I do, however, know several people in various stages of transition from one gender to another. Some of them will already pass as the other gender and are going to have an easier time of it than the others. Bruce Jenner has such fine bone structure that his transition will be much easier than, say, Fred Gwynne’s would have been. Still, even the ones who have an “easier” time of it won’t have an easy time by any stretch of the imagination. Rejection by friends and family, social scorn, painful treatments – why would anyone choose to undergo such trials if their bodies were not already prisons that were far worse? I can’t imagine why they would. With the difficulties transgenders face, I’m glad I’m just a straight, white woman.

I’m also glad I’m just a straight, white woman on those rare occasions when I get pulled over. I’m not seen as a threat. I doubt very seriously that any officer looks in my Mary Poppins window and thinks I’m about to pull a gun on him, which is good for both of us really. However, I have a son. When he started to drive, I told him that when he got pulled over, he was to sit with his hands on the steering wheel until the officer got to him. If he could turn on his interior light, great. But, if not, just sit where the officer could see his hands and know that there was no weapon. I worried about my child being perceived as a threat….and he makes Casper look tan! My friends Carlos (one a Hispanic man and the other a dark complected black man) are both immediately perceived as higher threats than either me or my son, simply because of their skin color. Both are well-educated, law-abiding men; however, both are seen as threats and, as a result, officers of the law are a greater threat for them than they are for either me or my son. While I can acknowledge this from the outside, I can’t really understand it. I thought I could for many years, then I had lunch with Diane and Sandy.

We all worked together at the airport in Jackson, MS. Diane and I worked at American Eagle, Sandy worked in food service. Diane and I are both about as white bread as you can get. Sandy was, as she said, ghetto fabulous. She liked elaborate hairstyles, tight clothes, big jewelry and her one gold tooth. She was funny, smart, as good as gold and thought my baby was gorgeous (of course, I loved that!). Anyway, one beautiful spring day, we all went to lunch at a local Greek restaurant where we had terrible service. I mean terrible. We got our own napkins and refills. It was really bad. Diane and I didn’t think anything about it, really, other than that the service was terrible. Sandy saw it differently.

She saw tables of white patrons being waited on. She saw a table of black men being waited on. But, she saw no tables like ours. And we weren’t being waited on. She thought it was her fault because she looked different from other diners in the place.

When she apologized, I was horrified. It would never have even entered my mind that I would get subpar service based on my skin color. But it entered hers and I hurt for her. I would never have suggested that restaurant had I thought for a second that it would result in the humiliation I saw in my friend. I am assured by many that our experience was really just a case of bad service without any racial or socio-economic genesis. That may be. But, it’s been 20 years since that lunch. I haven’t been back to the restaurant and I don’t have any plans to change that.

Reading the news and my newsfeed, I know more than ever that I am a straight, white woman. It’s all I know how to be; but, it’s not all I can be or even have to be. I have to be a compassionate, straight, white woman.


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