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August 18, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 33
 
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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
Surprises
The day being cooler after untoward heat, and not being in the hospital, I was out rolling around enjoying things and discovered several block parties; at one place I was surprised to find vegetarian stuff - I continued to the next, and there found something marvelous: a German singing Weimar torch songs to his straight neighbors.

Well his gay ones too: a few shy lesbians and guys, Lover and myself. He was coquette, stud, cabaret boy... Carmen Miranda to Jaques Brel.

All I had done was head into an alley, and there was the second or third best entertainment I've seen in 30-odd years in Seattle. Completely unexpected. What did not surprise me was that he pointedly ignored the lesbians, made up to a few of his own - and fawned on the straights. We do that, don't we?

CARESSED BY THE BEST OF THE WEST

But then Seattle has often surprised me. It was the first place I ever met vegetarians who just "didn't like red meat", or included chicken, fish, oysters, etc. Uh, well...

But the most amazing thing here had to do with rentals: not only couldn't we find a place accepting cats, we couldn't find a place accepting kids. I thought this had to be a violation of civil rights, but it was legal. Ultimately, friends found an apartment by leaving their boy with us until they had signed a lease... Having children seemed to be bad manners. In Seattle, on Phinney Ridge. Thirty years ago.

In general, one of the things we do is try not to surprise people too much. And not just the landlord. That they tolerate what they can see of us is a cautious signal that at worst they might leave us alone. Then, we try to decide if and when to reveal the rest of ourselves... and hope any unexpected information will not count against us. And there are lovely surprises here and there.

AND YET...

Some of our attributes are obvious: eye color, racial features, certain of our flaws... these are things that would be difficult or impossible to hide if we wanted to. And sometimes we do want to.

Where I grew up, having white skin conferred distinct privilege. I once naïvely thought I should somehow give up this privilege as I understood it: MY (modest) schooling, housing, livelihood - then it came to me that this is like curing world famine by fasting.

The fact remains I look white, and some people are going to hate me. I'm obviously a woman; misogynists or those who pray on women may notice me. I'm a crip, and older: maybe an easy mark. But you can't tell much of my religious [read: 'ethnic'] grouping, or for absolute certainty if I'm queer [although I've certainly been queer-bashed]. Well... I've been mistaken for a homeless person.

Many of us simply don't seem queer to straights, leaving those of us who out-flame Divine as their definition of all of us. Unless we mention it, of course. Which is the damnable thing about it - often safer, sometimes cowardly, to avoid it - but only some of us have that choice. A private matter? Naturally, but if it were truly private there wouldn't be laws about it. Such as, within very general limits it wouldn't matter whom you married. As well as what you did then.

That choice for "some of us" brings up that choice all of us face: when to tell. Forging an acquaintance into a friend, we must disclose. I imagine we have all been surprised (I have) to discover a "friend" doesn't know we're gay, and takes it badly. But no one is really your friend who doesn't know you're gay - not your neighbor, not your coworker, not your sister. Sometimes their surprise can literally kill you. Yet one of the fine surprises about Seattle is the relative peace in which people like us can live.

THE UNDISCLOSED

Of course there are always things that can't be told at a glance, politics for example, and religion. You couldn't be sure who knew you were a Dixiecrat or Trans, unless perhaps you were in a posted meeting. And you sure couldn't know who would hate you. Until they came in, of course.

The other day a woman I knew very slightly went to work on a Friday as usual, and a man who could not otherwise have known she was Jewish entered the building and shot her to death. And into the middle of it all comes the smiling mortician [The Coney Island of the Mind: Lawrence Ferlinghetti]. Surprise. And rest in peace.

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