Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sometimes it matters

I just returned home from two wonderful weeks in the North Country. We have roots in the town we travel to annually - deep roots (for USians). But I have also amassed a personal community of friends as well, and it grows from time to time as well. On this trip I was in a mixed group of long time friends and new friends. The long time friends know I am gay. It is not an issue. It doesn't come up. During an exchange several people in the circle were having about an absent "friend," they began making critical comments about lesbians, making it clear that they did not approve. My long time friends were uncomfortable and tried to change the subject. I surprised myself by just listening. I did not identify myself as a lesbian, but not because I was afraid (I didn't care what this gossipy pair thought of me), but to learn. I chose not to try to educate. I was socializing with friends, and off-duty, I suddenly realized. I gave myself a break.

It was wonderful to not be the "Representative Lesbian." It also gave me a great nugget for the conversation that followed four nights later with my 20-something nephews who wanted to know whether, when Carolyn and I came out several decades ago, we had any trouble. I told them about the encounter several days before. They were incredulous that such attitudes still existed, and I assured them that this most recent slight was mild and amusing in a way. I have experienced far more damaging and hateful prejudice on account of my being a lesbian. Experiences that I am still recovering from.

In this, my 50th year, I hope to surmount one such past affront and once again stay at a bed and breakfast. The episode that makes this such an accomplishment was painful in the extreme, being associated with the then-recent death of a family member we were caring for. It might seem like a minor thing - to be put off staying at B&Bs - but that was how we traveled. In the years since, we have not traveled together except for business and to lodge with friends or family, and one special inn we have stayed at for decades.

I will not say that anything was taken away from us in the incident, but we were injured at an excruciatingly vulnerable time. We are recovering and will be fine. We chose not to purse legal action, because through State action, the business was reprimanded and educated. Part of what helped us also was getting an invitation for a free stay from another B&B in the area, the Golden Lantern. We never went, but expressed out gratitude to them, and said how it was good to have that outreach. The ugly attitudes of the hosts and guests of the other place have haunted us too long.

I mark how far I have come that I can sit quietly in a place that I hold in my heart as a favorite in the world, and not have the unasked-for judgment of these people affect me or change my feelings for that place. There is still a lot of hate in the world about the fact of love between persons of the same sex, which mystifies me, but I mostly feel safe. I will speak up when it matters. And I'll keep silent when I choose. And learn.


twinsetellen said...

I am very impressed, Kathy, at how centered you remained during this experience. All the same, I am sorry you had reason to test yourself. I am not so naive as to be shocked.

Always there for you, but not because you are lesbian; rather because you are you.

Eryka Jackson said...

I couldn't agree more. And more to the point, I have been in similar situations, where people (both White AND Black) have made really insensitve comments about how certain people are too behave. It was really amazingly peaceful when I got to that place where I just listen. Because it was about them...not me! Put simply, their approval is not required.