All things considered, I live a pretty charmed life. I mean, sure I have my share of “adulting failure” that leads to weeks with under $20 to get to work and eat on, but over all, I have it pretty good. That privilege is in stark relief this week and I have been looking at it square on and I’ve come to realize just how much it affects my life.
Despite the fact that I am, in point of fact, female and despite the truth that I am a part of the LGBTQ community, I am privileged in ways I hadn’t considered before this week.
As a fat chick, I escape a whole lot of the ogling and catcalling my more attractive sisters deal with. Rape is not the first worry on my mind when strange men pass me on the street, nor when I look up and find myself in a room full of men. I don’t get rude comments from guys. And it isn’t like I don’t give them room. I happen to love my breasts and I take pleasure in wearing clothing that frames them well. I can count on one hand the number of strangers who have ever commented on them in any way, let alone in a creepy, rapey way.
I escape all of that bullshit my sisters deal with. Okay, like 99.8% of it anyway. And, in my experience, when one of my sisters is with me and they’re being harassed all it takes is for me to indicate that she belongs to me for those creepy men to back off. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. I don’t know.
As someone who is bi-sexual or pansexual (I haven’t fully developed my preference between these yet…I’m somewhere in between right now), and as someone who largely presents as the gender I was born as, I have a particular privilege as well. Most straight people I know would never guess that I am a part of the LGBTQ family just be looking at me. I look like any other average fat chick walking down the street. The only time I have ever faced harassment for being “gay” was one year as I was leaving Pride, wearing a Pride staff t-shirt.
Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes like to wear guys clothing, but I’m not very butch. I sometimes like to dress up pretty and wear a dress, but I’m not a femme. Most of the time, I’m just me…a big woman with big boobs and long hair.
Sometimes this privilege makes me feel like an outsider, even in my own chosen family. Like I’m not girly enough to be a part of the girls’ club, and not gay enough to be a part of the gay club…even though I’m too female to be a guy and too gay to be straight.
I’m feeling that keenly this week. I keep finding myself not wanting to express my grief, my fear, because I’m afraid it won’t be understood. I’m afraid that others need the attention I might garner because I express my rage. I worry that I will be seen as histrionic by straight friends and family who can not understand the ways this tragedy has affected the lives of people who didn’t know any of the victims.
People who don’t know me well enough to know that I am pansexual, that I love men and women and those who are non-binary and everyone else, have asked me why I am crying. And I find it difficult to speak eloquently enough to make them understand. I end up fumbling about with words like family and brothers and sisters, and then have to clear up the notion that I was related to a victim. It’s awkward and weird and I can’t help but wonder if I need to drape myself in rainbows and install a neon sign above my head with the LGBTQ on a rainbow with the B in flashing lights for it to start to be easier.
And a part of me feels guilty for even writing this. Part of me feels like I do when we’re talking about people of color: It’s not your turn to talk. Sit down, shut up and listen. Except it is my turn to talk. And I will not shut up.
I don’t think any of us in the family are going to shut up now. We’re done being told to get along. We’re done being “tolerated” and placated with backhanded wins while politicians are using laws that promote hatred and bigotry, laws that tell people they are allowed to discriminate, as long as it’s because they deeply hold a religious belief that we are shit. That try to shove us into bathrooms that are unsafe for us. We are done trying to ignore hateful preachers who call for our deaths from the pulpit and then try to pretend that it isn’t their fault when someone takes them up on it with a gun or a bomb or whatever new way we find to end multiple lives at once.
In ten days, I will be working my tenth Pride in San Francisco. It’s my service to the community. I work in Donations. We’re the people who will be standing at the gates into the festival with big pink buckets asking you to donate. It’s a pretty good gig. We help you support a variety of community non-profits who volunteer with us. We fund holiday dinners for shut in LGBTQ folks, religious foundations that support LGBTQ people and initiatives, organizations for LGBTQ youth, and so much more.
It’s the one time of the year I wear my family membership on my sleeve, when I feel the most welcome, the most included in the community. Those two days, I am home. I hope this year I can carry that feeling with me beyond Pride month. Maybe I won’t feel like I’m stuck in the doorway, always looking for the invitation to come inside.
Not quite 3 years ago, when I was first working in the city, I met a young woman named Alice. We were waiting in line for food one lunch hour. I was in the flush of new job excitedness. The service was slow. She was in line in front of me, and I, emboldened by my flush of good fortune tossed out a comment meant to elicit a laugh. I got a small smile and we had slightly awkward conversation. Then it was her turn to order and I turned my mind to what I wanted.
As I got my lunch and turned to leave, determined to take my lunch back to my desk, I saw her sitting alone and there was something….I will never know why, but I stopped at her table and said something to the effect of “I was wonder….I’m just going off to eat by myself…if you’re not expecting someone, would you mind if I joined you for lunch?”
She kind of lit up and nodded and made room on the table for me. We talked for the best part of a half hour…not about anything in particular…just the sort of small talk strangers do when they meet. We exchanged names, discovered we both worked nearby and I discovered that she had an older sister who had a medical condition of some kind.
For some reason, I offered her my business card and told her that if she ever needed to talk she should give me a call or she could email me. Then I went back to work. Alice wasn’t a pretty girl and I got the impression that she’d been told so repeatedly. She had a beautiful smile that she hid behind her hand. Her voice was musical and she had a great laugh…but she did not fit conventional ideas of beauty.
It was almost two weeks later that I got an email from her. She asked if we could maybe have lunch together again. I agreed. Over the next little while, we had lunch once or twice a month. I learned a little more about her. Some of it she told me, some I deduced by her behavior. It was maybe 6 months into this friendship that I got a call from her just as I was going to bed. We talked for almost two hours about next to nothing.
It was only a few weeks later that she told me that she’d been planning to kill herself, that she called me with the knife in her hands and my laughter and warmth made her put it down.
Two more times in the last nearly 3 years, she called me as she was sitting with the means to end her life. The last time I wasn’t sure I had talked her down when we finally hung up after 5 hours. But I got an email later that day saying she was seeing her doctor, so I was relieved.
I wouldn’t say I knew her well. I never met her family, though I knew that she felt as though she was a burden to them, especially her mother, because she knew her sister needed their mother more. I knew how she liked her coffee and that she loved chocolate and caramel, that like me she loved getting postcards and snail mail. I have dropped a postcard to her in the mail often, and sometimes I’ll write a little note on a post it, stick it in an envelope and send it to her.
I wouldn’t say we were good friends. I never spent more than an hour in her company in person, our conversations were never very deep or meaningful in content and we often went more than a month without even an email.
The day after I had learned that Alison Jessop had passed from this world, I got a phone call from her phone number, but it wasn’t her voice on the other end. It was her mother. She asked who I was and why my number was one of the five her daughter kept in her phone. I learned that Alice had left a note for her mother, apologizing for being such a problem and that now Delia (her sister) could get all of her mother’s attention…and then she had taken a bottle of pills and gone to sleep.
She hadn’t called, and believe me, I checked. She had just decided she was done hurting, done hunting for the light in the vast darkness that swallowed her.
Yesterday, when I got home from work, there was a card in my mailbox from her mother. The note inside said that she had found a box in her daughter’s closet labeled “Box of Happy” and inside it was every postcard and post it note I had ever sent her, along with odds and ends of other things. There was also something Alice had left and asked her mother to send to me.
In the card was an envelope. In the envelope was a post it note. It said, “Thank you. Goodbye.”
Kindness Matters. It matters so very much.
My 2016 did not start out on the foot I expected, or wanted it to. Three days into the new work year, I was laid off from a job that I loved more than I thought a person could love a regular 9to5 day job.
I don’t hold any grudges. I realize that there are reasons for the lay off. I get that choices are hard in times like these. As much as I don’t like the uncertainty of being out of work, I would never wish it on any of the amazing people I worked with either.
It does, however, put me back in that place I always flounder a bit: the dreaded job search. I am not very good at tooting my own horn. I’ve always let me work speak for itself. However, when you are coming into a situation with no work to show, that can be problematic.
I know I’m good at what I do. I’m a good editor and writer. I’m great at managing projects large and small. I am pretty good with some data analysis. I’ve even learned a bit of code along the way.
The problem is, how do you reflect that in a resume? How do you show the hiring manager of the next great job that you can do the job? How do you convince them to give you the opportunity to prove yourself? Especially when all of your writing samples are company confidential.
I’m really hoping that this is one of those cases where a door is closed and somewhere new a door opens. In the meantime, I apply to as many jobs as I can find in the world of writing, and hope that someone sees past the lines on a resume to recognize the talent I possess while working on the next novel.