Fat Talk: I Eat, Therefore I Am

Years ago, when The Morphine Man* was breaking up with me for the final time (such an unpretty story), he cycled back around to his most significant issue with me, one he’d hauled out in each of our crash-and-burn moments when he wanted to end a conversation and send me packing in one fell swoop: my body. In his last goodbye letter, he told me about a woman he’d met who had confronted him about his smoking, asking him: “But don’t you want to live?” He said he’d never thought of smoking in such stark terms, and her question drove him to quit because yes, he definitely wanted to live.

And so, his question to me as he signed himself out of my life was the same: didn’t I want to live? Seeing me after so many years had broken his heart, apparently, because not only was I still fat, I was fatter. He’d once told me that he couldn’t be attracted to a fat woman—despite the evidence to the contrary in the form of his unflaggingly ardent pursuit of me. But more than how much he couldn’t possibly be attracted to me because of my body, reconnecting with me had made him understand the true, shattering problem: that I have a death wish.

A death wish. Really.

When he wrote that letter, I had pissed him off well and truly, and he needed me to go away. And the version of me that he’d dated in our first go-rounds would have collapsed in shame and pain at the merest mention of her body, would have slunk away to weep and moan in private, would have stopped speaking. That’s what he wanted and had come to expect from me, so the turn to blaming my fat wasn’t a surprise. If we were going down in flames, there was no question but that my oversized self would be heaved up on the pyre.

Sometimes, I live to disappoint. And in this case, I surprised him by not crumbling and slinking away. In the years between our first failed relationship and final, equally-doomed one, I had changed. I had changed enough that – when I chose to – I was able to talk openly and reasonably-comfortably about my body, about being fat. I had changed so much that I no longer accepted as an “of course” the idea that my body was to blame for any and every ill that befell me.

I clearly hadn’t changed enough to know better than to get involved with that man again, but I knew enough to know that I—and by “I” I mean all of me, all of my body, every bit of my big, fat self—was perfectly fine, entirely loveable, entirely life-embracing. A death wish? Not this girl.

The Morphine Man isn’t alone in thinking fat people are eating themselves to death. Of course not. That’s basically the popular conception of fatness. Fat equals death. Punto.

Except … not.

Here’s a thing we should establish up front: food isn’t the same as cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. Not in any way the same. The woman who turned The Morphine Man’s head was puzzled by his insistence on inhaling poison. On purpose. Over and over again. The choice to smoke is that, a choice. While there is choice involved in eating, eating itself isn’t a choice. I have to eat. I have no choice but to eat if I want to keep living. I get to choose what I eat, of course. And, if my idea of dinner is a vat of Cool Whip, three pints of ice cream and a shopping cart’s-worth of pork rinds, then maybe I need to consider adding some fruits and vegetables to my grocery list, some legumes, a handful of cashews.

Another ex, the one I call “Z,” wondered how I could be fat when I ate the way I did. “I cannot understand how this comes true, how you have developed this size,” he said after we’d been together for a while (Z’s first language isn’t English, so we grant him his funky constructions). It was very simple, I explained to him. “I didn’t always eat the way I do now.”

And that was true. And isn’t it always true for everyone? What we want changes. And so the things I choose to eat change over time all the time. I used to eat meat and lots of it. Then I became a vegetarian. Now I’m an occasional carnivore who’ll probably go back to being a vegetarian. I used to enjoy crappy candy. Now I choose higher-end treats made with better ingredients and fewer chemicals. I used to eat only a narrow range of vegetables, now I eat just about any vegetable that comes my way. The only thing that hasn’t changed in my eating habits is my love and probably-excessive consumption of fruit. I like to think this is evidence of my having been a butterfly in a previous incarnation.

Unlike smoking, drinking, or taking drugs, eating is a thing humans must do … unless they actually do have a death wish. Are there fat people who harbor death wishes? I’m sure there must be. Just as there must be slender and skinny people who hold those same wishes. Where do we lay the blame in the case of a thin person, I wonder. Not on their hideously-outsized bodies, so where?

So, what The Morphine Man called “a zen-clear question”—Don’t you want to live?—works for smoking, works for meth addiction, works for alcoholism. It doesn’t at all work for eating. People who want to live, eat.

Of course, that’s not really what The Morphine Man was asking me, I know. My fat meant something was wrong with me, meant I was unhealthy. The fact that I was fatter than I’d been when he and I had last been together meant things were out of control, meant I was eating myself to death. That, too, is a pretty common perception of fat. If everything were fine with me, why on earth would I be fat? If I were the picture of health, I would—obviously—be as svelte and fit as an Olympic athlete. Like everyone else in the world. Like The Morphine Man himself, right? Except The Morphine Man, though thinner than I am, had never been “svelte” in all the time I’d known him.

If The Morphine Man hadn’t been throwing my body at me in an effort to drive me away, I would have talked to him about some of the things that are true about why I am fat and what being fat has meant and means for me. I don’t know that he could ever have processed the idea that, rather than eating myself to death, I had eaten myself to a sense of relative safety. He wouldn’t have understood that, but he might have had a better understanding of me, of the things I’ve dealt with.

As for his insistence that he couldn’t be attracted to a fat woman, that was surely true … for all that it was also quite obviously completely false. While I never had any doubt that he was physically attracted to me, I was certain I was the first fat woman he’d ever dated, maybe the first fat woman he’d ever wanted sexually. It had to be both puzzling and troubling for him to find that he could be attracted to me, could want to have sex with me. Men aren’t supposed to want to be with me. With the exception of my hourglass shape, I most emphatically don’t fit conventional beauty standards for female bodies. For him to pursue me while at the same time knowing that he could never be attracted to a fat woman must have created some painful cognitive dissonance for him.

I keep thinking of that question: Don’t I want to live? Well, yes, I absolutely want to live. But—of course there is a “but”—I want to live on my terms. I want to live in a way that will let me live fully, comfortably, and confidently. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Isn’t that what we should all want? It shouldn’t be surprising, and it also shouldn’t have to have anything to do with the size of my body or the food I eat.

Because I have for so many years had a disordered relationship with my body and with food, living fully and comfortably does have to do with my body, does have to do with what I eat. Living comfortably means I need to change that relationship, need to continue the self-love journey I started years ago. And that means I need to care deeply for this body I have—care for myself. And that’s something I know how to do and something I continue to learn and relearn how to do. This self-care is pretty basic: I need to feed myself what I’m hungry for when I’m hungry for it, keep myself hydrated and well-rested, move for strength and flexibility, take myself out into nature so I can feel sunshine and summer breezes on my skin and sand between my toes, surround myself with people who love and respect me, laugh loud and long, and take lovers who want me—not some idea they have of the person they should be with but me in all my me-ness.

It’s possible that, should I ever do all of those things all at the same time and consistently, the size and shape of my body will change. But it may not. If I ever do all of those things all at the same time and consistently, What is sure is that I will be healthier and happier, stronger and more deft in my movements. And that will be fabulous. I’m looking forward to that.

I eat, therefore I am. And I have every intention of keeping it that way.

_______________
* I don’t generally use folks’ real names, and I haven’t come up with a good fake name for him, so I use this nickname because it pleases me, and he is the person who introduced me to the amazing band, Morphine.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger
If you haven’t read the ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

Fat Talk: The Diva and the Pea

I am a high-maintenance woman. I know that about myself. I tease myself about it, but I don’t make any effort to change it. Why should I? This is actually who I am. I’m fussy and frou-frou. I like comfort and luxury. I accept this about myself. Others struggle with it, with my embrace of this truth, with how fully I lean into it.

metal chair

I recently went to see an off-Broadway show, when I got into the theater, one glance told me the narrow, armed, metal chairs wouldn’t fit my ample butt and that I’d be so horribly uncomfortable that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the show. I checked in with the usher, asked if there were any wider or armless chairs that could be swapped in for mine. She said she’d find out and let me know.

As she took off to investigate alternative seating options, I went back to stand by my seat and wait. A couple came up the aisle and, as they passed, the woman said she could see that the seats would be really tight. She sat — in the seat directly behind mine — and confirmed for her partner that the seat was, in fact, too small for her. She shrugged it off and settled in.

When the usher returned with a handyman to figure out my situation — my chair needed to be unbolted from the risers — I stood off to the side. The couple seated behind me watched what was going on. The man asked his partner, “Do you want to do that?” She, giving me a nanosecond’s eye flick of a glance, said, “NO. I’m not that big.”

The stagehand guy finished his work and walked off with the uncomfortable chair. The usher carried over a totally suitable chair, and I took my seat.

I understand that woman, mostly. She was correct, for what it’s worth. She wasn’t as big as me. But that really wasn’t the point. She’d already called out the discomfort of her seat. Presented with a pretty easy way to fix the problem, however, she rejected it out of hand, chose to be uncomfortable all evening. Of course. Because God forbid anyone should equate her less-fat size with my much fatter one. God forbid anyone should see us as being anything alike. Better she should remain squeezed and in pain for a couple of hours than have anyone realize that she was fat.

I understand that woman because I spent many years being that woman, squeezing myself into seats that were never meant for asses of size. Or, even worse, turning down invitations because I knew I wouldn’t fit into the space that would be provided.

But I quit that nonsense. It was certainly not as simple as snapping my fingers and having it be so. It started after I damaged my knee and began to realize that venues could and would accommodate me as a disabled person. So why shouldn’t I ask for the accommodations I needed as a fat person?

I know who I am and how high-maintenance I can be and often am. I ask for my needs to be met and expect it to happen. As much as I was an entirely go-along-to-get-along child, I have grown into a very let’s-talk-about-me-and-my-needs woman. I’m Meg Ryan ordering food in When Harry Met Sally — because I know what I want and I can’t really imagine why I shouldn’t have it. I’ve visited theaters before buying tickets so I could try out the seats and ask about better options. I’ve called ahead to restaurants to find out how close together tables are placed so I’ll know if I can move easily to and from my seat. I know what will make me comfortable, and if it’s possible to have that, why wouldn’t I?

The fairytale, “The Princess and the Pea,” centers on proving or disproving the royal blood of a rain-soaked woman who claims to be a princess. She is given lodging, but a pea is placed beneath the mountain of mattresses and feather beds on which she is invited to sleep. She, of course, is so delicate a creature that she is kept awake all night by the painful discomfort of that pea. It’s a Hans Christian Anderson story, part of the fairytale canon and source material for Once Upon a Mattress, a hilarious romp starring Carol Burnett.

As a child, I thought the story pretty ridiculous. It seemed only to prove that anyone could be a princess. Wouldn’t everyone feel something annoying in their bed? Obviously, no one had a spare supply of mattresses and feather beds to pile up for a random guest to sleep on, so that was just storytelling foolishness. One woman, one mattress, one pea seemed more likely … and seemed likely to prove nothing.

I didn’t have any princess aspirations, but that story made clear to me that I’d be able to prove my royalty quite easily. I had no doubt but that I would feel that pea. And that I would turn that bed inside out until I found it so that I could get my tired self to sleep. Please.

People often mock me for my picky, I-want-what-I-want behavior. I’ve had folks chide me for being demanding and selfish. Yeah, I suppose I am demanding and selfish. And? I’m not rude about it. I’m not taking anything from anyone else. So what’s the problem?

I get it, of course. I’m supposed to go along, supposed to take what I’m offered and be happy with it. Or … let’s be more exact: because I’m not white, beautiful, young, and thin I am supposed to be grateful to be allowed to show myself in public at all, allowed to take up even the least amount of space. Because if I looked like Tay Tay, people might find me petulant and spoiled, but they would be far less likely to be annoyed by me. For me to call out displeasure or desire for something different is demanding, is presumptuous. How dare I imagine that I, in my fat, middle-aged, Blackness, draw attention to myself, have the nerve to give voice to my needs? Welp. There you go. Life’s like that sometimes.

Needs I have. And I will make them known. Put a pea under my mattress and feather bed, and I’ll be sure to complain loudly enough that you’ll fix that shit just to shut me up and preserve your own right to a full night’s sleep.

I’m not a jerk about getting my needs met. There’s no cause for that. and no reason to make scenes … as long as no one tries to deny me out of pettiness, fatphobia, or misogynoir. If something I want can’t be done, it can’t. Okay. But if someone just refuses to accommodate me, that’s a whole other story.

I don’t think of myself as a princess. No, I’m more a Prima Donna … but, contrary to the snarky dictionary definition, my sense of my value isn’t in any way inflated. I am temperamental and unpredictable. I am demanding. Because I know how I deserve to be treated. And I’m comfortable making sure you know, too.


Part of a series about my body, originally inspired by Roxane Gay’s Hunger.
If you haven’t read my ground rules, please take a look before commenting.
You can find all of the Fat Talk essays under the Fat Talk tab. Thank you.


I’m following Vanessa Mártir‘s lead, she launched #52essays2017 after writing an essay a week in 2016 … and then deciding to keep going.
I’m months behind on my #GriotGrind, but I’m determined to do my best to catch up, to write 52 essays by year’s end.

If at first you don’t succeed …

I am a writing mentor with Girls Write Now, and I get the pleasure of working with Sophia, who is an entirely fabulous young woman. She’s a senior, and we’re in our third year together. I adore her, and still can’t guess how GWN was able to make such a perfect pairing.

We had our pair session today. We meet in a coffee shop near my office. I arrived a little ahead of Sophia and snagged a booth, our favorite spaces in this cafe. I fished in my bag for notebook and pen and looked up and there was Sophia, not looking her usual self. She gave me a half smile and slid in across from me.

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said.

“Mmmhmm. Why don’t I believe you?”

She smiled a more real smile. “I hate saying ‘I’m in a funk,’ but I think that’s the only thing to say. I’m in a funk.”

“Why do you hate to say it?”

“It’s so dramatic. Sounds like I’m talking in a book.”

Ha. I like that. “Talking in a book.”

After some conversation, Sophia put the source of her funk on the table, announcing a bit flippantly that she is suffering through a mid-life crisis. She is feeling that she should have accomplished more by this time in her life. She is seventeen.

But I totally understand how she’s feeling. I told her she was a little early, that I hadn’t had my first midlife crisis until I was 18. We talked about where these feelings come from and how to deal with them. Sophia said she figured she’d have her next crisis at 25 (as I did), and that each time she had one, she’d move the goal posts down a few years, maybe to 30, maybe to 35.

As our conversations pretty much always do, we moved on to talk about a thousand other things. We talk all over the place, as if we have a shared stream of consciousness. At one point, we were talking about the ocean, about snorkeling, about how alien we feel about being in the ocean, about swimming, about rainbow fish and stingrays and manta rays and jelly fish …

And I suddenly thought of Diana Nyad and watching footage of one of her attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida and her being stung by box jellyfish. Both of us reached for our phones and looked her up. And we marveled at her decades-long push toward the goal of being the first person to complete that swim, and the fact that she accomplished it at 64.

Sophia put her phone down and looked at me. “She’s like us,” she said. I will admit, that took me totally by surprise because, as much as I might like it to be true, I don’t see a lot of similarities between me and Diana Nyad.

“No, she is,” Sophia insisted. “She tried to do this thing in her 20s and she didn’t make it. So she pushed the goal ahead a few years and a few years and a few years. And then she did it!”

I love that she drew this connection, and that it seemed to make her feel less of that funk she’d been carrying when she walked into the cafe. We said our goodbyes with Sophia looking more upbeat, more herself, than when she’d arrived. We’d only written for about 15 minutes, but we covered some good ground today.

I also love thinking about Nyad’s accomplishment. Thirty-six years working toward a single, precious goal. And, to my mind, being all the more impressive for achieving that goal at 64 than she would have been had she succeeded at 28. I think I’ve left mid-life crises behind me at this point, but I am holding onto this idea of Diana Nyad, this idea of staying true to my dreams and continuing to push for them even if I have tried and failed again and again.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

Do you hear what I hear?

There was a little piece about misophonia on NPR today. I’m glad that there has been an uptick in folks writing and talking about this condition. It means more people who deal with it will have the huge relief of knowing they aren’t nuts and aren’t alone. That was certainly what I felt when I learned that this awful thing that happens to me has a name. While I’m sorry to know that many other people suffer with misophonia, it was such an enormous comfort to know I wasn’t alone.

Misophonia is the hatred of sound — the hatred, to be clear, of specific sounds. Although there are a large number of sounds that can trigger a response, the most common are mouth noises such as yawning, chewing, and breathing. These sounds can trigger panic or rage, and sufferers describe their responses to sounds as being driven mad.

That has definitely been my experience, feeling as if I’m going insane when I hear certain sounds. My response has always been instant rage. And yes, that seems both funny and fitting since I am so often foaming at the mouth about something (case in point: yesterday’s post). But in reality, it’s not so funny. As a kid, I thought I was the most horrible person in the world because I would feel a driving, aggressive hatred for people I loved if I had to listen to them eating. I would be almost blinded by my fury in those moments. I couldn’t understand what kind of monster I must be to begrudge people the right to eat.

I was once prepared to quit a job because of misophonia. Back in the dark times, when I worked as a temp word processor, I had a long term assignment in the corporate office of a bank. My cubicle was across from a man who was the noisiest, sloppiest eater I’ve ever encountered. He was a disgusting eater, but his habits multiplied by my misophonia made him a public menace. I did whatever I had to in order to be away from him when he ate. And I was mostly successful … until a big project required us to work closely and work long hours and work through lunch. It was all I could do not to strike him. I called my temp agency and demanded a new placement. 

I was young and dopey then, didn’t realize that I couldn’t always just say what was true. When asked why I wanted a new placement, I was honest: “This man is a disgusting eater, and I can’t be around him.” I was told that wasn’t a good enough reason to leave a good job, and that if I chose to give up the placement, they probably wouldn’t be able to find me anything for a while. I didn’t care. As far as I was concerned, it was leave or put my letter opener through his neck. (And, too, I was getting called for jobs from two other agencies, so I wasn’t worried about work.) If only I’d known about misophonia back then, known that I could have asked to be accommodated and that quitting didn’t have to be my only non-violent option.

The agency said that I’d need to tell my onsite supervisor why I was leaving, that they wanted the client to understand the problem was with me and my foolishness. No problem. I went to my supervisor at the bank and told her I’d be leaving immediately. Before I had a chance to say why, she looked at me with sympathy and said, “It’s Ken, isn’t it? Please don’t go. We’ll find you another place to sit, and you can work on a different project.”

Done and done. My paycheck — and Ken’s poor neck — saved.

That was a long digression, but I hope it makes clear the hideousness of misophonia. It’s little things. My cats clean themselves, and I want to put my head through a wall. People on conference calls breath heavily into the phone, and I have to bite my tongue on streams of profanity. It’s me putting on headphones whenever my coworker eats lunch at his desk. Little things. All. day. long.

Music helps. White noise helps. Sometimes meditation helps. And learning that misophonia is a thing helped. Not enough is known about misophonia (yet?) for there to be sure-fire tips, but an article I read that said getting more sleep and reducing stress could improve responses to sound triggers, and I’m certainly willing to give that a go — and more sleep and less stress is just bound to make my life better even if I’m still driven into a rage when I hear certain sounds.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

La Impostora Has No Bedside Manner

I’m two days out from knee surgery. It’s hard to realize I had surgery Monday. That seems both like forever and five minutes ago. How am I home so soon? How am I home alone? How am I — for the most part — just fine?

My nausea is gone, which makes everything seem leagues better. And I was able to lie down to sleep, which also made today so much better than yesterday. Obviously, I am far from well, but I no longer feel as though a steamroller has just mashed me into the pavement. A clear improvement.

My friends have been trying to help me since I got home. So many people asking what I need, asking me to tell them how they can help, looking for ways to get my recovery off to a well-cared-for start. And that’s lovely. That’s what one should hope for from one’s friends … so why haven’t I taken advantage of a single offer of help?

Here is a place I was not expecting to find La Impostora. But here she is, standing between me and some quality TLC. Here she is, telling me that I don’t need anyone’s help, that I can’t ask people to help me because …

  1. My house hasn’t been vacuumed.
  2. It’s not as though I’m sick or anything.
  3. I live too far away from everyone, and it’s not fair to expect folks to come out here just to bring me milk or clementines.
  4. If I had done a better job preparing for this homestay, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself without milk and clementines.
  5. Everyone is too busy to be running errands for you.

Okay, it’s true that my house hasn’t been vacuumed, that it is filled to bursting with wafting clouds of cat hair. But does that really mean I don’t deserve a little help right now? Why is it (still) so hard for me to ask for things I need, so hard for me to admit that I have needs I can’t necessarily take care of by myself right now? Why is La Impostora here telling me that, even when I’m two days out from surgery, I’m not worthy of my friends’ care?

Ugh.

She doesn’t want me to forget. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself for changing my surgeon’s mind about the procedure I needed. So of course here is my forever-nemesis to rein me in, to make sure I appreciate just how much of a crybaby I am, to remind me that, because I pushed for the more invasive operation, the struggles I’m having now are my own fault, and I have to deal with the more difficult recuperation on my own.

But … I don’t have to listen to her. I can, instead, trust my friends when they say they want to help me. I can accept their offers of help and make these first days out from surgery a little easier. And maybe, just maybe, by saying these things “out loud” on this page, it will be easier for me to actually do this tomorrow. Perhaps just for the pleasure of pissing off La Impostora.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Sometimes that paper trail …

… is from a ticker tape parade!

Tuesday, I wrote about an unpleasant colleague, someone I cannot trust but with whom I have no option but to work. At the end of my workday, it was clear that I was needed to prepare for one of our ugly interactions.

So I prepared. I made a plan. I was going to go into work this morning so I’d have time to download our emails as backup for my telling of events. I was going to review the notes I’d taken in meetings to be sure I had all the necessary information I needed to feel confident of my position.

In the end, none of my preparation was necessary. The nonsense never materialized … and I have no idea why.

Okay, not entirely true. I have a suspicion of why. The late-Tuesday email that hinted at foolishness to come on Wednesday wasn’t addressed only to me. My colleague’s boss, my boss, and a couple of other senior staff were included. It was a bold move on my colleague’s part, but I think it backfired. Two of the women on that email have shown themselves to have no kind of time for that kind of mess. I’m thinking one or both of them shut the whole business down. And for this I am grateful.

Maybe this will mark a turning point in this relationship. Maybe my colleague will finally straighten up and fly right!

Hey, a girl can dream!


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Me, a name I call myself.

Monday is my surgery. In preparation, I spent half a day at the hospital this week cycling through a round of pre-surgical screenings. I’ve had enough of these surgeries that these appointments feel pretty routine. I have favorite chairs in the different waiting rooms. I know where the free coffee is. I know which of the restrooms are cleanest. The biggest unknown is really just whether or not the phlebotomist will find my vein on the first try (this week the answer was yes!).

But there’s been a change in the pattern. As I checked in before the final appointment, the questions started the same as at each previous check-in, but then took a fresh breath.

The man taking my information began to look … pained somehow. He leaned forward conspiratorially, which was a little odd, a little alarming.

“I have to ask you … questions … about your … sexuality … your identity, about your sexual identity.”

“Oh! Cool! No one’s ever asked me about this before.”

He nodded, still uncomfortable. “It’s new. I have to ask.”

“Great. Please continue.”

This really is great. I hope all hospitals — and all everywheres are learning to expand their questionnaires, learning to expand their understanding of the full diversity of who we are as people, learning to be more inclusive and welcoming to people who don’t fit neatly into the pink and blue, cisgendered, binary boxes we’ve been categorizing folks into all our lives. It seemed pretty clear, however, that some work was still needed in terms of helping staff feel at ease asking the questions, helping them see the questions as okay to ask, not just mandatory.

“What gender were you assigned at birth?” He was still leaned forward, still speaking only just above a whisper.

“Female.”

“And what … and how would you describe your gender now?”

“Female.”

“And … well, okay.” He sat back, plainly relieved and ready to move on to the part of the interview with which he felt more comfortable.

“Those are all the questions?”

He looked surprised. “Well, no, but –”

“Shouldn’t you ask what pronouns I use?”

So here I’ll say that I don’t really have any idea what I’m talking about. It would be easy for me to move through his questions with all the answers he might expect me to give. I wasn’t trying to give that man a hard time. But part of me was curious to know what other questions had been added. And part of me wanted him to exercise his nervousness on me and not on someone for whom that conversation might have been more fraught. If he’s going to be awkward and uncomfortable, let him get that out of his system interviewing a person who hasn’t been made to feel othered and uncomfortable again and again and again.

“But you said female.”

“But that doesnt have anything to do with my pronouns.”

And here I have to stress again that I really and truly have no idea what I’m talking about. But it seems to me that my identifying as female doesn’t have to mean my pronouns are a given. I need to do some homework here and figure that out. In the moment, though, I didn’t want him to skip questions because of his assumptions about me.

“Please go ahead and ask the rest of the questions.”

He leaned forward again, sighing. “Your orientation?”

“Oh, okay. I guess straight.”

“You guess straight,” he said, shaking his head.

Yeah, I don’t know why I did that. I swear that I was not in any way trying to mess with him. I’ve done this a few times recently. Not long ago, without any warning or forethought, I started a sentence with: “I am, for all intents and purposes, a heterosexual woman …” Why did I say that? And what does it even mean? So, I wasn’t trying to mess with that man at the hospital, but clearly some messing is going on with me.

“And your pronouns?”

“I use she and they.”

“She and — that’s not a choice.”

“Really? What are my choices?”

“You can pick she, he, or zi.”

I have no idea whether or not “zi” has become wildly popular. I don’t know anyone who has chosen that pronoun. But even if I knew scores of people who had, “they” should still be an option. “They” is still a go-to choice for many people. Why would you have “zi” and not “they”?

“Zi? Serioiusly? They isn’t on your list?”

He shook his head. “You want zi?”

“No. I definitely don’t use that. But you have she, so I’ll go with that.”

“But you said she and they.”

“Yes, and she is one of your options, so please use she.”

“Not zi.”

“Not zi.” I smiled. “You know, it’s so good that the hospital asks these questions, but I think you need more options for the answers people might give you. They is pretty standard.”

“I’ll pass along that feedback.”

In the end, I think I exhausted that poor man. He seemed surprised that I didn’t have an issue with his questions, which made me wonder about the conversations he’d had with the other patients in the waiting area. He was a Black man, maybe in his 40s, and every other patient in the room was an elderly white woman. I would guess that at least a few of his conversations had been … prickly at best. So maybe he was pleased by my enthusiasm, even if he was also a little over me by the end.

My #bravenewworldindeed hashtag seems fitting here. I created it to highlight our descent into greed- and hate-fueled violent, lawless chaos things that upset me in the work of Trump and his masters and minions. But the hashtag fits in this polar-opposite context, too. We are walking ourselves and one another into new territory, territory where — if we do our work right — everyone will be welcomed, everyone will be included and safe and valued. And asking me my pronouns is part of that. And if the straights have to feel awkward and uncomfortable as we learn how to welcome everyone in, so be it. And it’s about time. And let’s get over ourselves and keep it moving.


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.