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