Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Responding to Presumption

When I dressed today, I decided I needed to wear some light clothes in bright colors to convey the opposite of the bedraggled state I was in. So when I got out of the shower, I put on a light teal button-down with some light khaki linen pants.

When I went downstairs to pack up my stuff, Willow had graciously set out some food for me to take in for lunch, though instead of the usual small brown shopping bag I often carry (and had accidentally left on campus) the food was placed in a similarly small gift bag, a tiffany-blue thing with an elegant chocolate-brown pattern.

"Hunh." I smiled, "I match my lunch bag."

On the way into campus, I stopped to get a cup of coffee, and the young lady who had just gotten her coffee at the counter, and was on her way out the door, smiled and said, "I like your little handbag."

"Oh my lunchbag? I think I gave my wife some jewelry in this, and we keep recycling it for other things."

"Oh, honey, you don't need to pretend you're married for me!"


I was caught completely off guard by this, and my response as she walked out the door was, "but I really am!" My face was flushed red for the next several minutes.

I'm unnerved by this exchange for any number of reasons. The most knee-jerk response derives from the fact that people often think they can read my sexuality from my clothes and mannerisms, and presume to comment on that reading.

But my own answer to her is equally unnerving to me, because I felt it important, even imperative to disabuse her of her reading? Why had she not read me as straight? This kind of reactionary return to a compulsory heterosexuality should perhaps be more troubling to me as someone who tries to actively work against those notions as the presumption exercised by this young woman. She, at least, wasn't reading me through this compulsory lens, even if her reading was guided by a troubling set of stereotypes.

So as the day was worn on, my embarrassment has shifted from being mistaken as queer to reinforcing a kind of homophobia in my response.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You weren't being homophobic. I've had something similar happen to me on a number of occasions - people (usually women, for some reason) assume I am gay because of various mannerisms or comments (whether I am or not is beside the point) and frequently think they have gained some sort of rapport with me by being "clued-in" to the fact of my purported sexuality. Actually, I think it's far MORE homophobic to assume that someone is/isn't gay or straight based on superficial mannerisms, or clothing choices, or accessorization.
I don't feel like I've articulated this well as I could have, but I hope you see what I mean - countering someone's presumption in trying to label you doesn't make you some sort of bigot.