So… If you read Urban Meliad, you know I’ve been picking serviceberries all week from various available-to-the-public trees. And doing on-the-fly food security outreach (i.e.: telling people that, yes, you can eat these – here’s how) to anyone who asked me what I was doing. It’s been grand. 😀
One thing I’ve noticed is that men are more likely than women to ask about it; and that men of colour are (slightly) more likely to ask about it than white men, and they’re also more likely to approach me for confirmtaion that this is food, rather than to inform me that I probably can’t eat those (this is when I laugh, pop one in my mouth, and tell them that they’re fine).
I find this Interesting.
I mean, yeah, given the number of guys who ask me about fruit who also ask me if I’m married (or otherwise involved with, always, a man) or tell me I’m beautiful, or start out by calling me “sunshine” (or “sweetie” or whatever), some of this may just be that they’re looking to pick up, or at least flirt, and hey, here’s a chick who’s clearly busy doing something that requires standing in one place for a while, so: why not?
But it makes me wonder what they’re seeing.
See, I know that I’m child-free and polyamourous, a femme dyke, a spell-casting witch, an animist-polytheist, and broke enough to (need to) use foraging as a way of upping my healthy food intake without upping my grocery bill.
But I also know that, as (visually, at least) a Nice White Lady with earth-mama hips, a modest (ish) summer dress, and my hair up, I’m more likely to be read as “supposed to be here” (even when I’m flat-out nicking food off of other people’s trees[1]) by landlords, tennants, shop-keepers, and bylaw officers than I am if, say, I was a Nice Inuit Lady or a dude who was missing a lot of teeth.
Speaking of dudes who are missing a lot of teeth, and related to the “what do people see” question:
Today, while picking service berries (2.5 litres, as it turns out! Go me!) I had a conversation with an old guy. It went something like this:
Him: What are these?
Me: Serviceberries. Here. Try one. Pick the dark ones, they’re the ripest.
Him (picking serviceberries): What church do you go to?
Me (figuring that saying “actually, I’m a polytheistic witch” might not go over well): This one. I sing the praises of creation[2].
Him: Wonderful.
Now, I realize that I could have completely avoided temporarily forestalled this conversation if I’d just said “I’m a health outreach worker” rather than “I’m a wife” when he asked me what my job was[3].
Maybe that was dumb of me, though, because he followed this up with a question about children (he suggested that, if we prayed, we would have them eventually) and – long story short – I told him that, actually, I was married to a woman, that the friendly, feminine, thrifty, religious, long-skirt-wearing, lady who stated her primary occupation as “wife” was, in fact, Completely Unnatural.
He said he’d pray for me. Specifically that I would see the light and have lots of heterosexual children (boy or girl, doesn’t matter… progress?).
My wife, when I told her this story, pointed out that I don’t have to tell Random Strangers (that’s me editing what she actually said) everything.
I think she has a point.
I recently read Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, which I will get around to reviewing at some time in the future[4], but there’s one essay in it called “Looking Straight At You” (Zena Sharman, iirc) which talks about the million micro-second-quick decisions that feminine (and therefore “straight-looking”) queer chicks – femmes – make every day about whether or not to come out (again) to (yet another) random stranger who has assumed that we’re het.
In the same way that Zena – in the anecdote she shared in her essay – chose not to out herself to the cab driver on a long ride home (because she’s in an insolated environment – being alone in a moving vehicle with the stranger who’s asking about whether or not there’s a boyfriend in the picture), I often choose to out myself when I’m in my own (heavily queer, it bears mentioning) neighbourhood, in a well-populated area, during business hours because… what are they going to do? (Other than pray for me, I mean). If things get gross, I can – and do – walk away. Typically I don’t get followed. (Possibly because I’m generally bigger than whoever my interlocutor is? That’s my guess, anyway).
So, no. I don’t have to tell the Random Stranger everything about my private life. I definitely don’t need to tell Random Strangers whom I suspect will not be overly happy about the information I’m doling out everything about my private life. And it’s probably much wiser not to do so.
And yet…
And yet I kind of want to do so anyway. Because – okay. While I realize that it’s waaaaaaaaaaaaaay more likely that the dude who said he’d pray for me is going to, well, forget all about me and/or write me off as a wacky fluke (or a nice girl who’s just very misguided) and continue to think that The Lesbians all look like KD Lang and/or SheHulk and, failing that, that he’ll just start habouring some minor “they could be anywhere” paranoia about dykes… I’d like to think there’s some tiny, microscopic chance that he’s going to stop assuming he can tell, and also stop assuming that We’re All Horrible In Every Way.
Call me naive.
And… Even though it’s none of their business; even though what makes my sexuality not blindingly obvious (and therefore “closeted” or “deceptive”, depending on what angle you’re viewing it from), or completely irrelevant, is assumptions on the part of the gazer about what looks “gay” or “queer” versus what looks “straight”, as well as social morees that normalize (and therefore set-as-default) one type of sexuality over all the others; I still don’t like “pretending” to be straight, letting people go on assuming that their stereotypes are accurate, especially when they’re applying those stereotypes to me and to my face. I don’t like “lying by omission” (or the likelihood that it will be interpreted as “lying by omission”) just because someone else made a wrong guess and is now talking to me with the wrong set of assumptions. So I tend to tell people when it comes up.
Maybe that’s not wise of me, and maybe that’s going to change. But for now, that’s where things are at and why.
Ms Syren.
[1] This is less of a thing when it comes to serviceberries, because the City Of Ottawa has been planting them like Woah all over down-town as part of various stree-rehabilitation projects (Preston and Bronson being two of them). I told one guy, today, that I thought it was part of the NCC’s plan to increase Ottawa-Gatineau’s Food Security (along with renting out small farms in the Green Belt to people specifically so that they can raise a diversity of veggies, fruits, and live stock to be sold at Ottawa Farmers’ Markets and similar). He rolled his eyes, but then told me about the orange trees in his home town, so I think he actually approves of the plan. 😉
[2] Thank you, United Church Choir up-bringing, for that handy turn of phrase. 🙂
[3] I say “forestalled” because, well, see earlier paragraph about the frequency of flirtatious and/or nosey behaviour on the part of dudes who talk to me while I’m picking fruit. There’s a really good chance that he was going to ask about this eventually.
[4] Short version: It’s a good addition to the “essays on femme” canon (I’m not so familiar with the “essays on butch” cannon, so I can’t really say on that one), with a good mix of voices and a decent amount of (Vancouver-centric – go figure) CanCon. I recommend. 🙂