It’s amazing how many “firsts” one can experience in a lifetime… The age of 32 has brought me many, but it takes one catching me by surprise to let me see how many more I am in store for in this lifetime.
On Saturday afternoon I experienced my first public shaming for being a queer person. True story. In 2013. In Los Angeles. Public shaming still exists, and on Saturday afternoon in Glendale might look a little something like this:
Devon and I were walking through a parking lot (from the art supply store, where I bought some new notebooks, to the car) with our arms draped loosely around each other. I think I may have had my hand in her back pocket. I can get kind of grabby… I learned in my childhood that we can show how much affection we have for someone by patting their butt… It works for us.
A white sedan with disabled placard license plate passed us slowly as if looking for a parking place, but apparently the driver was looking to relieve some deep, personal angst because as she passed us she (an elderly woman with a short, permed hairstyle, glasses, and a waggling finger raised in the air) shouted in our direction “shame on you!”
|shame on you for buying so many notebooks!
I remember being stunned. Maybe even stopping in my tracks. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to react before her next action though. Just before she turned the corner at the end of the row the waggling finger soared out of the open driver’s side window accompanied by a resonant “Shame! Shame!” I remember seeing Devon ahead of me and closer to the car. She was reacting out loud, but her reaction didn’t look like what I was feeling inside. She was putting her hands together in the prayer position, holding them to her heart, and calling out a “have a nice day!” and her voice had a lightness, maybe even laughter, in it.
That is how I would have liked to react too, but first I was just too confused.
Shame? On us? Me? Is this woman privy to some information about me that I feel ashamed about? Let me run through the mental list of things I might be doing wrong at this moment: I’m wearing flip flops and my heels are cracked and dry–that feels pretty shameful. I just indulged in a stack of new notebooks to help me maintain my habit of taking on too much–I sometimes wish I was content with just one thing at a time. I am not always the mother I want to be… that’s the area where I feel the most shame, but how could she have known?! That must not be it. What’s happening right this moment? I have my arm around the woman I love… oh. That. According to this woman I am supposed to feel ashamed about expressing affection in public (or maybe even having affection, whether it’s expressed in public or not) for the woman I love (because I am also guilty of the crime of being a woman).
I couldn’t relate at all to the woman’s point. I didn’t feel ashamed and I can’t even fathom why someone else would want me to be and/or why anyone would want anyone else to feel ashamed about anything really… so all was left was rage. I was angry. I wanted to want to “have a conversation” with her like Devon said she did. Sure, it would be interesting to find out what’s going on in that woman’s life that drives her to express her own shame outwardly and project it on others. She’s probably not going to be up for having that conversation though, especially not after I bash her face in with my fist.
Luckily for us all, me most of all, the rage subsided after talking through a few “punching an old lady in the face” fantasies (which help me see, by the way, that I don’t ACTUALLY want to punch anyone in the face) and I got to have the incredibly healing experience of telling and retelling the story to several loved ones the next day which, in each instance resulted in the listener erupting into fits of giggles. Because really… leaning out a car window and calling “Shame! Shame!” in a warbly old lady voice is pretty fucking funny. That, and the relationship I’m supposed to be ashamed of is the safest place I’ve ever been… safe enough to talk about clockin’ old ladies, let rage be present, and then wish it well as it carries on it’s way.
So there you go old lady. You tried to hand your shame over and it didn’t work. Thanks for the offer though…
I have this very hopeful theory that if we can all love each other we can create a peaceful world… and I believe it with my whole being. BUT! I also understand how far away from that we are right this moment.
So how’s this for a first step: Love everyone you can. Anywhere you can find something about someone to love or feel compassion or empathy for… feel it. In those cases when you just can’t find it/feel it… do that person, and yourself, the grace of leaving them alone. Baby steps.