As you might expect, the process of working Dave/Davie’s gender fluidity into our lives has been difficult. It’s a lot for us to understand, figure out, adjust to – – so it’s bound to be hard for others, too. I get that. I don’t fault people for finding it awkward, or even uncomfortable – it is. I mean, it still is for ME sometimes.
But I liken the situation to my rant on racism in http://thetangentgirlvolumes.com/index.php/2018/08/15/no-parent-no-child-no-person-should-know-this-fear/ — what you think or feel is a natural reaction you don’t control, but how you ACT determines whether or not you are being a bigot. You can feel awkward but decide to try and move past that, to step up and treat the person in front of you as a human being who is no different from any other human being. And hey, I agree that how you conduct yourself can also depend on the person you’re dealing with. If they are someone who easily takes offense to innocent missteps, the fear of doing something wrong may make you try to avoid them. But if the person you are dealing with is laid back and understanding and nonplussed, and they openly express that, you really have no excuse.
I should be thankful that we’ve not directly faced any bad or upsetting situations to date (there’s an indirect situation to be sure, but that’s far more complicated than this one issue.) Awkward yes, but not bad. But that led us into a sense of complacency. We let our guard down. So when the freight train came, especially coming out of no where, it was that much worse.
Dave came to Vancouver last week at the end of my conference to stay for an extra few vacation days exploring the city. He arrived in time for the dinner with my colleagues that we always have at these events (~35 people from across 4 campuses). Now I’ve made it no secret since he came out, including at my office, that Dave is gender fluid, but it’s not like I’m walking up to people and randomly saying “Hey, my husband is queer, FYI!”
(No Debbie, I DO NOT want to hear about your liquid gluten free organic vegan diet and hot yoga classes, thank you very much.)
So knowing that he would present as Davie should he be feeling feminine that night, I did feel the need to try and give a heads up to everyone there. I’d recently had a situation where someone had missed my off-hand mentions of his fluidity and was mortified by their reaction to meeting Davie for the first time because they really were totally fine with it, just taken by surprise. I didn’t want anyone else to have that happen to them. I didn’t get to every single person coming, but got to a good chunk, and everyone seemed cool.
So the dinner started out with a little bit of mingling, and it was awkward, but people were chatting with us. The wait staff kept asking me to have everyone take their seats, but I wasn’t having much luck, so Davie and I were the first people that sat in hopes the others would follow suit. After about 5 minutes or so the wait staff were much more direct and folks found a seat. There were three tables set up – an ~20 person table and parallel to that, two ~11 seaters arranged end to end so they were the same length as the larger table. We were at the end of the shorter table opposite the other short table. One of the attendees, P, was the only one there from her campus, but she knows me, so she came and sat with us.
AND THAT WAS IT.
Everyone else crowded themselves into every seat at the larger and other smaller table, barely with any elbow room, and left a yawning gap of 8 empty seat between Davie, myself, and P and the other small table.
I was stunned. And upset. And angry. I’d told Davie this was a safe space. I’ve worked with some of these people for over a decade; I even considered a few of them my friends, some of them even have their own LGBTQ connections. How could they do this? I felt a tremendous sense of guilt for being so wrong, and because of that for putting Davie (and myself) in that position.
I also felt utterly embarrassed. The situation was not subtle. The head waiter came and hesitantly asked us if we expected anyone else to join us, and all I could do was say, “Guess not.” He paused a moment, kind of taking the whole thing in, and then said “You know what? That’s good! It just means you three ladies are a smaller group so we can get you everything first!” And true to his word, he was super attentive to us all night. But he noticed BECAUSE IT WASN’T SUBTLE. He handled it beautifully, couldn’t ask for better, but the fact that it was so obvious was humiliating.
And here’s the thing – I didn’t know everyone who was there well, I don’t work a lot with the folks at the other campuses. I wouldn’t expect someone to necessarily sit with someone they don’t know even under “normal” circumstances. But I did know over half of the people there. And I don’t necessarily believe that every person purposefully choose to sit elsewhere to avoid us. But like I said – IT WASN’T SUBTLE THAT WE’D BEEN LEFT SITTING ALONE. At any point any of them could have said, “Oh hey, let’s go sit with Tiffani & Davie – there’s lots of open seats and we don’t want them to feel ostracized.” But no one did that.
And honestly, I don’t know which of those things is worse – avoiding us or having so much apathy and so little compassion for someone that you’d leave them in that position. It’s every socially-anxious teenagers nightmare – I thought that shit stopped back in high school? I mean, I hate making small talk with strangers, but no matter how uncomfortable I felt I could never do that to another human being, whether I knew them or not. It was immature. And hurtful and cruel.
I wanted to just leave, but I had my boss’ card to pay, and it wasn’t like I could just hand his credit card to someone else. So we sat there, for 2 hours, enduring this and trying to make the best of it. Thankfully P is an amazing person and the three of us did manage to have some fun, but there was a cloud hanging over the whole night. I only got a few hours of sleep that night and spent the rest of the time crying. To be so blind-sided by people you trust(ed) and respect(ed) was absolutely crushing.
I guess something bad had to happen at some point. The reality is, not everyone is accepting, not everyone is willing to sacrifice their comfort for the good of someone else’s feelings and well-being. I just wish this hadn’t been where that played out.