Saturday, April 27, 2013

Everyday Radical Acts

I was on Facebook the other day (when am I not?), when I stumbled upon a post by one of my FB buddies regarding an everyday radical act-- revealing your queerness to your gynecologist. I read her post and nodded my head-- been there, done that, still awkward as hell. Nothing reminds you how heteronormative our society is quite like explaining to your well-intentioned gynecologist that yes, you are sexually active, but no, you do not have sex with men. Because that's what they really mean, when they ask you if you're sexually active-- they really wanna know if there has been a penis in your vagina recently. And as someone who has had some frustrating gynecological issues that have resulted in many appointments with different specialists, I can tell you that this question never gets old. I don't always answer the same way-- sometime's I'm frank:

Dr.: Are you sexually active?
Me: Yes. But I'm a lesbian, so I'm guessing that's not what you're looking for.
Dr.: Yeah, I'm really more concerned about heterosexual sex.

Sometimes I'm a bit cheeky:

Dr.:So, are you sexually active?
Me: Not with men. 
Dr.: Oh, hahaha...

Sometimes, I don't know if I'm truly in safe company, so keep it short:

Dr.: Are you sexually active?
Me: No...
Dr.: Well I guess I'll just check the virgin box on my big scary Doctor Chart...

The question is awkward because it forces me to either out myself or lie, at least by omission. I'm pretty open about my life, but I like to tell people I'm gay on my own terms, and this question really takes the power and control away from me an into the hands of a group that are notorious for sub-optimal care to queer women and women of color through racism and homophobia, even in the progressive San Francisco Bay Area. Even though we have certainly come a long way in this community and this country in regards to discrimination, prejudice and oppression, there is always a risk in being different. So I find that each time I have to (or choose to) reveal my queer identity in a doctor's, I am committing a radical act. I am disrupting the heteronormative discourse and shaking things up, forcing people to really see me and not a label the would choose to brand my body with. It's a radical act because revealing to your doctor that you are gay puts you in a vulnerable position-- it is a radical act because there are still parts of this state, and this country, and this world, where people queer people like me put themselves at risk for disturbing the normative.  It is a radical act because I am lucky and privileged that I feel safe enough to do so when others out there who don't have that luxury, who live in fear for being queer in straight territory. And this made me think, what are other ways in which my everyday acts become radicalized? When do my different identities clash with society in seemingly mundane ways?

One of my first thoughts goes to public displays of affection: I've explained in previous posts how Kourtney and I aren't big on outrageous PDA-- but you know what, we're human. We get a little cutesy. And usually we feel free to just be us out and about town, but that doesn't mean we don't notice that we're being watched. I'm sometimes hyper-aware of the (mostly surprised, sometimes creepy) looks we get when I hold her hand on the street or kiss her goodbye at the bus stop. I'm also aware that in many places in this country that would put us in danger. Also, straight people don't seem to get the same type of attention. But even danger aside, I consider even just holding Kourtney's hand a radical act because it pushes the boundaries set by society. Suddenly people are reminded of what they take for granted as "the way the world works." I think that can be very powerful.  And what about other forms of radical acts? What about covering my hair. When I first started headcovering, I had no idea that some people would be so put off by it. Even now, I get very reactionary responses to my insistence on covering my hear on a daily basis. It challenges the idea that women's bodies are for the consumption of others-- that my hair is not able to be viewed and judged by others really pisses some people off, like I'm breaking the rules of some game society has decided I should play. And my troubles are nothing compared to those of women who wear hijab, or niqab, or burkas, or young orthodox women who have made a commitment to dress modestly. The politics around a woman's body and her autonomy creates a space in which (at least in this country) it is a radical act to say no to objectification, no to the male gaze by both covering your body in protest or uncovering your body in protest. I think that headcovering and the concept of modest dress at least engages a discussion about what my clothes say about my place in society.

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