Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been, Depressed?

April 21, 2009

So as a proud member of the underemployed, and as someone who just generally likes making a little extra cash, I often participate in surveys, studies, and focus groups. At one point I had a pretty regular gig doing vision studies through a research hospital and I felt like they were secretly training me for the CIA–one of the studies tapped into the massive funding available from Homeland Security by having participants look for weapons in luggage x-rays. (Conclusion: the less common weapons are in said x-rays, the less likely a screener is to notice a weapon when it’s there.)

Anyway, many of these require some kind of pre-screening to determine eligibility. For market research this often involves making sure you don’t work for an ad agency. Other studies are looking for very specific participants–say, dog owners who’ve bought several kinds of kibble over the past few months.

Aside from the standard demographic questions, many screening surveys ask about medical history.

And this is where I almost always lie.

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April 15, 2007

In the post-piny quoting me (swoon!) days, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of gender relief, and I wondered if it might be the sort of thing anyone else had experienced.

There’s a man who asks for change pretty regularly outside the CVS I used to frequent, and he quickly became my favorite panhandler in the square. (I feel like I might be a little insensitive referring to him that way, but I don’t know what better word to use. There are quite a lot of people, mostly men, in the area who I’ve seen in more or less the same place for going on five years now, always asking for money. I don’t want to call them homeless because I have no idea if that’s true, but I feel like even ‘panhandler’ sounds like I’m making a value judgment. I’m not–I just can’t think of a better word.) I try to make a point of giving him change when I see him, particularly when the weather’s getting colder.

Now, he’s a really polite, friendly guy, always upbeat and pleasant. But that alone isn’t why I enjoy seeing him. It’s because more than a few times he’s used a unique approach with me. He certainly recognizes me at this point, and at first when he sees me–particularly if I’m with someone else–he addresses me as “champ” or “big guy.” When I get closer, however–either to give him some change, or apologize for not having any–he quietly says something along the lines of “Thank you, beautiful.”

This isn’t simply a case of someone on the street who’s asking for money initially thinking I’m a man, then correcting when he sees his error. That happens all the time, and it has a very different flavor–there’s usually something apologetic in the tone, or a hesitation and then a rush to talk to someone else. No, this man definitely recognizes me, and he definitely reads me as female throughout the encounter. The conclusion I’ve come to is that he’s trying not to blow my cover.

I’m not really sure how exactly to explain what I mean by that, but that’s the best description I can give of these encounters. I guess it’s entirely possible that he’s this way–complimentary, polite–with everyone who gives him money. Still, I think it’s significant that he’s always very discreet about the way he compliments me. We’ve actually had a few conversations–once he gave me advice on dying my hair–and in more than one of those it was clear he’s family. That, combined with the persona he allows me to have when I’m with other people–the champ, the big guy–leads me to believe that he recognizes something in me. It’s like he’s saying hey, I see who you are, and that’s beautiful.

I wish I were explaining this better. It’s just a very different kind of gender relief than the kind I experience when a professor refers to me by female pronouns before being introduced, or a grocer addresses me as “miss.” Here, a man recognizes two truths–the butch persona and the female identity–and acknowledges them both.

A dog in the fight

March 31, 2007

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about labels, and the ways we reject and embrace them. It’s always been my opinion that labels should only be self-applied but that they can foster community where groups of individuals self-apply the same label. Still, unless everybody signs a charter or something, that label doesn’t have to mean exactly the same thing to everyone in the community.

Since that first paragraph was a little awkward and confusing in its vagueness, I’ll get more specific: lesbian and woman. These are two labels–identities, even–that I embrace. I was recently in a discussion where a woman explained that she identifies as queer rather than lesbian because she feels the Boston lesbian community is extremely hostile to trans*men and the women who date them. While I would never deny that experience, it hasn’t been mine. Even if it were, however, I think I would still identify as a lesbian. (For the record, I also identify as queer.)

If, as this friend of mine contends, the identity “lesbian,” at least in Boston, equates for some with “woman who sleeps with women and explicitly does not sleep with trans men, and is hostile toward their presence in the community,” I don’t think that means the rest of us should abandon the identity and adopt another. In other words, I’m not going to let some intolerant women spoil lesbianism for me. Rather, I think it’s my responsibility to identify as a lesbian who does not share that kind of attitude, so that the label isn’t wholly associated with intolerance.

It’s the same way I feel about being a woman. There are a lot of things about me that I–and others, probably–consider more stereotypically masculine than feminine. I’m misread as male a significant part of the time, both for reasons under my control (the way I dress, my hairstyle) and reasons totally beyond it (my height and body structure, the pitch of my voice). I reject certain stereotypical trappings of femininity (I look damn awkward in a dress, and I’ve never tried heels) while embracing others (I ache to be a mother some day). At the end of the day, even in my favorite pair of boxer briefs, I’m still going to identify as a woman, and demand that others recognize me as such. Not because I have a uterus, not because I can fill out a C cup, but because that’s who I am. And if other people–men, women, or otherwise–have a picture in their head of “woman” that doesn’t look like me, it’s my responsibility to call them on it.

I do realize that “lesbian” and “woman” may be two very different identity categories, but I don’t really want to get into biological determinism or whether sexuality or gender can be chosen. I just think it’s time we stop letting other people define our identities for us.

Identify Yourself

January 31, 2007

This is the second draft of this post, sparked by yet another round of the awkward introductions that accompany a new semester. In general, the things I include in my ten second bio have more to do with the details my classmates have already offered up–how far along we are in the program, our specialty, what our undergraduate degree is, and so on. But it got me thinking about the various aspects of my own identity, and which ones I choose to embrace or downplay based on circumstance. In other words, what part of me is relevant to my academic life? How much is assumed, and what must I declare? What follows, then, is a list of the ways I could introduce myself.

1. Female. Although I’d like my gender to be obvious, the fact that I choose to go by my (gender-neutral) initials and wear almost exclusively men’s clothing (the day they start selling sports bras as menswear is the day I stop needing the women’s section entirely) means I’m often mistaken for a man. Although I correct pronouns most of the time, I don’t make much of an effort to declare my gender.

2. White. I suppose this goes without saying, though I have had people ask if I’m Native American thanks to my last name. (I’m not.) This isn’t an identity I embrace by any means, and I’ve often wondered if anyone really can without getting into white supremacy territory. Because, honestly, what is there to be proud of when it comes to being white? We certainly have plenty to be ashamed of in our past, but it’s hard to say if that should carry into our racial identity in the present. I dislike the notion that Caucasians can’t talk with any authority about issues of race, but it seems to me that this criticism is usually leveled against whites who attempt to speak on the experiences of people of color–not against whites attempting to speak on whiteness as an identity in itself.

3. Queer. I suppose this is one that goes left unsaid a lot of the time, and I’m pretty okay with that. I don’t introduce myself as a lesbian, although I’m generally comfortable dropping a “my girlfriend” into casual conversation. I do think it’s an important part of my identity, and probably the one that enters most into serious discussion.

4. Rural. Because I now live and work in a city, my rural roots often don’t come up, but my background–born on a farm, raised by two sheep ranchers–has an awful lot to do with the way I interact with others and perceive the world around me. Sometimes I think it would be nice to point out how urban- and suburban-centric a lot of discourse is, as well as how skewed I think common perception of rural areas can be.

5. Ivy-educated. I’m honestly a little embarrassed about where I went to school, which is sort of ironic given the international prestige of the university in question. But the fact that my school is a trademark, a tourist destination, and a sort of archetype makes me very self-conscious in casual conversation. I still suffer from the “I was the admissions mistake” syndrome, which makes me think I won’t be able to live up to the perceptions I assume others have about me when they hear the name of my Alma mater. (I think the best line I’ve ever heard came from a friend of my brother’s at Brown: “Well, I just think that’s where rich kids go when they need to feel smart.”) I also feel like my college damages my street cred, making it harder for me to talk about things like issues of privilege without sounding like a total tool.

6. Well, kind of a rich kid. To clarify, in my day-to-day life I’m a paycheck to paycheck kind of guy; I only work part time, I’m in grad school, and I live in kind of a crappy apartment. But my grandmother has paid for all of my education to date (well, I think my parents paid tuition for high school themselves, but that’s in kind of a different financial bracket), I have one of those weird accounts with investments and savings bonds and things that I know nothing about but apparently totals a pretty penny (and currently pays my rent), and my parents are well-off. But I’ve never identified as rich, probably because my dad in particular instilled a pretty rigorous work ethic in me from a young age. The folks paid minimum wage for summer labor like moving irrigation pipes, but other chores–many of them just as physically demanding–were done as just a matter of course. I’m also really eager to feel financially independent, and not just because my parents would never let me be a freeloader.

I guess I don’t really know the point of this post, except that I wish I could engage in discussion on all of these categories more comfortably.