Monday, March 12, 2007

Story 2: Reflections On Testing The Waters and Identities

Continued from Story 1...

When I was heading to law school, I was still interested in the woman whom I thought might be my soulmate. I had picked the school because I thought it was the best fit for me and because I liked that they really seemed to want me to come. I had received a partial scholarship, and one of the admissions officers had called me personally to let me know. There were two other comparable schools that had accepted me. One did not even offer me a grant, so I would have had to borrow over $50000 a year to attend. The school I currently attend offered a grant and a scholarship. And the third school offered a scholarship that was larger than the grant and the scholarship put together. There was another school that offered me a full scholarship.

It was painful to turn the latter two down, but I did. The third school was in the South, which I really wanted to leave. I would be in less debt right now had I chosen that school, but I felt that going there would limit my job opportunities, in a way, since I was thinking more along the lines of NY/LA/Chicago (where nearly everyone at my current school ends up) after graduation...not DC/Atlanta, where a lot of people at the third school go. The fourth school was reputable, but not reputable enough. But I also partially was thinking that I could come here and maybe see what was going on with my "soulmate." In short, I still had these feelings.

So when I saw the person I refer to as "LA Girl" elsewhere in this blog, it wasn't like I was interested. I had somehow found out about this organization on campus that was for GLBT graduate students "of color" (I hate that phrase). I'm not sure why I went to the first meeting...I really don't remember what I was thinking or what my intentions were, but this was the first time I had ever thought about presenting myself as a gay person in public. I had never been to a GLBT anything, although I had been to a lesbian bar (and not exactly because I 100% chose to/was interested in going, plus I was with two heterosexual women and played that card). I do remember the following:

I walked in and saw some non-people of color. I might have been a little surprised, but it was cool. Most people were minorities, but in my immediate vision were two white women. There was a seat by one, so I sat down by her. The two white women were talking to each other, which I thought was a bit ironic--you're white people at a meeting that's for people of color, and even still there's the sense of segregation. I don't necessarily think it was meant like that, but it was just funny to me. I was maybe pretending like I wasn't listening to their conversation, but I was. I heard both of them talking about being from California. They said what they were studying. Both of them had psychology backgrounds, so I think I remember a bit of a conversation about that between them. I have a psych background, too, so I briefly considered jumping into their conversation. But that's not my style, know, like I said, it was two white women talking to each other in a room full of minorities...maybe I should leave that alone, I figured.

While they were talking, I did the girl thing--an any girl thing, regardless of sexual orientation, because what we do is look at other women and immediately start judging who they are as a person--and checked them out. The one immediately beside me was a brunette. I think she had glasses. She seemed nice. But LA Girl? I spent more time on her, which turns out to be very funny to me--you'll see why later. But I just kept looking at her, because I'd never seen anything like it before. Just her hair, her facial features, the way she was dressed, etc...especially in combination with her claiming to be a lesbian and looking as "white" as she did, yet being in a space that was for minorities. All of it blew my mind, even though it was one of those moments when something is happening and you don't understand what that is.

First of all, there are hierarchies of whiteness, to me--one based on looks and one based on personality. And as much as some black people like to say there's no such thing as "acting black" or "acting white," I think most of us still fall into that thinking at times. Either way, the hierarchy I want to focus on right now is looks. So I was ignoring all the other white people in the room, basically, even though they were white, because they were near the bottom of the whiteness hierarchy in terms of looks while LA Girl was at the very top.

We're not only talking blonde hair and blue eyes. She had her hair in what one of my friends referred to as "Shirley Temple curls." Her skin tone is pretty white. I can't tell you exactly what she was wearing, but I think it was like this black outfit with a skirt...just noticeably more dressy than how even the second most feminine woman in the room was dressed. In terms of facial features, the best way I know how to describe it is doll-like. Her eyes are shaped in the same manner as how artists draw the eyes on characters and dolls when they're trying to make them look really beautiful and/or innocent and how a lot of really gorgeous, sweet-looking women's eyes are shaped. And she has this amazing, wide smile.

So she just really stood out, being as white and as feminine as she was, plus having those striking features that she has. I definitely noticed her because she was the first out lesbian I'd ever seen in person who looked feminine at all, because she was the first woman I'd ever seen who looked like she looks period, because she was the first attractive out lesbian I'd ever seen in person, and because I was curious about why somebody who looks so white would be interested in a space that is for minorities.

I think the other minorities really noticed her, too. Some people in the group had concerns about whites being present and decided to have a discussion about whether or not they should be able to participate in the group. I was very curious about what people had to say, so I went to the discussion and just listened--I ended up being the only one who didn't speak. At one point, one of the leaders mentioned that LA Girl had sent an e-mail and told us a couple things LA Girl had written. I think someone asked who the leader was talking about, and one of the people at the discussion mentioned a comment that LA Girl had made at the first meeting I'd attended. I immediately knew it was LA Girl, and so did everyone else.

Then everyone proceeded to talk specifically about her--no one ever mentioned any of the other white people who showed up, which was about 3 or 4 other people besides LA Girl, except the one white person who had a leadership position in the organization was also mentioned a couple times...but only by one of the leaders. Some of the comments were kind of mean, and the meeting as a whole was ridiculous to me.

I had gotten a really bad impression about the organization from that one meeting, which was very problematic because this was an organization that was supposed to be for people like me to talk to people who were like me even if only in theory. At least I could have learned what it was like for these minorities who were out, or so I was hoping. But, for one thing, I was quickly seeing that the organization wasn't really for people who weren't "in the loop" in whatever sense--be it race, sexual orientation, being in the right program on campus, or experience/involvement. A lot of the people were angry black people...and, though I didn't get it at the time, I get it now. I'm angry when it comes to race, too, and so are a lot of the blacks at my law school. But I don't intentionally alienate white people who are trying, and I don't advocate it. The organization was just too alienating on too many levels.

As black people, we complain about how the majority doesn't care about us...and then when someone comes along who has good intentions, we often don't treat them right. So a lot of the time, white people can't win for losing. I understand that, by the time you're a black person who is my age, i.e. 26, a lot of us have given up on the idea of there being decent white people out there or being interested in socializing with white people, trying to fit in with white people and society at large, etc. It's too little too late, and I know that. I also know that sometimes you just want to be around black people, and I, personally, had never felt that way until law school had gotten underway...which is one reason why I now understand it.

I notice racial alienation more now that I'm out of the South, because racial alienation is not as blatant in the South. I know that sounds odd, but white Southerners are very defensive because they know everyone views them as racists. I'm not saying you can go anywhere in the South and be treated with dignity as a black person--I know several places to stay away from--but most whites there (at least the places I've lived in) will speak to and act friendly towards anybody while I find myself being ignored and looked right through as if I don't exist where I live now by almost every non-black person. Also, just not being the kind of place where friendliness is expected of you like it is in the South, along with being a "prestigious," i.e. snobby, school...I find that even many of the blacks basically treat me like I don't exist. The contrast is like a major slap in the face. That has made me angrier than I used to be and has made me want to stay closer to the blacks in my environment than I used to...even if some of them are snobby.

Unfortunately, I would guess LA Girl and I are both victims of that. I get the sense that the alienation she experienced from this org is somewhat routine for her, that minorities--particularly blacks--alienate her all the time even when she's obviously trying to be supportive. As a result, she seems defensive...or, at least, often did when she was dealing with me. I know that, at times, I gave her reasons to be defensive. There was no way that the racial crap I was, and am, experiencing was not going to let itself out. I don't know if she's like that with other people, but I do sense that there are other reasons why she acts defensive sometimes. I would guess it's reasonable for any gay person to be like this. Still, it's hard to build a friendship when two people are acting guarded.

To be continued...