Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moments that Linger

Why is it that some experiences and some stories stick with us most particularly? We have a gazillion encounters in the course of the week – on the streets, in the office, at church, with friends, etc. But some just stick with me and refuse to let go. This is one of them.

In November, the diocesan convention included a lovely dinner in the penthouse restaurant of a downtown building. We had a lovely 360-degree view of the city at night time. And I enjoyed talking with many delightful friends.

At the end of the evening, I walked back to the cathedral with two dear friends – both men [Yes, that is relevant to the story. Just keep reading.] Ralph was streetside, Cory in the middle, and me near the buildings. And I was smoking, having been in a non-smoking space throughout dinner. As we approached a bus stop shelter, a middle-aged man called out in a friendly voice, “Ma’am! Ma’am! Can I have a smoke?” I looked his way, and shook my head.

Mind you, many’s the time that I have been generous – even outrageously generous – with street people. But that night, I just was not in the mood. I was too much enjoying the chat with Cory and Ralph. So I kept walking.

I was in my nice slacks, nice shoes, and nice Chesterfield wool coat.

As I got alongside the street person, not pausing to give him a cigarette, his whole tone changed, and he began hurling at me: “Fuckin’ dyke! You fucking queer dyke!!!” Nothing but hatred in his voice. And he kept hurling those names and more as my friends and I continued walking.

Now … what accounts for that?

How did I go from being “ma’am” to “fucking queer dyke bitch”? For the life of me, I do not understand it.

Does this happen to any of you straight women who read this blog?


Blogger Josephine- said...

I think some men seem to think that implying a woman is a lesbian will horribly upset her. Maybe because a great many men of a certain age find the implication that they might be gay very upsetting.

At least this is my theory.

2/14/2009 3:49 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

That's an intriguing notion, Josephine. Maybe I was personalizing it because I am a lesbian.

Have other of you straight women been assaulted by similar verbal attacks?

I'd like to hear more of your stories.

2/14/2009 4:17 PM  
Blogger Ann said...

Oh yes -- it is a common experience when men want to insult women. Guess they think we will do anything to avoid being thought lesbian. A motto I learned from someone -- better to be thought a lesbian by a bigot than a bigot by a lesbian.

2/14/2009 6:02 PM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Oh, yeah. All the time. Simply b/c I don't wear makeup and am just "butch enough looking" even though I'm straight. Or as I joke, "I'm not a lesbian but I play one on tv," lol....

Hell, part of the reason I went from being ignorant to an "inclusivist" was because I got just enough of a glimpse to see how the other half lives, and it irks me just enough to realize, "Well, hell, if this is how it makes ME feel, it's even worse for 'real' lesbians! This sucks!"

2/14/2009 6:16 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, Ann and Maria, for chiming in. It helps to know it's not just me. I took it personally.

It's personally comforting -- but socially frustrating -- to learn this is how a certain set of guys like to denigrate women.

2/14/2009 7:27 PM  
Blogger Kirkepiscatoid said...

Yeah, the part I've never figured out with those kinds of guys is they think "lesbian" is a bigger insult than any of the terms that imply you are promiscuous, like "whore."

But even that doesn't match the #1 insult in my book, the evil "c#*t" word. There is just something that is even creepier being insulted down to the level of an anatomic orifice, particularly when 85% of men find that orifice desirable.

2/15/2009 12:17 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

Yes, it's happened to me . . . and that's not what I want to talk about.

{Unbites tongue}

{Unbites tongue}

{Unbites tongue}

{Unbites tongue}

{Unbites tongue}

{Unbites tongue, bitten since your Travel Request post, and what I learned there}

I'm not going to beg, plead, or cajole. I'm going to COMMAND.


Stop it NOW, dammit!

We need you too much!

[Disclaimer: I've got a friend w/ Stage 4 Lung Cancer, getting a PET scan tomorrow. You bet, she's scared.]

Go on the patch, the gum, Chantix, 12 Steps, aversion therapy, WHATEVER IT TAKES. Monday morning, make the call.

I'm serious, Lisa. We NEED you too much! For the love of you, and your importance to TEC, please???

Merciful Christ, heal all the addicted...

2/15/2009 12:25 AM  
Blogger FranIAm said...

What is it about hurling insults about orientation?

In the 80's, when I went through a period of orientation confusion, I decided to vacation in Key West and stayed at a lesbian guest house.

One day I was walking back to the house and some teen age boys were on the sidewalk and as I turned up the walk way they started yelling things out like "lesbian b*tches live there."

It shocked the hell out of me and scared me - the intensity of their words.

It is about being hurtful to people where they are most vulnerable.

I am so sorry that this happened to you Lisa.

2/15/2009 8:59 AM  
Blogger The Host's Nest said...

Just to suggest another view: It happens to straight women,too. The words are different but the anger and desire to diminish are the same. I'm retired now, so I don't wear my clerical collar very often, but in my active ministry, wearing it set up expectations in people's minds about how I should respond to demands and requests for "help." When they approached, their manner was that of someone encountering a best friend, but when I didn't fulfill their expectations, I was a bitch and a fake. I don't discount the brutality of the added incentive to hurt through offensive remarks about sexual orientation, but the anger and frustration of the person who isn't getting what he expected to get through obsequious courtesy looks for the easiest and most effective way to "get back." It's the child who, wanting something he fears he won't get from a parent, puts on his most endearing behavior in hopes of persuading the parent to be "generous," and when it fails, his response is likely to be, "I hate you! I wish you weren't my mother." You disappointed me and I'm going to make you pay by hurting you the best (or worst) way I can think of.

So saddened by your story.

2/15/2009 3:22 PM  
Blogger IT said...

I agree with the general view; this is an insult cast at women regardless of their sexuality. The insulters think that the worst thing they can say is "you're gay" maybe because to men, there is nothing worse than being called gay.

But for women, I don't think it has the same response.

And if they call us "lesbian", why not say "why, yes. Your problem?"

2/15/2009 11:16 PM  
Blogger Göran Koch-Swahne said...

What JCF said!

2/16/2009 12:55 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Can a guy toss a couple pennies in here?

I think you are missing something. Really shallow, stupid men (bigots and bishops of Nigeria for instance) consider women almost entirerly on their appearance. "Is she a 10?" So, suggesting you look "like a lesbian" is a very intentional attack.

Frankly, I have no idea what a lesbian looks like -- my friends look like -- I guess -- you know-- women?

But I suspect that the 'insult' is based on a really shallow inability to see past how a woman looks. Men like that really are rather worthless in my view.


2/16/2009 6:11 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

JCF, I do understand your concern. It must be difficult to have a friend in that condition.

But I grow weary of the anti-smoking diatribes. When folks harangue everyone who eats a Big Mac, everyone who is overweight, everyone who eats ice cream ... THEN I will taking the antismoking meme seriously. We all have our vices. This one is mine.

And, frankly, I don't want to live all that long anyway.

2/16/2009 8:53 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yikes, Fran! I'm sorry to hear that.

And, yeah, you're right: There's something about the violence of the verbal assault that's rather unsettling.

2/16/2009 8:57 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks for that perspective, Host's Nest. I'm starting to hear from you all that it's about anger and violence, and not really about sexual orientation at all.

2/16/2009 8:59 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

LOL, IT. I'll have to remember that rejoinder next time. You go!

2/16/2009 9:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thank you, JimB. But I don't think it was because of my appearance. I was dressed like a sharp-looking woman. I have a hunch that the other women here are onto something, and their perspective has helped me realize it's really not about me or how I look or behave.

2/16/2009 9:02 PM  
Blogger Jim said...


I was not suggesting it was your appearance. Rather that males who cannot think past a woman's appearance think of attacking it as an easy target.

I am sure you looked fine, but saying you 'looked lesbian' was the most creative attack the idiot could come up with.


2/17/2009 7:37 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Gotcha, Jim. No offense taken!

2/17/2009 10:33 PM  
Blogger IT said...

Lisa ,re. the smoking--I like others would prefer you didn't (BP's mom died in front of us of lung cancer, and it's not a kind death).

On the other hand, you are a smart woman, and you have a right to make your own decisions about your own "vices". We would all be healthier if we gave up smoking, drinking, animal fats, driving too fast, and sedentary lifestyles. I think each of us has at least one of those bad habits, and it's obviously not gonna happen that we give them up!

I'll hope you decide at some point that life is not as bleak as you are currently finding it, and worth stopping smoking for. That is what I will wish for.


2/18/2009 1:22 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Thanks, IT. Most folks have bad habits that are healthy-damaging. But it does puzzle me that smoking is that one that's "socially acceptable" to call folks out on.

And, JCF, if you're still reading, I didn't mean to "bark" at you as much as it may have sounded like.

I am aware that both of you spoke out of a desire to have me happy and healthy for as long as possible. I do appreciate that.

2/18/2009 5:55 PM  
Blogger IT said...

Well Lisa, the reason for this one is that smoking has a very high positive correlation with particularly bad outcomes, much more directly so than general unhealthy habits do. Yes, drinking too much and high fat diets correlate with increased risks of cancer, but none are nearly so obvious as smoking.

I teach cancer biology, and we use this kind of image to make that point.

But I'm glad you understand that we are coming from a place of care, and I will continue to hope that you will find it worth quitting some day.

More hugs,


2/18/2009 6:38 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Yes, IT. I do understand that.

I can imagine one thing that would motivate me to quit smoking. But that thing is not on my horizon.

2/18/2009 7:50 PM  
Blogger IT said...

Which means you are ripe for a surprise. I will hope for that too!

2/19/2009 9:57 AM  
Blogger JCF said...

If hadn't been "barked" at by smokers before, Lisa, it wouldn't be nearly so difficult to unbite my tongue!

Obviously, I don't speak out to every smoker I encounter (not even when they're fumigating me second-hand, which I'm going to assume you don't do). I'm not proud of this fact, but if, say, a Matt Kennedy were a smoker (at distance from me---for many reasons--- THANK GOD)? Eh.

But I meant it (if you couldn't tell) that we Episcopalians need you, over the long haul (perhaps even one atheist appreciates ya, too? *g*)

Others value your longevity, in ways you may not...

...but, like IT, I most sincerely hope (and unlike IT, pray!) that the One Motivating Thing you can barely imagine (I know that feeling only too well!) shows up in your life, ASAP (with "happily---healthily---ever after" to follow ;-))

God bless, Lisa.

2/20/2009 1:36 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

IT & JCF, you both have me blushing! Thank you for your kind wishes and most generous words. And thanks for understanding my prickliness on this topic.

No, I don't inflict my smoking on others. In fact, when I have guests in my home, I go out on the porch to smoke.

JCF, you took my breath away (so to speak) when you wrote:
"Others value your longevity, in ways you may not..."
I never expected to live very long. Sometimes, I feel I've already outstayed my welcome.

2/21/2009 5:10 PM  

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