Sunday, March 25, 2012

SWISS AMISS

Nothing against Switzerland. It’s beautiful in pictures. Someday I hope to visit. But, beyond its alpine imagery, the country sticks out in my mind as being a peaceful nation that maintained its neutrality in time of war.

Yes, that is a good thing. I think I came out of the womb as a pacifist. Not that I was angelic. Didn’t see the point of a water pistol when a bucket of water had a greater impact. Never found the slightest fascination in any kind of weaponry, any movies with violence or drab military uniforms.

While being peaceful is a noble ideal, being neutral sometimes isn’t. Okay, here’s where I need to leave Switzerland alone and focus in on gay and lesbian subject matter. I attended a wonderful conference a few weeks ago and a counselor spoke to a group of thirty of us for two extended sessions. Her talk had many important insights that I have used at work, but what lingers more is the way she spoke of her family. There were wonderful stories about her aging, pie-baking mother in Nova Scotia and a few relatable anecdotes about her Twitter/text-obsessed teen stepson and stepdaughter.

And then there was her “partner”. Always referred to as such. Never he or she, never husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend. The only pronoun used was “we”. It was masterful maneuvering, the kind of gender neutrality that takes constant self-monitoring. I’ve done it before, though not nearly as smoothly. As effortless as she made it seem, it became a distraction for me.

This lovely, self-effacing, empathic woman who spoke passionately about accepting and embracing people neutered the most important person in her life. On my gaydar checklist, she had all the stereotypical lesbian traits. It wasn’t as though she was desperately trying to be straight-acting, yet she adopted a stance I have taken many times in my life: You can figure it out for yourself. Why should I have to make a proclamation?

As the day went on, I kept waiting for her to get comfortable for the big reveal. Yes, she relaxed enough to throw out a couple of expletives that had proper context and made her stories more realistic. She made multiple references to her golf game. She shared many of her own flaws, some deeply personal. But The Partner remained a genderless enigma.

Being single and chronically dating-challenged, I tell myself there isn’t much harm in my closed/closeted stance. No one suffers. I do not have a “partner” who has been slighted/neutered/erased. I am an introvert. I do not need to share that I am gay, just like I do not need to share that I am a vegetarian or a lover of old episodes of “The Mary Tyler Moore” show (and, particularly, its oh so empowering theme song, the lyrics markedly more positive after Season One). I do not like calling attention to myself. No need when others crave the stage.

Despite the fact I could relate to Neuter Syndrome, I remain bothered by the countless references to The Partner over the course of the day. I may not have gone with any family references and stuck to stories about my dog. Heck, I can connect everything in life to my dog. Or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”. But this respected speaker who spoke so eloquently about creating genuine relationships could not be fully honest with us.

We have made progress over the past four decades since Stonewall, but we have a long way to go in terms of self-acceptance and societal acceptance. Locking ourselves in a gondola in Switzerland is safe, sometimes even restorative, but neutrality that amounts to neutering can be harmful.

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