A funny series of things culminated in me sitting in at the Make-Out Room Friday night, having just watched Mortified - for free! I love my job! - and generally feeling good about the world but also talking to a man whose ideas of gender were so normative it was as if he were a paper doll cut out of the Normal America magazine. Don't call me a jerk; he told me he thought of himself as "normal," that he felt like "most men." These were labels he chose for himself. Actually, I am being inaccurate. He told me he felt like "most dudes." These are the words he chose: "dudes" for men and "chicks" for women. He, easily in his thirties, collared shirt, job at eBay, apartment in SOMA*. Kristin told me the only bar he knew in the Mission was Medjool's* but at first I thought she was joking. Hard to believe that anyone so entirely and willingly signs themselves up for a stereotype.
After about five consecutive uses in our first ten or fifteen minutes of conversation, I said I thought he should reconsider his use of the word "chick," that it was pejorative. This is progress for me, who would have once said flatly "Stop saying that word, it's ridiculous." To his credit, he thought about it. He went on to tell me how men feel when they see a beautiful woman. You don't need to tell me about it, I said, you don't know me. I like women sometimes, did you know that? Well, he replied, I assumed. This was veryvery funny to me. Perhaps only the second or third time (that I know about) in my life when someone's assumed I'm a lesbian. Because I have short hair? I asked through the laughter. What if I told you that I like men sometimes, too? Did you know that also? No, he said. I didn't. Right, I replied. Because you don't know me. Again on the topic of personal progress, I managed to say (and feel) this not-antagonistically.
Although it goes against years of training and toughness and being ready to fight the world with teeth bared and balled fists, I have for some years now been making an effort to practice more enfoldment-like techniques (thank you, Sally Gearhart) with, let us be honest, mixed success. It is hard for me to overcome my combativeness. But shouting, insulting, and even out-talking are not effective methods of persuasion**, of stimulating discussion, or creating an atmosphere where people might begin to reconsider or at least consider reconsidering something which is to many as fundamental and unneeding of questioning as gender roles. I, however, am damn interested in having people question.
*cheat-sheet for non-Sanfranciscans: these are kind of gross trendy places for yuppies**I know, I know, if I were really interested in enfoldment (more here) I wouldn't be talking about persuasion at all. Oh well. I tend to think of my minimal goal as seed-planting.