Yesterday, I had a coffee meeting with an individual who does not work for my company, but whom I work with. During this meeting, this person stated, “I looked at your profile and saw you’re LGBT. Tell me about that.” It was towards the end of my day, the end of our meeting and my mental acuity was not at its strongest. At first I wondered if I heard her correctly.
For additional context, this person and myself are from different cultural backgrounds. The person presented as female although I will use “they” pronouns as to not make an assumption. At no point in our work conversation did the subject of our families come up as, in our short 30 minutes together, we had a lot of things to cover which did not include personal disclosures.
I refuse to make any assumptions or guesses as to the intent of this person’s thought process in broaching this conversation, but the statement itself left me with a lack of clarity on how to answer. I asked this person to explain what they meant. They then proceeded to explain they were recently at a friend’s party wearing a rainbow dress. Their friend joked they shouldn’t wear the rainbow dress because of an LGBT rally happening nearby, insinuating people might get confused. The person across from me then asked if I knew what the LGBT rally was.
Our conversation ended pretty quickly after that. I tried to be polite and let her know I didn’t know what she was referencing. On the car ride home, I kept mulling over what profile this person in the meeting had seen. Was it LinkedIn? Instagram? How deep did they go in the research on me?
Then my mind turned toward something else entirely. My reading in class for the past few weeks has centered on microaggressions. When microaggression occur, the person transgressed experiences doubt as they wonder exactly what I was pondering after this work meeting: Did the person sitting across from me understand what they were saying? Did they know the story was offensive? Did they know it hurt my feelings? Do they understand the line crossed not only because we were in a work meeting, but because culturally in this region and for me personally the questions were not appropriate?
I can explain away the incident in a myriad of ways: They didn’t know better. They didn’t mean it the way I took it. Maybe I perceived it incorrectly. Maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Also a classic: It’s not that bad compared to what other people experience, right?
I ran through all of these reasons in my head and ultimately continued to come to the same conclusion: I feel like shit because of the conversation. Also, an indicator of a microaggression is that the transgressor often doesn’t even know they’ve committed one leaving the transgressed to feel alone and confused by the incident.
I recounted the incident to Katie over berry pie and a glass of Cava (Pie Bar-Ballard – if you’re local, do yourself a favor and try it!). In describing my doubt, I wondered aloud if these incidents will ever get easier to manage. Is this the life I live now? Katie chuckled at the irony of the question to which I responded stating I almost wish I could be in these situations more often so the shock could wear off and I could be more prepared to defend myself. I started crying. Am I really wishing to be discriminated against so I can have thicker skin? Is this real life?
I can only imagine how silly all of this sounds. My handful of incidents pale in comparison to the lifetime of discrimination experienced by others. The privilege I have feels overwhelming as I learn to navigate the privilege I no longer possess. More fodder for therapy, I suppose.
4 thoughts on “Where is that ‘thick skin’?”
Microaggressions aside, some people just have no social filters. The man for whom I work is like that. He also happens to live next door to me, and we had been casual acquaintances for over a year before I went to work for him. I had always assumed he had known I was trans, but it wasn’t until I reported to him incidences of mis-gendering by one of his other employees that I ended up (inadvertently, I suppose) coming out to him. Since then, he has asked me some questions that I have avoided answering – both while on the clock and over-the-fence. Although I’m sometimes initially shocked, even embarrassed by things he’s said or asked, I’ve just come to accept that he is just that way. He is, by the way, a 78-year-old gay man who is pretty set in his ways. I never give him personal information, but I have tried to give him some understanding about what “transgender” means. I don’t owe him, or anyone else, an explanation for who I am, nor would I expect one from him. My wife feels and responds to him in the same way.
Hang in there. Things like this will always sting a bit, no matter how thick you think your skin is. The sting eventually ends up staying with you less and less in time.
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You have completely misunderstood the situation with this colleague. Your colleague is queer. She noticed somewhere that you’d noted that you were identified with queer stuff in some way, so she asked you about it. It’s not a hit on, it’s the “hey are we family?” question. She was feeling you out to see if you were queer yourself, or a queer ally. I don’t understand how anything she said, by your own retelling, could possibly be construed as offensive. In my experience (and that of every queer I know) when someone out of the blue is interested in your queerness and actively wants to engage in a positive way, it’s one of the most validating things that can happen. You get clocked and someone leans in and says “hey, me too!” She was trying to tell you that if you’re queer and if you’re struggling that you’re not alone. So calm your farm, you’re projecting your insecurities and she’s not being inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination.
Hello, I appreciate this perspective as it’s one I mulled over in the days after this event happened. I can’t fully explain why I disagree with your interpretation, or why I’m reading the event as I did, but something about the nature of how all the questions were asked and answered in the setting of a work meeting makes me feel as though being “family” wasn’t the motive. As I’ve said in this post, I could be wrong and I’ll likely never know what she was thinking. Again, thank you for highlighting another idea on the subject. It’s how I learn.
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