Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hello, good-bi

Parts of my journey have taken me through some of the more (and most) conservative parts of this country, the red states and the red parts of blue states, the rich 'burbs and the po' downtowns, the smaller towns and the larger-than-life Texan cities. In each of these places, as in the most tree-hugging baby-killing of places, I've met people of every kind, of vastly varying political dispositions and private temperaments. But still...

... let's do this slowly.

Yesterday I got off at the Rochester station. I probably looked mildly like a rucksacked hobo - unshaven, and was unkempt having travelled on the train overnight. Not to mention my two backpacks smothering me on both sides, and my travel-creased clothes. Hmm, maybe that also explains a bit of Miss Congealed Anality's shortness with me. Anyway, this guy with a cup of coffee chatting with the station master looked at me, and slightly turned his body so as to shut me out from his world-view. I asked the station master whether he knew how to use public transportation to get to the University. He looked blank, and pointed me to a stand in the corner where there were bus schedules. Usually people in train stations are great with bus/train tips, but this is upstate New York for you, I guess - a column I read in the local newspaper waxed eloquent about the columnist's wonderfully batty friend who was {gasp} taking buses everywhere instead of driving. Anyway, I looked for a bit, but without any understanding of the city couldn't get started. I asked the coffee-guy if he could help me get my bearings, tell me which neighbourhood I was in so I could figure it out, to which he bluntly replied, "No, I can't help you." I started explaining I just needed to figure out how to get started, but he interrupted saying "Why don't you just take a cab?" and turned around again.

At any rate, I did figure it out. Spent a pleasant night at Weiji's, and got to the station well in advance of my eight-hour late train (let's not even go there this time :) This morning (which actually menas right now) when I got into the station, coffee-guy was in essentially the same position. Probably works at the station. Gave me a passing glance, "Guess you found your bus after all."

"Yep, it was fun. Why don't you try it?"

"Naw, I don't take buses." And stalked off.

Now that little bit of mild nastiness has more than been compensated for by little kindnessesses by strangers (not to mention the much larger ones of friends) on this trip. But still, I really have no idea what about me in particular aroused that sub-surface hostility. Not that it's lost me any sleep - I can deal with jerks - but it got me thinking. Of course, it might just be that coffee is bad for his stomach and makes him grumpy, but he hasn't realized that in forty years of drinking it. Still, bear with me as I speculate. One possibility is preconceived notions he may hold against 'people like me'. Maybe he had his job outsourced to India, which is why he's hanging around in a low-paying Amtrak job, and doesn't like brown-skinned people. Or, he doesn't like politicians who take his hard-earned taxes and piss it away on services like city buses for those losers who inhabit the crime-ridden downtown three blocks away. Or he's got a twenty-six year old long-haired pot-smoking lazy son hanging out in the People's Republic of Berkeley, disrespects his father and has just told him he's a pansy.

I'm not saying I'm not guilty of the same. When I was in that bus-stop I was busily applying mental labels to people like dipsomaniac, or street crazy, or lethal killing machine I wouldn't want to meet after dark. Still, I like to think that at least I try to be open-minded, or at least manage a decent facade of one such.

'Cos, more and more, as I've grown emotionally I've found prefabricated solutions to life often don't fit my feet, and had to find my own ways of making peace with life. This in turn often means that while I'm struggling internally with the implications of my choices, I simultaneously have to deal with making other people comfortable with them. This has become tiresome, and so I feel like saying to everyone - just deal with it. Deal with me as you find me.

I won't pretend it's just me that faces problems like these, but dammit, at least I do, so I'm gonna crib about it, and for whatever underlying reason impels your desire for life you're gonna read this and see where it goes.

So, for example, I don't like the concept of cars. The idea of a metal can spewing fumes and consuming a temendous amount of natural resources merely to exist and transport me strikes a raw note in the deep dark Calvinist in me. And so I've lived five years in LA without a car. (Okay, alright, I confess, driving also used to scare the shit out of me. Especially in India. But I swear I've got that out of my system, so this really is the reason. Honest :) You want to hang out with me? Deal with it.

My last long-term relationship was with a Taiwanese (note - not Chinese) woman. All you repressed Indian folks, including those my generation, deal with it.

While we're on the subject of Indians including those my age, would those of you who have no clue whether I'm single or seeing someone stop asking me when I'm getting married before you know whether I'm seeing someone? Asking that question in that situation is arse-backwards. Think about it. And for what it's worth, I'm currently single, comfortable with that, waiting for the right person, a steady relationship and other things besides before the M word is likely to be an issue. Oh, and for the last time, I'm not planning on sticking around for a green card and McMansion - there's other stuff I want to do while I'm young. Deal with it.

And, finally, the basic reason for this piece. I'm bisexual. Many of you already know this because I've told you face-to-face (which is how I've preferred to do it thus far), but for those who don't, deal with it.

Well, okay, let me help you through this one :)

If you don't know what bisexual means, look it up. The dictionary is usually a good place to start.

Here are some questions people have asked me.

Myth: Do you have sex organs of both sexes?
Fact: To the best of my knowledge I have only male sex organs. Read the dicktionary, dumbkopf.
(Well, no, I haven't actually been asked that to my face, but I can read what's on your mind. Don't deny you wanted to ask that ;)

Myth: Were you sexually abused as a child?
Fact: I had a uniformly happy and blissful childhood, straight out of Noddy.

Myth: So does this mean you need to have both a girlfriend and a boyfriend simultaneously?
Fact: Exactly as much as straight folk need to have two girlfriends or boyfriends simultaneously.

Myth: This means that you can date anyone in the world (jealousy detected).
Fact: Just like you can date that cute lesbian if you're female (jealous in return) or sexy guy if you're male. Actually, under the reasonable assumption that gays and lesbians are equal in number, everyone has the same odds. Do the math. Except of course, since I cannot be dishonest in a relationship that requires trust, I can't date people not comfortable with my sexual identity (vast majority of humanity) (more reciprocal jealousy) (actually, scratch that jealousy).

Myth (mostly held by gay people I know): True bisexuals don't exist.
Fact: I do, therefore I am.

Myth (held by both straight and gay people): You're going through a phase.
Fact: It's a pretty loooooong phase.

Q: Are you a top or a bottom?
A: That's none of your damn business.

Why am I coming out in this manner? Well, over the last few years I've become more comfortable with myself in many different ways, and slowly I've come out to close friends, then friends, then colleagues, and finally family. This blog - well, fr'instance, when I started writing this particular piece, before it morphed beyond all recognition, it was going to be a sensitive and thoughtful commentary on how there are good people on both sides of the political divide (such as... umm), and that it's hard to pigeonhole people (such as the gay Republican I chatted with in Texas, who wanted to put up a barbed wire around the state to keep out the 'undesirables'). I started writing, mentally making a note not to include that last anecdote, when suddenly this last shred of anonymity ("only people I tell face-to-face should know" was my last rationalization) seemed trivial enough that I'd rather tell and get it over with.

Here's why people come out. It's a relief. You no longer lie to people, including yourself. You feel cleaner. You can then go on and deal with other, more meaningful challenges of life, and only have to deal with prejudice when it shows up, instead of it being a 24/7 background process.

But since I just read an excellent book on psychotherapy (Schopenhauer's Porcupines", Deborah Luepnitz), I delved a little deeper mentally, and here's a more visceral reason for this particular piece at this particular point in time.

So back in the day when I was firmly in the closet to the world in general, there was this woman who was dating an acquaintance. For reasons unknown she took a liking to me and started mothering me (cooking tips, dancing lessons, and so on). She then broke up with this guy, took it really badly, and was an emotional train-wreck. She'd had horrible, horrible things happen to her in life, everything was happening right then to her, mentally and physically she was collapsing. A bunch of her friends,
including myself to some extent, helped her pull through. She slowly recovered, took Chu-hsin (whom I'd just started seeing, and who knew about me) under her wing, started seeing someone else. All was well, except on several occasions (such as when she dragged both Chu-hsin and myself for a pedicure/manicure) she'd make obnoxiously homophobic comments. It kind of fit her WASPish upbringing and world-view, so I wasn't too surprised. But still...

That personal impact of homophobia started something bubbling in me, and over the next few months I finally started coming out to friends, all of whom were uniformly supportive of me personally. Whatever their personal feelings were they kept to themselves, or better yet, would discuss would me.

One day she came to me emotionally wraught again (the thing with the new guy wasn't going so well). I ferreted out of her that she had cash-flow problems, insisted on lending her a bit of money to help out with the rent. I also finally came out to her.

I've never seen her since, and phone calls and emails have gone unanswered.

What bothers me about this whole thing is neither of the thoughts that might lurk in your mind. We never had a thing going between us; we neither of us was the others' type. And no, the money can't be it. In her world-view, not returning it would be a sin, and that's... well, I guess it's a sin. Not that it matters - it was a small amount, and if she still can't afford it I'd rather lose the money than someone I thought was a friend.

A lasting effect of this has been a personal intolerance of intolerance in particular, and the religious moral majority in general. My personal experiences of orthodoxy versus progressiveness, my travels through rural California, Texas, and upstate New York, probably threw this whole thing up.


Blogger കണക്കൻ said...

After failing miserably to write well in English, I resorted to writing in Malayalam . Turns out I am not bad at it at all. So if you follow my profile, that is where you'd end up. Anyway couple of things.
1. I do read your blog on a regular basis and it is indeed quite a fresh air.
2. My way of dealing with " repressed Indian folks " of my generation had been avoiding them. Lately I have come to the conclusion that it is probably not an effective idea mostly because I do want to get involved with certain social issues in India and without dealing with people how am I to do that, eh?
3. "stop asking me when I'm getting married before you know whether I'm seeing someone? Asking that question in that situation is arse-backwards." I might put that as my signature on emails to a lot of my friends and family.
4." for the last time, I'm not planning on sticking around for a green card and McMansion - there's other stuff I want to do while I'm young. Deal with it." This is for some of the new female acquaintances that I might meet in future.

2:01 PM  
Blogger traveblog said...

Hey Sooraj,

That you? Can't tell, 'cos I don't have Mallu script installed, and even if I did... :)

Thanks for the comment, and if you happen to have english translations lying around, or some good English-Mallu online translators... :)

7:02 PM  
Blogger കണക്കൻ said...

Yep its me. Forgot to mention that. I don't know of any online malayalam -english translators. Some day I will get around to that. I did have about 3 malayalam lessons mostly intended for Rebecca( incase you don't know who she is, a quick intro can be given later, for now I had been seeing her for about a year and that is about it). Anyway since no one was reading those lessons I lost enthusiasm.

10:26 PM  
Blogger rebecca said...

No guilt-tripping me in public!! Meanie.

I was too reading them - I'm just... a little slow when it comes to languages. That's why I've tried to learn so many - every one turns out to be so difficult! No, ok, that last part's not true, but I really am slow at them. Patience!

All right, we've probably amused the general reading public of Jaggi's blog enough, now. I might as well get back to work....

9:44 PM  

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