12 December 2010

He Had No Future; I Have No Past

Not long ago, in the course of a conversation, I recalled something I hadn't thought about in a long time.  During my senior year in high school, I was on the committee that planned and arranged our class's senior prom.  I think I got involved with it because the faculty advisor taught a course in which I needed a grade I couldn't earn otherwise.  

That class wasn't required for graduation.  However, doing well in it might have helped me to get into a few schools and programs other people wanted me to get into.  I had no other reason to take that class or, truth be told, to be on that committee or to do almost anything else I did that year.  

I knew full well that once I graduated, I probably wouldn't be back.  My guidance counselor, who might not have been useless if he hadn't tried to drown sorrows that could swim, said as much.  It probably was the one useful or relevant, let alone prescient, thing he said to me.

What I also knew, somehow, was that I wasn't going to the prom that I was helping to plan.  Of course, I didn't tell anyone that; it wouldn't have made any more sense to them than it did to me.  If nothing else, I was learning one of the most important lessons of my life:  What makes sense and what's true are not always the same thing.

And the most essential truth--or so it seemed-- about me made absolutely no sense to me at that time.  I'm referring, of course, to my gender identity.  Nearly every day, I had to play that mental game of ping-pong:  "Your'e a man.  No I'm not.  You have a penis.  It's really a big clitoris.  You like girls.  Yes, but not only in that way.   You're an athlete.  Just like how many other women?

My understanding of gender and sexuality was so primitive--though not any less advanced than that of most people in that place and time--that I simply could not even think of showing up at the prom with another girl.  No girl in that milieu would have done that.  And I couldn't have gone with a boy, either:   No boy, no matter his identity and orientation, would have gone with another boy, even if he was really a girl who just happened to have a boy's body.

That, by the way, is the main  reason I didn't date when I was in high school, in spite of my father's and other adults' efforts to hook me up with someone or another's daughter.  My status as dateless became my ostensible reason for not attending the prom I helped to plan.  In addition, I told myself that it was silly to spend lots of money and energy over people and a place I would never, and had no wish to, see again.

I am just starting to realize how that experience affected me.  It's a reason why there are so many things to which I woulfddn't commit myself: I so often feel as if my efforts were for things of which I could never partake, and that I was always serving people who were living lives completely different form any I could, or wanted to, live.  

Every LGBT person has felt, at some time or another,  something like what I've described.  We are paying for, and in other ways serving, a society and economy that supports institutions--including marriage, as the law and most people define it--in which we cannot participate.  And I have often felt that my job as an educator is to prepare people to live in that sort of familial and societal arrangement.  

It's difficult to be involved in organizations and institutions when you know that you cannot benefit from the fruits of the labor you put into it.  It's impossible to have any enthusiasm for more than a relatively short period of time when you don't even have the right to be yourself as you're helping others to realize their dreams.  And it's none too encouraging when you can't get the people with and for whom you're working that they are operating from, and their expectations of you are therefore based upon, privilege and a sense of entitlement that they very often don't even realize they have.

I'm thinking about all of this now after learning that someone with whom I spent some time--a friend of an ex--died recently.  He was smarter, and far more creative, than I or almost anyone else could ever hope to be.  Yet he never went to college, in spite of offers of full-ride scholarships from very respected institutions.  He did well financially, and in other ways, and he wasn't boasting when he said he succeeded without much planning.  In fact, very little in his life was premeditated.  

The reason, he once told me, is that he knew that, for one thing, as a gay man, he wouldn't be able to live the sort of life for which schools and other institutions would have prepared him.  (That, interestingly enough, is the only way in which I ever heard him talk about his sexual orientation.)  And, for  another, he knew--not expected, knew--that he wasn't going to live to be fifty.  All of the men in his family had a congenital heart condition that killed them before they finished their fifth decade.  That condition is one of the few things, along with bloodlines, that he shared with them.  

So he knew that he wasn't going to be part of a nuclear family and collect Social Security in addition to a pension.  You can imagine how he must have felt about paying into that system, especially because he always was a business proprietor or an independent contractor of some sort.  

Why should I prepare for a future I won't have?, he asked.  Had I been more aware and articulate, I would have been asked that same question.  Why am I helping to plan a prom I won't attend?  

The difference, of course, is that I did have a future.  It just wasn't the one anyone was planning for me, or preparing me for.  Some of what I did to prepare that future has been useful to me; so much else wasn't.   But I can say that I do have a future of some sort, even if it isn't a very long one or one that nobody can predict.  Now, in some way, what I don't have is the past--or, specifically, my past.  Preparing for someone else's life, of course, meant that I was living someone else's life.  And there's never any future in that.

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