Wednesday, August 26, 2009

One Person at a Time

In the post, "Am I the Problem?", which I wrote on August 6, I talked about moving DVD boxed sets of "Queer as Folk" so the electrician, coming in to do some work on one of our walls prior to the installation of our built-in bookcase, wouldn't see them and potentially take a negative position toward Chris and me. What I mean to say is that I didn't want the electrician to know we are a gay couple, even though, strangely enough, when he arrived at the house, Chris was on vacation, and I introduced him as my partner.

I'm long past not introducing Chris as my partner, I don't care who I introduce him to. I know Chris feels the same way. We've been together for nearly two decades, and we are every bit a couple as any heterosexual couple is. Why should I marginalize what we share? Why should I deny it, just to help someone feel more comfortable around us? If he has that much of a problem with Chris and me as a gay couple, then we can get someone else to do the job. We are what we are, and I can't change that. Nor should I have to for anyone else.

Did the electrician, whom I'll call Calvin, flinch when I told him Chris was my partner? Did he harden just a little, put up a wall around him, take the attitude that we might be like that but he wasn't? Maybe. I can't be sure. But there was some hesitation, just a second or two, before he reached out his hand and shook Chris's. It's a typical reaction as people register the information I've given them and try to process it in a way that works for them.

I don't know at what point Calvin started to soften. I brought him downstairs to our theatre room, showed him the wall where the built-in bookcase was to be installed, and explained what needed to be done. I'd like to think I made completing work in the home of a gay couple as natural and as easy as I could for someone who may have had little experience with our arrangement. Calvin listened to what I had to say, asked questions, thought about the options, and went to work.

As I usually do when service people complete work in our home, I stuck around and I asked questions of my own, trying to understand what was going on and ensuring the work was done as needed. In the process, Calvin and I talked about a number of things, like when Chris and I had moved in, where we'd moved from, what we thought of the area, how the move had gone for us, etc. In addition to ensuring the work was done correctly, what I think this did was help Calvin and me to warm up to each other. After a while, I didn't feel he was hesitant toward me at all, and I didn't feel intimidated being around a straight man.

In fact, it turned out that Calvin was very personable. Over the course of his two visits to our home, he asked questions about Chris and me, which I answered honestly, not hiding anything about the nature of our relationship, and we shared a number of laughs about various things. He commented on the hardwood floor we had installed several months ago, saying that he thought it looked great, and he was happy when I offered to show him around the house so he could see the numerous other changes we'd made since moving in.

For my part, I learned where in Metro Vancouver Calvin lives. He told me about his wife and the type of work she does, and he said he had two children, told me their ages, and a little bit about them. In other words, the interaction between us was much more than a straight service provider coming into our house to complete some work for us. Calvin warmed up to us a great deal, provided top-notch service, and commented as he was leaving that he really enjoyed working for us. (Chris and I even thought Calvin might have a few gay tendencies himself, although that was probably nothing more than us reading a few of the signals in him that we're used to looking for. Was it possible Calvin felt so comfortable around us that he allowed himself to show characteristics of his feminine side without feeling that he'd be judged? Who knows.)

The bottom line is that, whatever Calvin may have thought about us when he first arrived at the house, he seemed to think something else entirely when he left. Perhaps Chris and I were the first gay couple he ever did work for--although I doubt that's the case in all of Metro Vancouver. Perhaps spending time with him, and talking to him, and being honest with him about Chris and me--trying not to hide anything as it came up in conversation, yet still being respectful--helped him to see us as the complete couple that we are, regardless of the fact that we're the same gender. And, perhaps, as a result, Calvin was able to change whatever preconceived ideas he had about gay people, feeling more positive about us as a result of his experience at our house.

As I see it, this is the way the battle will be won, the battle for the legitimacy of gay people and gay couples in the eyes of straight people. When straight people see that Chris and I are no different from them and their significant others, then perhaps minds will be changed and the world will be changed too. When straight people realize it's all right for gay people to be themselves, and to love whoever they want to, maybe then straight people will realize they can be themselves too, and not have to be a certain way toward gay people because that's how society thinks gay people should be treated.

Winning the battle one person at a time. It's the only way.

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