Straight Up | Issue 15
“So, I always thought queer was a nasty word.” The well-meaning middle-aged cis-woman leans in, her head cocked to the left. “Can you explain it to me? What do you mean by queer?” She has a kind face, and her body language indicates she wants to listen. Often as a queer activist/educator I feel a pull, a responsibility, to spend time talking things through with people like her.
But today I don’t. Sandwich in my hand, I am yet to eat my lunch. The room is crowded with people yarning, and I am tired after a day at a conference. Also, this question bores me. I must have answered it 458 times this year alone. I say, “Hey, cool you’re interested, sounds like you need to do some reading about it. I’m off-duty at the moment, but there are heaps of resources if you Google it”. I sip my tea and watch her face shift. I can see she is confused that I haven’t complied, hurt that I haven’t answered her seemingly simple question. She is possibly wondering why I am so mean and probably thinking I should be grateful that she’s asked me about a topic I am obviously invested in. She thought she was doing the right thing.
A similar thing happened last week when I was contacted by a reporter and asked for comment. In spite of my ego, I said no. I said no because the story they wanted to tell and the story I wanted to tell were really different, and I didn’t trust they’d use my words appropriately.
Even the most generous educators need to be selective about where they invest their energy. Personally, I’m trying not to get drawn into conversations that will be a lot of hard work and offer little in return. Why should I go through the hassle of educating you if I am not especially invested in our relationship? Sweet pea, please don’t mistake me for Wikipedia. I need to eat my lunch just like everyone else. And in advising this woman to do some research, I have already done half the work. Maybe when she has read something she can come back and we can have a more reciprocal and respectful conversation.
Being picky about where I invest my energy is something I am learning to do. I think it is important to choose when to say “no”, “not today”, “not now”, and “maybe later once you have done some work of your own”.