While I consider myself somewhat deft with words, I can be “awkward” with them, not malevolent, nor an idiot, but well, ignorant. I’m one of the first people to point and laugh at myself. I take great pride in being able to condemn myself for being a complete buffoon at times.
I was asked once to facilitate (pro bono — which is my pleasure) a meditation experience for a group of individuals associated with a suburban PFLAG community. I was honored to be asked and I considered it a privilege to serve. All I knew at the invitation was that I would be serving an arm of the organization which supports the family members of PFLAG members or otherwise activist.
I decided a yoga nidra would be best, for our first time together. Yoga nidra is “yoga sleep,” where you’re not actually asleep, but are in somewhat of a twilight state as the practitioner talks you through various states of internal physical awareness via muscle release and tiered outward cues such as the *awareness* of the sensation of the clothes on the body, the ticking of a clock or birds outside the room, etc..
So I arrived on time.
I went to the correct room.
I asked for the person I was supposed to meet. The liaison, if you will. I was taken to the liaison.
We shook hands and I was not introduced to the group, which I found a little confusing.
So I rolled out my mat (not expecting that I would be setting up in front of people, which is really sort of an awkward moment, because part of the cache of meditation — at least in my realm — is that you “encounter” it; you “discover” it — all ready and waiting for you. You don’t watch the practitioner set up, unroll its mat and arrange its chimes and then introduce itself. Almost every encounter I’ve had, the person is already there, in its pre-Zen state and waiting to facilitate. The exception was with Tara Brach, where the room was so big, and there were so many people (220+) that she came in when everyone was settled. (Sorta like Mass. But it wasn’t Mass. I’m shutting up.)
BUT THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. >breathe<
So I enter the room, put down my bag, seek the room for somewhere to place my coat. No one said anything. So … I take off my coat and place it on a chair. I wasn’t offered a hanger or assistance or anything. (And I’m a newbie! A GUEST! — The room started to take on a surly tone to me…)
So I gear up and just take it all in stride. After asking for consent, I spray a light mist of lavender and rosemary oil / water to help induce calm. I turn on my music (chanting monks) turn down the lights and do my thing, starting the nidra / awareness with a guided breathing exercise and then visualized relaxation from the top of the head to the tips of the toes and back up.
It lasted about 30 minutes.
Usually, people in a nidra go OUT in less than 10 minutes. That doesn’t matter because my constant chatter in a low tone helps them come in and out of the “zone” without any major disruptions. My voice is like a sound in the background.
At the end, I rang my chimes but kept the lights off.
I talked them through a gentle transition “back to the room” while reminding them to keep their eyes closed because I was going to turn on the light. I prompted everyone to cover their eyes so the light could slowly filter through their lids and that would be gentler for them. I prompted them to sit up for a final quote and closure.
I read a brief quote and we did our Namaste thing and told them to keep their eyes downward to reduce light shock. I packed up and left with the lights all the way up. (They were fluorescent which didn’t dim.) People were rubbing their eyes and exiting their various meditative states as I was slinging my bags over my shoulders, etc..
AS I WAS WALKING OUT THE DOOR, I said to the group, “Goodnight Ladies, thank you very much for letting me serve.”
The liaison whipped around, looked up at me, rushed me at the door and hissed, “YOU MEAN ‘GOODNIGHT PEOPLE OF ALL GENDERS‘ !!!”
You could have bruised me with a breath….
I was stunned. Speechless. Searching, frantically, in my mind for the reason for my error –surely this was my fault!– seeking preparation documents I read in my head for data that disclosed the details. None. None anywhere. I had absolutely NO idea I was working with a “gender identity” group; I was told I was serving an arm of family members of persons in the PFLAG community… I was NOT AT ALL AWARE I would be serving a Gender In Transition group. That’s when introductions and liaisons with an ounce of tact and who know what the hell they are doing come in handy.
What if I’d said ‘Guys!’ — would I have been cheered? Would I have been stoned? People say ‘guys’ all the time and mean no offense at all. The next time someone says, “Goodnight, Guys!” I’ll be waiting outside her car the next morning.
I’m a YOGA teacher. I’m all “about” peace love and kumbaya; I screw up but I … hell, I have close friends …no. I’m not going to say, “SOME OF MY FRIENDS ARE _____.” Because that doesn’t matter. That’s NOT … this isn’t about ME. This, to me, is about humanity. That we all need to give each other a freaking break… No malice aforethought, then no malice whateverthought.
I may have screamed at my kids’ soccer ref, but I am NOT an asshole INTENTIONALLY. I’m very open-minded.
I was so horrified and mortified by my gaffe. Of course I said, “Yes! Absolutely! ‘Persons of all genders,’ of course!” But at that point, I felt as though I seemed insincere and just like a jerk (‘some of my best friends …’).
One of the other “leaders” in the group looked at me sympathetically.
She It seemed to convey that she it knew I was so sorry. I began to feel sorry for her it that person because it had to work / see / breathe with the liaison.
I started to say, “I apologize. I had no idea that … of … I… I’m so sorry…”
But the damage was done — the liaison, who was 20something, hissed at me while smiling, “YESSSSSSSS” and closed the door.
IN. MY. FACE.
Suburban housewife: 0
To them, at that point I’m sure I seemed like some assholic suburban hater who was about to go home and pray for their souls and for God to cure them.
I can tell you this: the sense of contempt I felt with when I entered that room at first to serve was directed at ME, prejudicially. I was discarded. I was not at all included. I was the “outsider.”
And that sucked. And that was ironic. Because if the whole philosophy of the energy of the world I’d like to say I inhabit is the one that does its best to see all things and appreciate all things and not be haters and be inclusive and all that… then … like … what the what?
There is no way, ever, to prepare yourself for the possible unintentional offense you are about to slew onto someone else and for which you will dearly pay JUST by being ignorant — not biased, not prejudicial — just unaware.
I forgot to add, that to me, all the participants in the room were clearly “female” in what I would consider gender cues: heels, lipstick, jewelry, and affect.
How was I to know:
a) that I was speaking to a gender-identity-in-transition group when it was never disclosed and
b) that saying “ladies” (based on nondisclosure) was the wrong thing??
This is where I’m awkward, but HUMAN:
If you have a person who is transitioning into “female” gender, and it “fooled” (irony, but get me a better word and I’ll take it) a presbyopic suburban mother like me, then wouldn’t that be a good thing, a goal? (Shoot me now?) How am I to know of any discomfort on the side of the person who is in transition? When does just being a person who serves out of kindness and for the greater good and says something apparently totally inappropriate turn into being a hater? When does my gaffe transition into NON-PC? Fodder for the angry rhetoric of people who just want to fight?
Because I was serving a meditation practice I felt I could sail with some assurance that the odds of offending the practitioners would be pretty high, given especially that I was not lecturing or reading… or singing… egads.
By the way, this whole post is based on a Facebook thread where some brave friends and I debated the use of “they” as a singular pronoun in common parlance per an article in the Wall Street Journal.
One of my friends said to me that nothing I said was offensive and I answered,
Well, it was to them. Or her. Or … fuck. You know. That person. My friend who hooked me up with the group was disgusted by their behavior. She said their treatment of me was EXACTLY the opposite of their entire charter. I am sure I was not of their “ilk” which clearly offended — but how the eff do they know? It was boggling. The sad part is that I am reluctant to do anything like that going forward. Shit… if we can’t be who we are, warts and all, screw them.
Then we summarized with the simple Occam’s Razor: that some people are just ready to fight and that’s that. As another friend said, if we spent more time thinking about how we are alike rather than different, we’d probably get a lot more work done and have more peace.
The subject of diversity and inclusion and race and gender and personhood has often made me confused: if we see race / gender / sexuality / creed / ability and celebrate diversity then racism / division isn’t so far-off a call. On the other hand, if we include and endeavor color / race / ability / creed / gender / sexuality -blindness, then we risk being considered insensitive.
Everyone is unique.
Which means no one is.
But some people just want to fight and divide.
I wrote this on my Facebook wall:
this reminds me of a moment at the end of Jerry Seinfeld’s “I’ve Told You For The Last Time” when he returned to stand-up after the end of Seinfeld the TV show.
After the monologue, Jerry came back out to the stage and said he’d be happy to take questions from the audience, and “entertain your curiosities.”
someone in the audience, a woman, shouted out “It’s my birthday!” and Jerry said, “It’s your birthday! Happy birthday… … what birthday is it?”
the woman shouted back something unintelligible, but it was along the lines of privacy. she didn’t want to say how old she was.
Jerry waits …. maybe a second or two and says, “Oh. So you want attention, but not *too much* attention…”
and to me, that is where we are at times. we want relevance, but not too much relevance. we want inclusion, but not too much inclusion. we want exposure, but not too much exposure. we want freedom, but not too much freedom.
i am always grateful for the discourse on my wall. i have always thought that i have some of the smartest friends on the internet. (sometimes that’s not saying a lot…. HAHAH! that was a joke!) and there are plenty of people on my wall, lurking, watching the action, wondering how pear-shaped this conversation will go: will we start insulting each other? will we use ALL CAPS… will we take things personally?
and i have to say, so far, the answer is that we’re all sharing. sharing our humanity, our experiences, our biases, our concerns. i think we’d all like to live in a world full of peace, where conflicts are resolved over rounds of rock-paper-scissors. but we don’t. and it’s unlikely we ever will.
i adore all youse guys, gals, kids, babes, doofuses, brainiacs, dudes, geezers and peeps.
you all help me learn how to be a better me.
Ps — if you’re going to be a troll, buh-bye. I’m open for a sensible, respectful and rational dialogue.