The Independent Newsweekly
|Today's Take: NCR's daily Web column|
|Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news. It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.|
|August 11, 2003||
Vol. 1, No. 88
On the days when I'm gay
By Pat Morrison, NCR managing editor
I'm not gay. Today.
I'm pretty much a fashion troglodyte. I don't pay attention to designer labels, to what's in fashion or hopelessly out of style. I buy clothes I like, that I hope are somewhat flattering, that are comfortable. And most of all, I look for stuff that's on sale.
I was looking for an inexpensive nylon number, one I could roll up in an overnight bag, toss in the back of the car for when an occasional spring cloudburst hit. This one was perfect. It was white, with a hood, and a few bands of color across it.
Perhaps I should have suspected something was up when, towards the end of a blockbuster sale week, there was still a full rack of these jackets. But I didn't.
My first epiphany happened in a restaurant where I was wearing the jacket to protect against an over-enthusiastic air conditioner. A waiter approached, touched my arm in gentle affirmation, and said softly, "I love your jacket."
He looked at me. I looked at him.
I wrestled with the impulse to bury the jacket in the closet (pun unintended) until I could give it away to Goodwill. I decided I'd keep wearing it. But why did people's interpretation of this one piece of my wardrobe bother me so much? What did this jacket say about others, and about me? I decided my rainbow jacket could be a tool in an ad hoc sociological experiment. Will people treat me differently when I wear a jacket that makes, for some, a political, even a moral, statement? And how do I feel about that?
It was very interesting. I got a few more friendly waves and an occasional thumbs-up from people I didn't know. I smiled and waved back. I was met with some stares and quasi-hostile looks. I smiled back or said "Hi."
And the plot thickened on occasion. Around my neck I wear a silver-dollar sized medallion of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a remembrance of my religious profession. One of the more humorous aspects of my "experiment" came from watching people's eyes dart furtively from the rainbow jacket to my religious medal and back. In every case, the reaction was a visual "what the…?" The combination threw them for a loop. Was I a nun? A lesbian? A lesbian nun? Just a really devout gay person? (I'm not sure if the possibility that a celibate heterosexual person could be wearing both a religious medal and a rainbow jacket was entertained by anyone.)
My rainbow jacket has taught me a lot. About how we use symbols and stereotypes to judge and label people. About how the same symbol can be a source of comfort and belonging to some, of distress and alienation to others. About how we perceive ourselves and worry about how others see us. About what it feels like to be "other," to be different.
So when a 40-something fashionably dressed woman noticed the rainbow and came up to me and said, "Thank you for being willing to make a statement," I looked her in the eye and smiled. "Thank you," I said.
I'm not gay. Today.
Pat Morrison is NCR managing editor. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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