There are times when human encounters are really painful. I had one yesterday. I knew a girl who we shall call Cheryl. I’ve known her as Cher for almost two decades. I said ‘Hi Cheryl’ last night only to be told ‘I’m Cheryl’. I said ‘I’ve known you since the year 2000 as Cher, and I did call you Cheryl’. She turned to her girlfriend and said "did she say Cher or Cheryl." The girlfriend said "Cher’ I think." I’m a little deaf. I said ‘I’m totally confused. I am sure I called you Cheryl’. I felt as though we missed the social police, judge and jury and went straight forward to a judgement and a punishment. She made a big deal out of saying "Awwwkwwwwaaaard" That’s when it became, well, awkward. It was an awful feeling moment. I try to be inclusive and equally love anyone I come across, regardless of their state or lot in life, and love them unconditionally. I’m assuming that this name change has something to do with gender identity. I confess, I can’t keep up with the social rules and expectations around these things. It’s age.
I am 64 years old. I have grey hair. I felt offended and really hurt over this exchange. This is a young woman who was always happy to see me and greeted me warmly and with a hug. Why do I mention my age and my grey hair? Because I have this expectation that I will be treated respectfully by a young Indigenous woman in front of others. That was my first error. Having expectations. Expecting anything. I am working with that. Also I’,pondering why This exchange was so uncomfortable and saddening for me that I am thinking about it 18 hours later.
I should mention that I don’t refer to people by their facebook names. This is because it is not always an indication of what they want to be called. I know someone who has their last name as ‘Mochaswirl’, then there is ‘Miteaswellbe’, etc.
I was recently told (in the workplace) that I should ask for respect, when someone is disrespectful. I ignored a disrespectful comment made in a meeting and was told that I need to ensure respect for all present. Having come from a massively abusive background, I am not entirely sure I know how to do this always.
So why did this encounter sting so much and have me chewing on it? I still don’t know. Except that perhaps I should have responded with ‘I would have thought you knew how to show respect to your Elders’. But I’ve been taught not to identify that way. Conundrum. How do you ask for respect in a situation like that?
I was born in 1956. Being any kind of different then was illegal and unacceptable. I’m not saying that was right, just stating this is what I was born into. I am known as an inclusive person who cares for everyone, no matter how badly they have wronged me. They’ll still be in my prayers, just as Cheryl was last night.
When did it become so fantastically important who you are attracted to/who you have sex with? What gender you identify as and what pronoun you’d like used? I don’t disagree, just forgive an old girl who can’t remember everyone’s preferences. By god, it’s a miracle I recall your name at this stage of my life.
Why do people have the need to place their differences between them and others? Labels? Vegan, vegetarian, lesbian, bi-polar, bi-sexual, gender fluid….it makes me dizzy. I have to find a way to avoid pronouns and names and say ‘Hi! I can’t even say ‘Good to see you’. I don’t have any issue whatever with people finding their identity. It took me long enough to find mine. It was hard and painful work. It still hurts when someone says ‘You don’t LOOK Indigenous’. When did courtesy fall behind identification? When people say that I don't look commnet, I respond with ‘It’s now how people look, it’s what is in their hearts’. Back when I was feistier, I would say ‘what kind of Indigenous person don’t I look like’? My generation was bigger on courtesy and kindness. Hippies, man. I miss them.
A non-Indigenous guy at work became a girl. He was very unforgiving when after ten years of knowing him as Roger, I was to call him Leah. He was nasty in response, although he had referred to me as ‘Half-Breed, Pocahantas and Cher’ for a number of years in the workplace. Apparently, respect is not a two-way street. My niece who is now my nephew, never even blinks when I get his name wrong. I wish everyone else were so forgiving.
So, Cheryl, my darling girl, allow me to say I am proud of you. I know you have had a hard journey, and you are still young and hurting. I remember how painful it was to be anything under 60. It gets better, I promise. But know that from now on I will likely avoid you because for me it will be easier than trying to get over offending you so badly. My girl, you also offended me, but apparently that didn’t matter. At all. So I wish you well on your journey back home to Creator. I wish you enormous success on your career path. I am so proud of you. But, I will not be going out of my way to greet you for fear of stepping on your toes.
If anyone out there can tell me what the safest thing to say when you greet a person nowadays that avoids names, genders and pronounces, please share. I am too old to figure this all out. I ask for amnesty. I was born into a world women were second class citizens, and Indigenous people did not have the right to vote.
It isn’t like I don’t know rejection and ‘isms’. Believe me. These days I get treated very differently for having grey hair. I am invisible. And I am treated like a ditz. Can we all just show each other a large measure of kindness and respect? Can we just try to find our connections and stop putting ourselves behind walls? Please? I want to be out there with everyone. The last thing I want to do is offend. But please, don’t offend me either.
Why do I want kindness and respect? Because my Grandmother went to jail for you Cheryl, so that as a woman you would have the right to vote. My mother fought for your human rights and had us along in baby carriages before strollers were a thing. I have fought for your equality and your respect, but my girl, I am sad that you don't feel that includes mine. May this generation of young women enjoy the freedom others have fought for you to enjoy, and may you continue the fight for the one who needs protection from us all, Mother Earth. She needs you.