I don’t know why I care so much.
Whenever I meet someone, I must know within a few moments a short list of important personality and lifestyle features; their preferred gender, their relative age, a general category for their sense of humor and a vague impression of their sexual orientation.
While I’m a staunch postmodernist, I do acknowledge the role of “types” and labels in our society. I do assign these types to others, with a silent awareness that their identity falls on a broad spectrum which is indefinable, impossible to define, individual, etc. etc. etc. If you were to ask me about my own sexual identity, for instance, I’d probably answer with “straight” or “mostly straight”, depending on both how much of your business it was. This is a whole lot better for everyday conversation than the long answer, which also happens to piss off a lot of women.
I would almost never directly ask someone about any of the things I want to know about them upon first meeting them. While a large part of that is decorum and the appreciation of a good challenge, another part is my own reaction to being asked such a question by a relative stranger; none of your business.
But I feel like it’s my business. I really want to know. I feel like it’s something I should be able to glean from someone’s demeanor, attitude and vague conversation.
If it’s something I can’t pinpoint, I get suspicious. What are you hiding? Why are you hiding?
I feel like anyone who meets me would get a pretty accurate portrait of most of those things. I feel like I project them fairly confidently. And why wouldn’t I? None of my identities are particularly difficult to live with. I’m a 26-year old cis-female hetero with a sarcastic wit, bordering on dark humor. I hold back my morbid and outrageously inappropriate sense of humor in polite conversation, but I think anyone would get the impression that I’m hard to offend. I’m young and I identify with the gender I appear to be. I give off slightly lesbianic vibes to some people, but for the most part, people just assume hetero. Because everyone assumes hetero until you prove queer.
And there it is.
If you’re somewhere along the gay spectrum, I expect you to have some personality twitch somewhere that lets me know you’re gay. I use the lack of those little notes only to confirm hetero. I don’t need hetero proved to me. If I get some sort of mixed signal from these strange, silly identifiers, I get suspicious and feel the need to really ponder and poke ’til I’m sure.
Why does it matter? Why does anyone deserve to get that information from a stranger?
I tell myself that it’s built into our species, that since the dawn of time we’ve needed this information up front to know what we’re dealing with. But so many generations removed from caveman survival, what’s the point? Why this information?
I know that part of the answer is that I think it matters. That it affects who you are as a person, how we can interact and so that I know our common ground. But is it that innocuous? Is it some sort of weird privilege voyeurism or weirdo hunting challenge?
I know better, but I can’t promise that I always DO better.