Saturday, January 3, 2015

Swimming Upstream

To date, my blog A Skeptic Dissects z Nursing Strike has received 220+ hits - more than double my normal readership. I’ve received nine (mostly private) comments. Reticence, methinks, points to the caution people feel; I might offend someone. In numerous conversation, physician friends expressed their confusion and dismay with the strike. For some, there is a loss of respect - that nurses would strike for a day of ebola awareness.
They would be further dismayed to know the number of nurses unaware they struck for a day of ebola awareness and nurses who neither worked nor walked but took the days off. I do not require agreement to respect others - but I do seek integrity. I do honor those with courage to stand by their convictions.
However, I explained, if one expects others to march out-of-sync with the masses - first recognize that THAT is a great expectation indeed. And its antecedent would be critical thinking to justify (at least to self) ones oppositional position. Sadly, it is far easier to go with the flow.

It was in this vein that I began examining the repetitive, contrarian conversations of my own life. What follows are pivotal, non-conforming events in my life, the pressures of the cultural discourse and my reactions to them. 
My earliest of such memories was of being labeled a tomboy. I much preferred tree-climbing, touch-football and bike riding to playing with dolls. I’ve given up football. 

In society, there are inherited conversations that exert force. 
Inherited conversations: to get (a personal quality, interest, etc.) because of the influence or example of your parents or other relatives. Inherited conversations lurk in the background.
Discourse: dis·course noun \ˈdis-ˌkȯrs\
: the use of words to exchange thoughts and ideas
: a long talk or piece of writing about a subject (that might span the anthropocene - the epoch of man)

For example - girls of my era wore crinolines, lace and played with dolls. My concession to being female was to wear a bracelet - one I continue even today. I much preferred feminism to feminine, running track in high school and marathons in college. Girls of my era found good husbands, got married, and raised families. The joke was - girls went to college for their MRS degree. College, of course, spans those years when most marry so the MRS degree conflates several forces.

The discourses of a society are often invisible to us. We do not necessarily recognize them and seldom consciously agree to abide by them; they just ARE. Its the way things are; the water in which we swim. The American, societal discourse of athletic females without a man is: something’s wrong and she MUST be gay
Ever the rebel, I cared not that people thought me gay and continued on my merry way. It did occasionally give me pause, I found it entertaining, definitely stupid and irrelevant but then - that’s because I had nothing to hide. 
Societal discourse exerts pressure - let me reiterate, it is far easier to go with the flow. And thats why, 40 years later, coming out is still fraught with angst and gay marriage remains outlawed in fourteen states. (Florida capitulated just this week.) As the societal discourse of homosexuality becomes less condemning and more accepting, it allows for freedom of expression - hence the slow change of our laws allowing equality in marriage and spousal benefits.
I was very late to the marriage game and spent the preceding years intermittently unattached and celibate. “Are you gay?” my own family asked, articulating that which hung like low hanging fruit begging to be picked. Athletic female with no man - she MUST be gay.

And so I married. After ample time - say nine-months - a new set of inherited conversations, societal discourses and pressures emerged: Are you pregnant? When are you getting pregnant? Are you trying? Why aren’t you trying? Why aren’t you pregnant; is something wrong? (Note: had I delivered a baby within the requisite nine-months, like Medusa, a different set of inherited conversations would have reared its ugly head.)
Procreation is deeply imbedded in our biology and evolution. It provides for survival of the species and from an evolutionary viewpoint, I’ll concede that I have failed miserably. The pressure of this societal discourse is as ever-present as the tides, constantly pulling. 
If one fails to produce offspring in this era of choice, the common discourse is one of selfishness and egocentrism. I found myself compelled to say, “I was unable to conceive,” to escape criticism. Why do I have to explain? And why is unable better than unwanted? Bless them who choose to resist this societal tsunami in the face of no agreement.
Even now, people assume I have grown children and when they learn the contrary, a shadow crosses their face as they struggle with the anomaly. Procreation is an unrelenting task master that shadows me still.
There is no denying that I have days when I wish for a family. I watch my sister with her grandchildren, my niece marry, my friends welcome their first grandkids. These moments are fleeting but occur with more frequency during the holiday season - a time that is family-centric. 

You could have adopted; why didn’t you adopt? 
PAUSE IN THIMK: Am I the only one who finds this line of questioning extremely offensive? Perhaps I’ve heard it once too often. My reflexive reaction begins with an F and should not be spewed - however tempting. Please do not suggest that people should (have) fix(ed) infertility with adoption. Not now - not EVER. Adoption is a very personal and very different decision, not a solution. Trust me, we know adoption is available.
End Pause in Thimk - sorry for the di-grrr-ession.

You could have adopted; why didn’t you adopt?
Why didn’t you
What? Well… because I didn’t have to; I could have my own.
You could have had one less child and adopted one. Why didn’t you adopt?
Oooh - now THIS is interesting; donchya think? It challenges the standard discourse and instantly transports them into my moccasins. I apologize for gloating over the clever trap.

Ever present in this societal discourse is that something’s wrong that should be remedied. Please know that there is nothing wrong and nothing to fix. I am not broken and need no fixing - nor does my circumstance. I have moments of sadness sans familia; people have moments of sadness about their kids. When they do, I don’t advise divestiture of their children. Conversely, I neither welcome nor require instruction to marry someone with kids and grandkids. Should I choose to partner, 95% of the world has kids; do the math.

And so it came to pass that I divorced. Upon hearing the news, people automatically said, “I’m sorry.” Do you hear the common discourse in that? We assume that the end of a marriage is not good. Consider that - it isn’t always.
“Don’t be sorry,” I’d say, “Its the best thing I’ve done in the last 20 years.”
And after ample time - say one year - the discourse about being single emerged: Are you dating? When are you going to start dating? What about him? Why aren’t you dating? Are you in-relationship? What about him? Why aren’t you in-relationship? What about him? You’re too picky. How’s that guy you’re not dating? I guess its okay that you’re not dating. What about him? You should find someone now or you’ll be lonely when you’re old. (As an aside, do you think a man would appreciate being my hedge against the assumed loneliness of old age? Would he knowingly volunteer for that?) You better hurry; you’re not getting any younger. Why don't you want to date? What about him?

As gravity is to earth, so pair bonds are to mankind. So strong is this biologic, evolutionary discourse that we can hardly stand when one does not conform. I have found this conversation unrelenting at every turn. Notice that we do not ask the married-with-children to defend their lifestyle - however contentious or estranged.
I trust this conversation arises from concern for me but you would be shocked at its frequency, even after ten years, leaving me feeling defensive and pestered. Whose business is it anyway? The implication is that I am not whole, am making do, could not possibly be happy or thrive outside a pair bond.
But don’t you miss …? Apparently it is difficult to understand and more so for men. One of, if not THE greatest driver in a man’s life, is the desire for regular sex. The sanctioned avenue to regular sex is through pair bonding. I understand fully - and - I’m not a man.
I recently toured rental homes in Sun City - Lincoln. The talkative tenant paused packing to follow us through the house and jabber. His pallor and belly were vaguely suggestive of liver disease, a subtlety unnoticed by most methinks. 
“I thought that when I moved here, I’d have a line of casseroles to the curb,” he pointed out the front door, “And women wanting relationships. But, they’ve all had relationships. Now they want a beer and pizza and not much more. So either I’m a real jerk or women just don’t want relationships.” He sounded exasperated and confused. Yep, I get it. ‘Tis a brave new world Aldous.

The equally compelling corollary to Gotta find a woman is Gotta find a man. These automatic conversations for coupling are hardwired in our DNA and in them, my own fears of going-it-alone bubble to the surface. Yet, I remain unmoved toward partnership born of fear in lieu of want and love. I am not one to settle for.
Never in the history of womankind, can a woman survive - even thrive - without a man. Our safety, food acquisition and property are no longer solely dependent upon our man or clan. We can now have families and raise them without a partner or husband. Most don’t but it IS possible. We can hold title to property and maintain sole and separate funds. However, the societal discourse around uncoupled women is not kind. She must be gay. She couldn’t find a man. No man would have her. She’s too: tall, athletic, fat, old, angry, smart, strong, sour, dour, yada, yada, yada… as if women have no choice or voice in the matter.
Two friends of mine had children through artificial insemination and are raising families without a known father or man-of-the-house. They have terrific grandparental assistance, love and support. I’ll admit to my initial surprise and carefully avoid any implication of disapproval. I know that digs and off-handed remarks cast aspersions, undermine their decisions and are not supportive. 

This brings me back to my initial premise. That marching to one’s own drumbeat is a very tall order - be it refusing to strike with the masses or bearing children without a husband or coming-out or leaving a marriage, or remaining uncoupled, etc., etc., etc. Inherited conversations and cultural discourses pull for conformity and we are intolerant of them that differ. Further, we are blind to the discourse, like fish blind to the water in which they swim.
Part of the human condition is to look for “what’s wrong”. Throughout evolution, identifying what’s wrong and what’s different has provided a survival benefit. What’s wrong is a human discourse likely spanning the anthropocene. We are blind to the ways in which that lens colors our world. If you seek what’s wrong, you will assuredly find it.

This is why I write, so that you too can see the water in which we swim. Most of us are not childless, have not spent extended periods alone, uncoupled, or celibate in adulthood (actually - a surprising number of marriages are asexual but the societal discourse surrounding that is one of secrecy), will never divorce, bore no children out of wedlock, are not now and never will be gay. Yet we harbor judgements about all of it and our teasing, flippant remarks and advice convey the common discourse and judgements. It can leave people feeling like battered salmon swimming upstream. 
Do I sound defensive? I am - I’m tired of defending my lifestyle to my friends and family, people who are theoretically in my camp. Its exhausting and irritating. I have marched out-of-step and out-of-sync and I am likely to continue. It has been met with resistance and ridicule. I feel like that salmon. I cannot even imagine how my gay friends manage to move through life with such grace.
Obviously, I’ve made the people who tease and pester me wrong - for making me feel wrong - albeit my surety that their pestering rises from care and concern. I am made to feel wrong and I make them wrong for it. It’s all so mediocre and mundane. Can we rise above mediocre and mundane?
I’m sorry you don’t understand me. Your inability to understand does not require an explanation by me or you. Understanding is not required and makes no difference. This is a petition to attend the common, societal discourses and examination of our bias. 
My family would tell you (in a hot nanosecond) that I am equally judgmental and intolerant of those who abuse their bodies with food, substances and sedentism - and they are right. This prejudice is no longer invisible to me and I work to disabuse myself of my righteousness in the matter.

It is a constant struggle to hold on to what connects us. Especially when so many forces -- politics, media, religion -- flood in to demonize our differences, alienate one group of people from another, drown our compassion and leave our very humanity gasping for air. ~LZ Ganderson


  1. test of anonymous function for LB