During my work as a youth addictions counsellor, when I had questions about the union I belonged to my colleagues would frequently mention this man Greg (not his real name, of course, but I swear this guy would be the first person to say, “you can refer to me by my real name on your blog!”) who was the union representative for our organization. Every time Greg came up in conversation the tone of their talk would change dramatically and I inquired about this. The only thing they could say was, “He’s just such a character, so eccentric in his own way; you’ll understand when you meet him.”
Finally I met Greg when he visited our rural satellite office on union business one day. He was in his 60s and tall, with thinning dyed-brown hair. He was dressed in sneakers, baggy pajama-style 80’s pants, t-shirt, leather jacket, and dark sunglasses. Greg reeked of cigarettes and he smiled easily with a big, sincere grin. He also exuded both confidence and compassion. Greg was clearly an expert on union affairs, so we shortly got down to business and he provided us with the information he had come to communicate. When we concluded our meeting Greg gave us all big hugs before he left.
I ended up working directly with Greg a few times and over recent years I’ve seen him occasionally. The last time I saw him he came to my office on union business and he was wearing actual pajama pants. When our meeting finished I walked Greg out to the reception area and gave him a tight hug. After he walked out the receptionist asked me, “was that one of your previous mental health clients?” When I explained who Greg was, a woman sitting in the waiting room overheard and exclaimed her disapproval of his “highly unprofessional” attire. “Didn’t you see his jacket?” I asked them, “It had the union logo on the front and back.” Neither of them had.
I’m pretty sure my work isn’t the only place where Greg stands out or raises some eyebrows. He is now in his late 60s and he does not conform to any of the norms in this neck of the woods for a male his age. Labels do not conveniently fit Greg, and because of this I feel safer.
In a world where people let their freak flag fly there is room for all of us to show ourselves.
I sing when I’m blasting down the ski hill. I am comfortable with crying in public. And ever since I was old enough to know what it was I have never wanted to be married. Are these things ‘normal’? My clothes and car may appear conventional but I know my perspective is uniquely my own. Sometimes, however, others feel threatened by my personal choices and the way I live.
Earlier this year a rumour circulated around town that I was “inappropriate” with teenagers. That was briefly scary for me, but the worst part was that I received the news from my son. I was upset that he heard someone thought his mom might be a predator of teens. The Boy was not confused about me in the least, but he was angry at the person who told him it might be true. Who starts a story like that?? Probably someone who can’t fathom why a woman could be completely content being single; probably someone who doesn’t think it’s possible for an adult female to have many close and playful relationships with male youth; probably someone who has a picture in their mind of what it means to be a 40 year-old woman and can’t accept evidence that contradicts this picture.
Last month I went on a real, live date with a man. The next day I was with my girlfriend at the dirt jumps and during a break I exclaimed to her, “I went on a date yesterday!” She replied, “Who is the lucky man? Or woman?” That last question filled my heart with encouragement. The fact that we were friends but she had never labeled me with a sexual orientation made me feel like it was safe for me to be whoever I was in this relationship. My friend accepted me whether I was straight, queer, or whatever!