My friend Alejandro Rubio has returned to the Raytheon station in Antarctica for another season of work. Having some experience with small boarding schools, outdoor leadership training, and island environments, I can imagine that the atmosphere down there is part cubicle farm, part Jack London, and part Sweet Valley High pressure cooker. Alejandro, who is gay, has been writing about his experience fitting in. For one thing, he’s been getting The Dreaded Question a lot — four times this week, I think:
“So, when did you first know that you’re gay?”
I can appreciate Alejandro’s ambivalence in answering this question. For one thing, it’s pretty damn personal — more so than heterosexual work folks ask each other. “Fred! How are the wife and kids? Got that golf handicap up? Say, when was your first wet dream, hey?” On the other hand, the question is probably — for the most part — motivated by a sincere desire to get to know Alejandro better, and represents an awkward attempt to break the ice about a delicate subject. Alejandro describes an internal struggle whether or not to shrug off his dislike of the question, and I sympathize.
What sounds more difficult for him is the feeling that he’s considered “pretty cool … for a gay guy.” This rings true to me. I’ve studied and worked in some of the most gay-friendly environments there are: a quaker liberal arts college, a magnet seminary for gay episcopals and catholics, a top-tier ballet school, as set teacher on a number of movies and Broadway productions — and I’ve occasionaly seen the attitude Alejandro describes there.
I’ve heard modern racism in America described as the simple assumption that white is normal, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Where a white person might see a set of mannequins in a store window, a black person would see a set of white mannequins in the same store window. It’s that omission, that categorization of the other as, well, other, that places the responsibility for climbing a barrier on the other party. Which is what Alejandro faces, I think, in a work environment filled for the most part with non-boho types.
So sympathize, I wish Alejandro well, and I hope that he does not have to play a capital-“A” Ambassadorial role for very long.