Gay Fresno - Opinion
Seniors Are Not Saints
Pamela Brooks is a new contributor to Gay Fresno, adding her unique voice, insight and wit.
"I'm a city girl by way of Phoenix, Reno, San Francisco, Reno, Portland, and Reno. I have cowgirl and philharmonic in my blood but never thought I'd live in farm country. My politics are libertarian to democratic; I believe in following your dreams and the power of mind over matter. Let the games begin.
You can find Pamela's blog here...Queer Femme In The Country
An incident happened a couple weeks ago that should not have affected me the way it did. I started to write about and got kind of stuck, so I let it sit a bit and decided to tackle it again.
As a queer femme I have had remarkably few negative incidents because of my queerness, especially compared to stories from my butch female or gay male friends. Like many other femmes, I “pass”, meaning that just to look at me there is nothing distinctly “gay” about me that puts up people’s sensors or gaydars or other filters that alert them to something they don’t like. Or maybe I should just say something that shows them what is different from them.
Because I don’t really “look” gay, I’ve had to fight my way out of the closet. I’ve spent more time convincing people I am gay than most LGBT folks spend telling others they are not. I’ve always joked about getting a rainbow “L” tattooed on my forehead. I want people to know. I love that I am queer. It’s as much a part of me as being a woman, or being American. I don’t “rub people’s noses in it” (an expression I find distasteful, but one that many straight people I’ve known over the years say when they are okay with my being gay up to a degree, but please don’t tell them more than they want to know or are comfortable with.)
So a few weeks ago, one of the Chow Chow Sisters (CCS) around here told me about an exercise class. I miss going to the gym, but since I’m still looking for work, extras like gym membership are not an option right now. I checked out a yoga class here in town, but you have to buy an $80 card up front so that’s out too. So when the CCS told me that it was free, my ears perked up. This life of caretaking involves a lot of shoving and lifting but not so much aerobic activity. Have you ever walked with an elderly person? Or pushed a wheelchair? You just can’t go that fast. So I thought a slow paced exercise class would be a great way to get back into it, and maybe get some good stretching like I was craving. The CCS told me it was at the senior center but assured me anyone could go. I didn’t want to seem like I was taking advantage of what few perks the seniors have these days, so I called the next business day to make sure it was cool. The administrator said it was twice a week, you did not have to be a senior and they welcomed having newcomers. Great. I made a commitment to myself to start the next Thursday.
I figured it might be a little surprising to them the first day I showed up and it was. In Chowchilla, it is pretty rare for anyone over 60 not to know most people. The senior center feels like that when you walk in. They don’t know you, therefore you are an outsider. I walked down a narrow hallway that opened into a large recreation room. On one side are pool tables; on the other end of the room is a stage with large round tables and chairs filling the space in between. A walkway had been forged between the tables to allow for the line-dancing class that was taking place that morning. I am sure I looked a bit lost. A young-ish (at least for the seniors) fat chick with blue hair doesn’t show up wandering around at the Chowchilla Senior Center every day. Two older women were sitting at a table watching the pool-players and drinking coffee. They noticed my lost expression and said hello. I asked if they knew about the exercise class and they said no one was here yet for it and invited me to sit down. Very kind and friendly but I said I figured I’d wander around for a while. As I made my way toward the area they pointed to, another lady came up and asked me if I needed help. Oh, did I mention I was carrying a yoga mat? LOL. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into and the last time I had attended a class it came in handy. That kind of made it clear I had no idea what I was doing. The woman introduced herself by her formal name, but a few minutes later I learned she goes by Pee Wee. She was slender and petite, with blondish hair perfectly coiffed. She was dressed comfortably; casual but not sweats or exercise wear. She said she was there for the class too and led me to the room. She seemed concerned this morning that no one was there yet besides the two of us, but soon after the room began to fill, then fill some more. That first time there was 11 or 12 of us and we barely fit in the room. It was suggested we move out into the rec room area but it sounded like there was some “bad blood” with the line-dancing group and so we stayed.
It was kind of sweet, talking to all these older ladies and the class was pretty much what I was hoping for, mostly stretching and range-of-motion exercises to get your blood and joint fluids moving around. We used hand weights and a those elastic bands for resistance exercises. The women all knew each other so one suggested they all introduce themselves; very polite. I made some jokes to put them at ease and they were helpful with explaining different things. They all had this farm life common experience that I picked up in the comments they made during class. I felt good afterwards and a couple of the ladies stopped this blue-haired girl to welcome me and chat a little. I went home feeling positive about the experience and told Angela they were nice. She said, “Just wait until they ask you about your husband.
I went again the next Monday. It was a smaller group and I got a kick out of the different characters in there. None of them wore work-out clothes like a t-shirt and sweatpants…they all wore “outfits” and had their hair done. A few wore Keds type shoes; not too many Nikes in the bunch. We took a break halfway through and had ice water from a pitcher. They all commented on how much chlorine was in the water, while I subtly sipped on my bottled water and avoided the pitcher.
The next class day had about seven or eight ladies again. Kind of the “core” group. This one cracked me up; she was a bit bigger and taller than the rest and definitely the biggest loudmouth, but generally funny. Whatever exercise we were on, she was over there doing something else. The ladies tended to chat while stretching and this day got on the topic of the prison out here in chowchilla; how it is being turned from a women’s to a men’s and a recent story in the paper about how a guy had been let out after 9 turns in prison and immediately committed another burglary. We all grumbled, including myself, about the problems of repeat offenders. The loudmouth then said, “They should all be put on an island somewhere.” A couple people nodded and mmm-hmmmed. Then she said, “Just like all the gays. Those gay men and gay women should all be put on an island.” Nods and mmm-hmmms all around. Rut-roh.
As we were putting our feet in the elastic band for some quad stretching, the aging bully carried on, “God made man and woman that way for a reason and they need to learn that.” WHAAAAATTT??? Omigod Omigod my blood is boiling up in my head. Part of me wanted to keep on exercising and ignore it. They don’t get it. At 82, this one probably never will. But I can’t sit here and listen to it. I can’t say nothing and hold my head up. It was one of those moments. I felt some discomfort in the air. Perhaps some of the ladies were uncomfortable with the topic, or maybe they were more polite or whatever, not everyone was in on the mmm-hmmms and comments, but probably four or five of them had become a chorus for the loudmouth. The blood was pounding so hard in my head as I calmly pulled up my elastic strap, folded it up, gathered my weights and words. I could not get into a biblical lecture here; my verse knowledge is not strong enough anymore. I decided I would merely stand up and be a presence. That she should know that you can’t always “tell” who is gay. That I was not afraid of her and her words, but that I don’t have to tolerate her personal ignorance. Without breathing, I stood up, entered and crossed the circle of exercising ladies and their anti-gay chatter. The teacher said, “Oh Pamela, do you have to leave early?” “Yes”, I said, “I do. To everyone I said, “I happen to be a lesbian. And I think I’ve heard enough ignorance and judgment for one day.” I looked at as many of them in the eyes as I could. I was so angry I could not say much more than that. The room went silent like the air had been sucked out. It’s one thing for them to say those things. It’s another to be caught. As I continued past the loudmouth, she said, “God made you that way. Bless you.” Like I need her blessing. Jeez. I looked at her then kept on walking with pride and dignity.
Well it’s one way to get your blood pumping. Ignorance is everywhere. I’m glad my spiritual self recognized it as a teaching moment and gave me the strength and words; they felt like they were coming from some “other” place. To stand up for the person I am. Quiet power. That’s the ticket sometimes.