Monday, January 19, 2009

Small Cuts

When I was getting my BS I was working in a lab around heavy machinery. My lab partner knew I was gay but didn't seem to have a problem with it.

One day I was tightening a nut and slipped and cut my knuckle. This lab partner was viably upset, but to me it seemed not so much by the fact that I was hurt but that I was bleeding. She was stand-offish the rest of the day. I specifically remember, even after I cleaned and bandaged myself up, she wouldn't even take my pen when I asked her to write down a measurement while I couldn't.

Let me add, of course, with anyone, you should not be touching their blood with bare hands, but that was not the case here. It was just my knuckle, I washed up with soap and water, it never touched my pen, and I was bandaged up completely. It was not like I was handing her a bio-hazard, but she acted like I was.

I didn't ask why; I assumed I knew. I assumed she thought I had some horrible infection because I was gay, and I just took it as a lesson on how I, for being gay, can put fear in even the hearts of people who are ostensibly without prejudice. Maybe I was being prejudiced but it seemed she was okay with gay people, just not when she, in her mind, had to risk something for her tolerance.

Also while getting my BS I first learned that homosexuality was associated in some people's minds with harming children. I related that story here, but the point is the same lesson held true there.

No matter who you are, how strongly you adhere to your ethics, how chaste you are, or your utter disgust with some actions, being gay alone will cause unreasonable fear in some minds. When the stakes are high, even allies may take precautions against fears they know to be irrational; they may just think it worth while to walk 10 yards to get their own pen... you know, just in case.

I don't think this is uncommon and it really doesn't bother me much. When the stakes are high all people will fall back on reflex and prejudice. It's hard to blame them; it's something I dare saw we all do. The purpose of prejudice is, in fact, to make a snap judgment when you don't have all the information. It can be wholly unfair and immoral when applied to people, such as the prejudice that was fought by King (happy MLK Day!). Or it can be quite useful when applied to various objects and situations.

As long as a person wants my family to have equal rights to theirs, I can more than forgive some exorcise of irrational fear. It'll diminish in time, with experience. But the odd thing, the thing that caused me to post this is that I find that I'm still quite sensitive to those fears. They affect how I behave today.

E.g. yesterday, sledding, it was so warm I took off my gloves and coat. While racing down the hill, about to beat a 5 year-old :-), I fell and skidded along the icy snow. I was careful to wear my gloves the rest of the day to cover my ice-rashed knuckles, even while plenty warm and fumbling with my hot chocolate. It got me thinking back to that incident in that lab years and years ago, and made me realize, even among gay people, I still reflexively worry they would worry and I try to make sure they don't.

These are little things and they don't much matter to me in the big picture. But I'd like to know. If you are gay, do you find yourself particularly sensitive to such fears in others? Is this a generational thing? A scot-irrational thing?

If you are straight with gay friends, or even gay with gay friends, do you hold such fears? Would you consider taking a pen from a straight friend with a band aid on his hand differently than a gay friend? Please, have no worry of saying so; comment anonymously if you like. I just want to know how much of this is in my head. As long as the actions and the rational part of a person's mind is with us, I don't care about the reflexive fears we cannot control. I just want to know if they really are there, or if it's just my prejudice coming through.


Ophidimancer said...

No, I don't think I have germophobia for gay people specifically. I think I was only a tiny bit nervous when we had a patient at our clinic (acupuncture) who we knew was HIV positive.

Of course that was only afterwards, as my mom felt the need to caution me not to touch any needles after he left.

Kengo Biddles said...

I'm slightly germophobic with anyone, but I wouldn't have had a problem taking a pen from you. If I knew someone was HIV positive, I would be careful around body fluids, and yes, if they'd slathered spit all over their pen I may not take it -- but that would be more the germophobe than anything.

I will admit (to my chagrin) that I used to think of gays and pedophiles in the same thought.

Ophidimancer said...

Oh, I remember an incident where there was a little boy making a ruckus in our general area and making it difficult for his mom to get treated.

I did what I usually do for friends and relatives with rowdy kids, I said, "C'mon bud, let's go show you something to distract you." and offered to show him the basement of the clinic. The mom wasn't going for it.

It was only afterwards that I realized that that might be construed as a bit creepy. She knew I was gay, but I don't know if it was that or if it would have been the same for any adult male.

I felt embarrassed, but how do you say, "I'm not a child molester, by the way, so don't worry."

Queers United said...

She may just be a germophobe. I wouldn't want to touch a pen from someone who was bleeding regardless of their sexuality, I just would be afraid that there was something still there.

Formerly known as Peter said...

I don't associate aids with homosexuality at all. Fortunately I went to a modern high school in a big city where I learned about aids as an equal threat to both gays and straights. In fact I don't remember them saying the word gay when they talked about aids. I didn't realize there was a historical association between the two until as a sophomore in college I started reading

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I simply just don't touch others' bodily fluids period. I can honestly say that I've never really thought about it as being a gay or straight thing. It's no more unsafe to touch a gay person's blood than a straight person's.

And generally, germs don't really bother me, and I'd wouldn't think twice about using the pen of someone who had a plaster on their finger.

I don't exactly remember when I learnt about HIV and other STDs, but ever since I was aware of them, I was also aware of the actual facts about transmission and never have thought of HIV or any other STD as "gay" or "straight".

Scot said...

Ophidimancer said..."I think I was only a tiny bit nervous when we had a patient at our clinic (acupuncture) who we knew was HIV positive."

Fear of bloody needles seems reasonable. I once did a study on used catheters and felt that same sort of fear, but that's reasonable.

"I felt embarrassed, but how do you say, "I'm not a child molester, by the way, so don't worry.""

I think that may cause even more suspicion.

That's the thing. I know people have these fears. I hear opponents going on all the time about, say, how disease ridden gays are. I'm pretty sure even some people on our side hold such views when in the proverbial foxhole, but you can't really say "Hi, my name is Scot, and I've only had one sexual partner" in a casual conversation :-).

Kengo: I'm a germophobe too (well not so much since the kids came into our lives :-)). As long as it's equal opportunity fear of germs, I see no problem.

Q.U. Okay, I could see that it may have meant nothing. That's the other worry: that I consider the worst of our opponent's fears when dealing with normal people.

FKA Peter:"I didn't realize there was a historical association between the two until as a sophomore in college I started reading"

Ah see, I feel like an old man now :-). I could see it's a generational thing.

Craig: "I simply just don't touch others' bodily fluids period. "

Well, a kiss can be quite wet :-), but I get what you mean. I'd certainly never touch blood. I'm well gloved even when I'm sure the blood isn't human and the its from animals raised in sterility.

In all, maybe these fears of other people's fears are unfounded. I hope they are.