How to Change the World, Justina

One morning on the way to Ballet class, I hear the news that Black Americans are moving away from northern urban areas toward the South and into the suburbs.  This interests me for what it will mean for diversity, so I remember it.  

As we chitchat before class, Justina, a young Black woman just returned from a family visit to Tennessee, comments:  "The South never changes."   I argue briefly and then ponder her comment for the remainder of class.  (You can blame all my mistakes on that!)   When class is over I ask her what she meant.  A graduate student in Social Psychology, she is frustrated by entrenched patterns:  expectations shape behavior, behavior reinforces expectations, and the cycle perpetuates itself.   Indeed, I agree.   Except here she is, an exception.  Is she an exception?   Identified as the smart one in the family, she was honor tracked, expected to excel, and she did.  Then she moved to NY to receive the kind of education that enables her to question the status quo.  Will she change the world?   She wants to, but is daunted by the mighty obstacles:  people who can't think for themselves, politicians who cater to and foment greed, anger and ignorance, the perpetuation of the us/them mentality.  I get it.  I do.  But listen….

A hometown boy from Silverton, Oregon encounters The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and decides he wants to dress up too.  He starts with nails, adds costumes and finally acquires a nice set of boobs.   The town?   Denial, surprise,  laughter, disdain, criticism and then…..and then….acceptance!  The guy becomes the freakin mayor of the town, boobs and all, and though the sexually repressed among the citizens complain about his cleavage at town meetings, they just want him to button up, not change his essence.   What is my point?  My point, Justina, is that we change the world through intimate encounters.  The townsfolk of Silverton, had they not encountered the mayor's boobs, would have maintained their ideas and opinions about trannies.*   Instead they are mixing it up.  

A little later, the horrid Proposition 8, the prohibition against same-sex marriage in California, is ruled unconstitutional by a judge who happens to be gay and involved in a long-term relationship.  And a fancy law firm decides to stop helping the government 'defend' heterosexual marriage.  

I am probably 25 years older than Justina.  At her age I wanted revolution.  Well, actually I still do.  I like the excitement.   But in those 25 years, I have noticed that the mightiest methods have the biggest backlash while the imperceptible changes penetrate like a misty day.  You don't carry an umbrella when it's misting, do you?  35 years ago, I thought I had never met a gay person.  Now I'm not sure that anyone is truly heterosexual.  I am drenched in Queer. 

Actually, it is not possible not to change.   We think things don't change only if we keep seeing things our way.  But it won't work, not if we bump into other people.  With each encounter, with each surprise, with each conflict we change.  

Did I mention that I am 25 years older than Justina?  Yes, and I identify with her.  She is younger, her skin is a different color and I think she is an American and yet I identify with her.  Why?  Because I have the idea that we are both outsiders; we are both newcomers to ballet yet evidently have physical and cognitive intelligence.  It's a distinct position, this one.  You agree to strive with all your might and still look idiotic by ballet standards.  It requires a kind of bravery and confidence.  So, she's like me.  But then I see the difference.  She can really jump, her splits are magnificent, and her mind is quicker than mine.  She's not like me.  Scratch the surface and find the difference.  Scratch the difference and you find the sameness.  Later, in a more personal conversation, I discover that her parents are immigrants like mine, not many-generational Americans as I first thought.   Different country, similar isolation from American community.  Different body, similar challenge.   Different person, same humanity.  

As we encounter each other, difference rubs against sameness and we evolve.  How can we not change the world?  

*actually Stu is not a tranny, he's a male cross dresser but it counts a little because he is perceived as an in-between by more gendered onlookers.  

June 2011 

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