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Here we go again: You know I’m not interested in telling grown adults what to say, but I do often present my point of view on language and certain turns of phrase, and invite you to draw your own conclusions and form your own opinions.
My current point of view is pissed the fuck off, as I have been on the receiving end of too many double- and triple- whammies of the everyday inanities I’ve compiled below. I think that part of being in a civilized society means accepting when our fellow humans’ good intentions come out in garbled ways, misunderstood gestures, or awkward conversation between strangers.
I’m certainly not inundated with profound inquiries all day every day, nor do strangers clamor to offer Dorothy Parker–esque witticisms every time I get into an elevator. And sometimes people are just plain annoying. Such is life.
But there are some inquiries that are still in the mouths of folks who should either know better than to be so annoying, or who will learn today. At least half of these stem from an overall inability on the part of many to make "small talk," or basic, polite conversation. Some are intrusive, and some just inane.
In any event, on days when I find myself on the receiving end of too many of these to ignore and wonder if I’m just the most irritable person on Earth (which I don’t think I am but it depends on the time of the month, to be honest), the answer I’m left with is that while we can excuse many well-intentioned gaffes, I really wish some questions would just go away for good. Like…
I just finished the run of a play at a very nice theater with a full kitchen for the use of the cast and crew. I took advantage of it often, making quick sandwiches and keeping a full stock of diet iced tea in the fridge. EVERY TIME I was in there, people would comment on my food.
Fair enough, it’s right in front of them and we didn’t know each other well. But…every time? Even when I initiated conversation with them on literally any other topic? I feel like this is a common thing for coworkers, but do people really have to be so basic? Especially since I wasn’t slaughtering a goat or sautéing geoduck in the green room. I was putting recognizable and inoffensive items like a chicken breast, cheese, sliced turkey, spinach, and tomatoes into a wrap or a pita.
If I ask you how your day is going whilst making a sandwich and your response is to stand over my food and say, “What’s that,” I suddenly care a little less about your day and just want to make my sandwich and go.
"How tall are you?"
Please say a prayer to whatever you believe in, including and perhaps especially those of you who do not pray to a deity but rather lean on logic, that people will stop asking tall people how tall we are for no good goddamned reason.
As a six-foot-tall woman, I own up to my personal tendency to have a strong reaction to this one, which I generally stifle in favor of recognizing its “harmlessness” and social graces.
But c’mon, people. This has to stop. I have extreme physical proportions. I get it. Yet, we recognize the rancid assholery of asking anyone whose body has features outside of “the norm” about their body if we don’t know them or we are not their doctor, right? However, height exists in this weird realm where people feel free to blurt out that they wish they were taller or they have a cousin my height but she never wears heels blah blah blah to me just in passing on the street.
There is statistical evidence that society favors tall men. Not so for women, but still, editorial straight size models are tall, so some people automatically think it’s a compliment. It isn’t. It’s an immutable measurement and if you’ve noticed that I’m tall, you can really keep that to yourself. Tall people know how tall we are, and you certainly don’t need my exact height unless you’re making me clothes or a coffin.
"Have you had surgery? You know…down there…?"
I am not a transgender person, so it is not my place to co-opt or speak over or for them when they are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves, but I couldn’t possibly compile a list like this and frame questions about my height as the most intrusive body-related question people are bombarded with while just trying to go on about their business.
Trans visibility is increasing every day, although there is still disproportionate violence and outright hatred toward the community, particularly trans women of color. Recently, I found myself around a weird cross-section of people who are decidedly “open-minded,” yet felt free to ask a trans person they were just meeting about what they’d had “cut off.”
I was appalled. How is it news to people that other people’s genitals are none of your business unless you’re interested in getting intimate with their genitals, and even then, you getting information is at the discretion of the person attached to the genitals, not your curiosity or whatever.
The same goes for “what do you do in bed” types of questions. Unless you’re earnestly in the running to be a participant in said bedroom activity, don’t worry about it. Mind your own business and genitals.
"What are you?"
People still ask this with regard to race and ethnicity. How, I don’t know, but it shocks me every time. Even if you’re genuinely interested, if it comes up in conversation, or seems pertinent for some reason, at least find words like “If you don’t mind me asking, I’m curious about your ethnic heritage?” instead of just those ridiculous three words. They always come off like a demand: EXPLAIN YOURSELF TO ME. Sssshhhh.
"What happened to your…[in cases of visible injury or disability]"
Something that I always try to impress upon people is that if you make a purely “I” statement, I can’t really quarrel with you. Going back to my height, a stranger recently blurted out to me, “I’ve never seen a woman as tall as you!” I find that both highly unlikely and ridiculous to shout to a stranger, and yet she had spoken a complete sentence about herself and asked nothing of me. I was free to respond to her or just shrug and walk away (I did the latter), and all was well.
I recently ran into someone I know in passing who had a pretty significant bandage on her knee. Instead of demanding information from her, I said “I can’t help but notice that your knee is bandaged, I hope you’re not in too much pain,” because I can only imagine how many times she’s been asked, she has a right to not want to talk about it, and the extent of my entitlement to information on her knee is zero.
I care about her overall, and I can see that something has happened and I do know her, so I don’t feel the need to pretend otherwise, but I promise you’ll be OK if you don’t hear every intimate detail behind someone’s bandage, brace, crutches, or wheelchair.
She simply said to me, “It’ll be OK, but thank you,” and we then had a perfectly lovely conversation because it turns out people are capable of conversing about all sorts of things, and not just the most obvious thing that’s different about our bodies.