Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Sometimes when I’m stumped for an idea, I just float something out on the social networks to see if it goes anywhere.  I know it might seem like cheating but I like to see how peoples’ minds work sometimes and let’s face it, this whole blog started out as a single post on facebook.  So the other day I was stuck for ideas and also had had a weird little exchange at my favorite little coffee shop megoliath chain.  I was sitting in the back, quietly minding my own business, pretending to be a writer while really I was whiling the hours away on twitter when I suddenly realized I had forgotten to take my birth control that day.  Not a monumental mistake by any means; it was still the same day and though technically afternoon, just barely.  Anyway, I reached into my purse, pulled out the handy little pack, which in this case is a discrete little grey plastic wallet, not the fun little sundial, pulled the telltale month pack out, popped the appropriate blister pack, put the tiny little pill in my mouth, swallowed and put the little wallet back in my purse.  The whole event took a matter of seconds but when I looked up from my purse, there was an older woman scowling at me as though I had just peed in her cheerios or in this her vanilla double half cafĂ© latte.   I smiled non-confrontationally in her direction and she, no joke, huffed and turned away.   I don’t proclaim to know for sure that it was due to my perceived indiscretion or perhaps that she didn’t like my sweater or the color of my eyes or maybe she was having a horrible waking dream and I just got in her line of vision.   But it got me curious.  So I posted a quick message to my friends asking if this was a thing; was it considered rude somehow to take birth control in mixed public.  I thought I might get a few witty quips about sexual freedom or prudishness in the modern age, women’s empowerment and such, all of which I did, but what was surprising was my innocuous little inquiry started a whole discussion of personal freedom versus community comfort,  medical discrimination and shame.  But what was really fascinating to me was this; the idea that if someone takes medication, there is a perception that that person has a medical condition and is somehow telegraphing it for attention, positive or negative.  It got me thinking about the importance of perception.

Put a pill in an aspirin bottle and it has no life of its own, no backstory, no drama, it is just aspirin.  Which is for a headache right?  We see the aspirin bottle and it is such a common item, we wouldn’t think twice about it.  But put that same aspirin in a prescription bottle and via la, that person has a medical condition and it is therefore imperative that we decide whether we should be rude and notice or be fake and ignore it.  That somehow the simple act of taking medication in public, for whatever reason, is a justification for public commentary.  But truth to tell, isn’t everything?  How often have you seen someone eat a candy bar?  Totally innocuous, not even worth noting, is it?  Ok, what if that candy bar is in the hands of a very obese person?  Or an extremely thin person?  Or being paid for with food stamps? We make internal commentary and judgments constantly; it’s a part of our human nature and unfortunately a part of the crowd mentality.  If you enter into the world of others, you put yourself up for judgment.

I thought about other far less innocent moments of judgment when people feel so righteous in expressing their opinions purely out of some sense of entitlement due to people simply living their lives discreetly as their own; the difference between a sympathetic community rallying around a woman fighting breast cancer and a judgmental community turning their backs on a gay man fighting HIV.  Now change the face in that frame from a gay man to a woman?  Now put her wife in the frame next to her.  Perception.  Nothing about the reality has changed, only the perception of that reality.  So much of the anger and hatred and ugliness in the world is a matter of perception.

This whole conversation got me so self-conscious and aware that day that I realized how much I constantly sit in judgment of others, completely unaware of it.  The crazy man dressed in filthy clothes babbling in gibberish to himself is in fact a construction worker on his way home talking to his wife in rapid Spanish on his Bluetooth.  The homeless woman pushing the shopping cart onto the bus pulls out her iPhone and I am suddenly aware that she is simply a grandmother with mobility issues coming back from the grocery store.  It’s Chicago, everyone here is dressed in layers and big hats and scarves and gloves trying to stay warm.  I start questioning myself.  Am I a racist?  Am I a mean girl?  Am I…a bad person?   But here’s what I think.  I am a human.  Flawed, judgmental, imperfect.  The resolution to my day is that I am going to judge; it happens.  What I have to be careful of is letting my snap and probably flawed first impression dictate my actions.  I mean, sometimes those little thoughts can be fun; “Um, girl, did you dress in the dark this morning?”  “Dude, is that a pick up line or are you just trying to gauge how drunk I am?”  Celebrities have made whole careers from saying out loud what so many of us are thinking.  But I think I will leave that mantle to the celebs and just sit in silent judgment.  I’m certain that woman at the coffee shop didn’t mean to be so transparent…or maybe she did.  Whatever, I’m ok with it.  I won’t change who I am, nor will I try to make a big production out of making other people uncomfortable (unless it is for YouTube and I go viral).  But neither will I hide who I am.  If my lifestyle makes you uncomfortable, maybe you are the one who needs a little perspective. 

And to the woman who glared at me at the coffee shop for taking my medically necessary birth control, thank you.  I needed that. 

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