I have written about life as I experienced it growing up in a number of entries in this blog. For those that missed them, a short recap: I grew up loved, but also surrounded by intense and nearly constant physical abuse for a decade or more, watched my Mom go through a series of extremely physically and emotionally abusive relationships, grew up in intense poverty (near but never homeless at times), on public assistance, experienced chemical addiction at home (and have struggled with it myself), and also the joy of being queer and brown in a largely white rural family in Minnesota. I am saying this for a very specific point.
So many times in my life, folks have said to me to my face in a variety of circumstances: "I doubt YOU know what it is like to go without," or "you don't seem to have had to struggle much in your life," or "what do you know about poverty/violence/fear/etc," and on and on ad nauseum. The first time this was said point blank was when a former roommate of mine moved out of our apartment and stole a number of pieces of furniture that had come with the apartment. She'd left no forwarding address, and so the landlord came after me, believing I'd taken the items, and railing against me and the work he was doing to support low income people (and the flipside...I...a privileged boy should know better).
That was the first time I can remember having to use my history, rather awkwardly, as a very embarrassing shield. Yet, at the same time, it is MY history. I do not take some sort of noble poverty pride in it but neither am I ashamed of it. But, I also, as I have gotten older, had not been prepared for the level of legitimacy that history gives me in certain circumstances, except when it is taken away by someone that perceives me as distinct from or unable to have come from that particular historical narrative.
Let me be clear, because I am educated, because when I am in professional mode I tend to use rather impeccable upper-Midwest English, and because God at some point decided the fat kid from high school that couldn't get a date to save his life should have some sort of reprieve, day to day folks (read largely white folks) perceive that education/good English/confidence/achievement is anathema to poverty/violence/homelessness/mental health issues/welfare babies etc....EXCEPT...EXCEPT for those rare "exceptions" to the rule that still seem to carry a hint of the ghetto with them into their achievement or success....but since I carry no whiff of West Broadway and Lyndale in North Minneapolis, I must have a different story and come from a different more benevolent place...in Minnesota...we call that place Edina.
I beat up kids from Edina for shits and giggles.
But here's a part of the story folks don't know. My Mom busted her ass to make sure we lived in neighborhoods with good schools. We often lived in the smallest apartment in the neighborhood, my brother and I shared a bed for a year in high school, or I had a two hour bus ride to school in the morning to get me to the school that afforded me the best options. I was surrounded in school by amazing teachers that, from the gate, in pre-school, saw something in me that they took pains to nurture. Even though I never thought of myself as anything extraordinary, my teachers pushed, pulled, and sometimes shoved me into roles and places that opened up my natural abilities and talents, and as a result I was surrounded by a community of caring adults that wanted and demanded that I succeed. Hell, the advisor to the Minneapolis Citywide Student Government, Pam Olson, on one day's notice, drove me from Minnesota to North Carolina when my Father was unable to do so in order to get me to college on time. THAT'S the type of love and support that I had to counterbalance the violence and poverty. And if there is one thing that I learned and learned young...take every fucking opportunity offered. If you don't like it...you can always walk away from it, but if someone opens a door for you, walk through and see what's on the other side.
Now, though, and I swear to God I am not complaining, I have been experiencing a whole new level of prejudgment, along the same lines as before...but this connected directly to my body.
I wrote a blog not too long ago about an instance where an older gentleman made a comment about my biceps being bigger than my brain. Since then, as I have gotten closer to having the body that I have always wanted, a new phenomena has occurred. Now I have had folks assuming that 1) I have always looked like this (they tend to give me side eye when I tell them that these abs weren't here at the end of December), and 2) that having always looked like this I am used to getting what I want, am self centered, have no concern for others, and expect that everything will revolve around me because I happen to look the way I do.
Now, on a couple of occasions, I have had the opportunity to fully explain my Sexy Positive Bodies project, roll out all the pictures from the last year, and show, clearly, that not only is this body new but it was intentional and connected to fighting my own body dysmorphism. In fact, I was hanging out with someone recently, and I mentioned that this body was new. I received a curious text message some hours later asking me to explain. I did. He was astounded and admitted that he had made a number of assumptions based solely on my physical appearance.
While I am not complaining, I think it is curious that I am not taken less seriously on first viewing by strangers because of my body than I would have otherwise. I have been called Chelsea Boy, Gym Rat, Gym Bunny, and all other sorts of exercise rodents. I can't argue with the rodents, but I do take exception at the Chelsea Boy thing....that is just wrong.
In the end, folks are hard wired to make assumptions based on their past experiences and what they perceive in an individual based on outward markers. This body may be gone six months from now. My history, from this moment backwards, is what it is, but I can be cognizant about the assumptions and first impression judgments I make of others, particularly as I have this new heightened awareness of the way my appearance creates/or inhibits others from seeing me.