“Life isn’t fair,” my mom used to say, defusing whatever injustice I was whining about at the time. It’s the perfect conversation ender between parent and child. My mom wasn’t disagreeing with my perceived slight; she was calmly letting me know that all of life was like this. Don’t complain. Get used to it. Suck it up.
My mom was right, of course: Life isn’t fair. Sometimes — it’s more than fair, or what the kids these days like to call “privilege.” Two experiences recently highlighted how much this is so.
I went in for a vasectomy this month. Before the procedure could be administered, I had to go in for a “consultation.” I expected a grueling defense of my decision, but it simply consisted of a brochure I had to read and a few friendly questions. The doctor and myself joked back and forth (so easy to do in a room full of penis posters and ballsack bulletins). I was asked if I had kids, to which I said “no.” I was asked if I ever thought I’d want them, to which I said, “no.” The appointment was scheduled. It was that simple.
A very good friend of mine had an abortion a few years ago, and she still hasn’t gotten over the horror of that experience. It wasn’t the procedure, or the gravity of the choice that haunt her still, it was the treatment she received from everyone that stood between her and the abortion. Like me, this friend has never wanted kids. She has even asked to have her uterus taken out, so she no longer has to endure her menstrual cycle. Since she is in her mid-20s, she is told that this procedure can’t be done, because she might change her mind one day.
That’s right: We know her future self better than she knows her present one. We know what’s better for her. The kids call this “mansplaining,” except that it was mostly women badgering her about her decision. Twice a year, she has to get permission to take a pill, and her insurance makes covering this a nightmare. My medical insurance covered my procedure without hesitation.
I never felt an ounce of judgement from anyone about my vasectomy. When I posted on Facebook about the surgery, I was given kudos by men and women alike who saw my decision as a sound one, even a generous one to my partner. So why are women crazy to choose not to have kids, and why do we make it so difficult for them to make that choice, but men are waved right through to the operating table? The entirety of my procedure couldn’t have gone more smoothly. My mom was right: Life isn’t fair.
My second experience in the world of unfairness took place just this past week, here in Wilmington, North Carolina. I’m back in the state that birthed me, but it seems like a foreign land. The same bathing suit and blue toenails that rarely drew a second glance in the islands, or Florida, brings forth murderous glares here. I’m not kidding. Grown men, sitting in small clusters, stare and chew their lips. They spit. Some even yell insults. They all try to prove to their friends that they are suitably homophobic. Yesterday, I got a blast of TV nostalgia as one guy began singing the Nair jingle about “short shorts,” with a round of laughter from his friends. That was the nicest thing I heard.
When I walked Carolina Beach with my friend Scott a few days prior, we were for all intents and purposes a gay couple. We might as well had held hands. I wish I’d recorded the anger on so many faces so that you, dear reader, could witness and be amazed. Now, I know the hatred is there, with the insanity of recent laws passed and having grown up with a gay uncle in this state and gay friends who find themselves torn between their hearts and their families and churches. But it’s not often you feel it directed toward you, as a straight male. Yesterday, I kept telling myself that no one would dare beat me up in such a public place. And they wouldn’t follow me to my car and beat me up there. At least, I was pretty sure they wouldn’t. The fact that I wasn’t wholly sure was scary in a way that sailing across the Atlantic wasn’t.
My gay friends feel this? Often? I mean, I know they do. I wrote about it in my short piece The Automated Ones. But I have always used my imagination to comment on these things. I’ve tried to pretend what it would feel like. It isn’t the same, pretending. Not by a long shot.
I used to talk with an ex about the unfair fear women have to feel while walking alone in the dark, and she confessed to feeling it in daylight, even in crowds. The feeling of being potential prey at any time. I tried to empathize. It’s not until now that I think I can even begin to grasp what that must feel like.
A girl at a restaurant the other night asked me about my toenails as well. She kept asking and asking, unable to grasp my answers, wondering what in the world I was thinking, refusing to wrap her mind around something that she does to her very own feet. If I’m not gay, then why? I remember the same question as a kid when boys started getting earrings. We get used to one thing, and then move to another to judge. The tendrils of a tattoo spiraled out of this girl’s left sleeve. I imagined her having a similar conversation with her mom or dad, but from the other side, explaining what to them might seem indefensible.
Why would I risk looking gay if I’m not? Why invite sneers of derision by wearing a bathing suit that makes me feel comfortable, instead of fitting in with the limited worldview of those around me? Prior to this week, it was because I didn’t care what people thought. Not in a mean way of not-caring, but in the sense that it didn’t occur to me to dwell on it. Here in North Carolina, feeling how much people care, it makes me glad I dress the way I do. Maybe it’s a feeling of solidarity. Or defiance. Or an attempt to help normalize what feels downright normal to me, like that tattoo must feel normal on that girl’s skin.
Or maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s because I know my mom was right: Life isn’t fair.
But we could all strive to make it more fairy.