Wednesday, August 09, 2006

there are some things the mathematician understands

I ate my words last Friday, after writing this whole long post about how this book is something that men, including the Mathematician, can just never understand.

It was a slow Friday and I finished my waitressing shift early. We heard that some people got mugged at gunpoint earlier in the evening, so the Mathematician picked me up at the restaurant, instead of walking home alone like I usually do. I stopped to say goodbye to some of my co-workers and a long-time regular, who were boozing it up on the patio as we walked out.

"You are a sex-pot!" the regular said, out of the blue and completely unsolicited as we stood there, talking. In truth, there was something really awkward about it, but he's a long-time regular, he's gay, and I know he meant it as a compliment, so I smiled, laughed and rolled with it. "More like a sex Kitten," B-lo said, and the conversation tapered away, punctuated by kitty noises, meow-ing and fake clawing at the air as we bid my friends farewell. While all of this was going on, the Mathematician stood there, silent.

Later, at home in my bedroom, the Mathematician brought the comment up.

"I thought it was kind of not that cool, what that guy said to you back there at the restaurant."

"What do you mean?" I said.

"Well, I just thought it was not that cool. It seemed inappropriate and not his place to say something like that."

"Baby, he's gay."

"I know. But, still. I just wasn't that into it."

And it's funny: I am so used to hearing stupid comments like that from men, gay, straight, what have you, that I didn't even think twice about the fact that this regular had just called me a sex-pot, or the way that he called me a sex-pot, or the dynamics of the interaction at all.

"Well, I just think it's not that cool that he said that to you," the Mathematician said. "I know he meant it as a compliment, but it came off sounding derogatory. Yes, you're beautiful, but telling you so like that just cheapens the whole thing."

Now, this regular of mine is a fine person, and someone who I've known in passing from the restaurant for years. He's gay, and because of this, I didn't feel hurt or threatened by the comment. In fact, I took it exactly as I presume he intended it: as a compliment. But as we sat there talking, replaying the incident, I began to realize that people don't talk like that in the Mathematician's world. In his world, of men and computers and systems processors and cache partitioning, compliments are paid in the form of praise for your ideas, respect for innovative concepts, and congratulations on a job well done. In my world, the majority of compliments I receive are in this objectifying form of flattery.

I realized the Mathematician is right: that regular was not complimenting my stellar waitressing skills, my killer personality, or my noticeable intelligence. He was not commenting about my creativity, my aptitude for writing, or my ability to dream up fresh book or PR ideas. He was complimenting me for being hot. And I was flattered,…very flattered,…so flattered that it didn't even occur to me that in reality I want to be so much more than just hot.

In this moment, the Mathematician had a little window into what it feels like to be me. "Well, you have to understand, baby, people talk to me like that all the time. In fact, oftentimes men say things to me that are a zillion times more offensive."

I know he didn't want to hear it. No one wants to think of their girlfriend/sister/mother/best friend being treated like an object. But for that brief moment, the Mathematician had a little window into my odd little world. And I'm glad for it. Because if he hadn't bought it up, if he hadn't taken issue with the comment, and pointed out to me that I am so much more than just a sex-pot and people should respect that, I wouldn't have thought of it either. At the end of the day, gay or straight, comments like these miss the point, reduce me to nothing more than just a body. They totally overlook who I really am.

I also undertstand that someday these comments will stop coming. Gravity will start to work against me, my breasts will sag, my hair will turn coarse and gray, and my skin will reveal its age with irrevocable cracks and crevices. And if people aren't respecting me for anything but my sex-pot body, what will I have then?

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