Wednesday, May 8, 2013

3 Mythbusters

     B and I sometimes take dancing lessons, and so we recently signed up for a beginner's class on the West Coast swing. We arrived for the first lesson two weeks ago, and were surprised to find a pretty good turnout of about 12 or 15 couples, including one pair of women.

     B and I were both a little nervous, as you are when starting to learn anything new, so I didn't pay much attention to the other couples. We knew a few of them, and joked around about how we all had two left feet, but other than that B and I focused on trying to get the steps and not embarrass ourselves.

     Nevertheless, I couldn't help but notice the two women dancing together. Both were in their 40s. One was tall and thin, and wore jeans and a shirt, and seemed a little stiff on the dance floor. The other was shorter and curvier, wore softer clothes, and seemed more fluid when she was dancing. Sometimes they danced together, but during dance class we sometimes change partners, and so these two women were dancing with others as well.

     On the way home, B and I reviewed the dance lesson. We felt we had a good time and learned what we had to learn. And we remarked on the lesbian couple; no more than that. But later, I wondered, when we changed partners, did the tall, thin woman dance as the man with other women. Would that be awkward?

     Then I realized I didn't have to worry about it. When we changed partners, I would only end up dancing with the curvier softer woman partner.

     Last week we went back to dance class. We learned a couple of new steps and practiced the old ones, and then we changed partners. "Men," ordered the instructor, "move down, one to the left."

     And so I did. Until a little while later, I stood opposite the taller, thinner woman. She was dancing the lady's part, so there was no awkward pause while we figured out what to do. The woman danced pretty well, and she was very nice and even giggled at a couple of my jokes and complimented me on my moves.

     Later, again on the ride home, B and I reviewed the lesson. I mentioned I had danced with one of the lesbians. "Oh," B said, "they're not lesbians."


     "No, I overheard them say that they were friends, but the taller one was volunteering to dance the man's part, just to try to fit in. So she was dancing the man's part with the other woman; but then doing the lady's part when we changed partners."

     So, the conclusion I had leapt to . . . busted!

    "I guess times have changed," I remarked to B. "In the old days, we would have assumed that two women together were just friends. Women have always danced together, mostly because they have trouble getting their male partners onto the dance floor. But these days, we assume two women together must be lesbians."

     I don't know if this little anecdote reveals anything, except my own prejudice, but there it is.

     Then yesterday I went to the supermarket. Honestly, B does most of the shopping in our house. But I do buy my own "health and beauty" products, and sometimes B sends me to the store to pick up milk or some ingredient she needs for making dinner or something she's baking for friends at work or church.

     Anyway, I was looking for vinegar, and turned the corner and couldn't help but notice this big strapping guy pushing a cart. He stood out because most of the people you see in the store during the day are either women or old men, or else some kind of delivery guy. But this fellow was in his 30s -- a well-built redhead who looked hale and hearty, dressed in expensive casual wear. In the second it took me to "take him in" I figured him for a lawyer or business professional, maybe on a day off. A small child was with him. I couldn't see the kid, who was doing something in front of the man, but he was maybe 5 or 6 years old -- and I assumed he'd be one of these cute tow-headed blue-eyed boys, probably with freckles and a big white smile.

     I leaned over and picked up the vinegar and placed it in my cart. Then I caught the redheaded guy out of the corner of my eye again. I saw the kid. I was surprised because the kid wasn't blonde; he had dark, curly hair. Then he turned around. And I saw he was black. Not really black; but definitely brown-skinned. Hmmm, I wondered, the boy was clearly with the man. Was he adopted? Maybe the man's wife was black? I guess I'll never know. But once again . . . I was busted.

     Finally, B and I were coming out of the strip mall last night. There was a line of traffic backed up, waiting to turn onto the main road. One car a head of us inched out, then another. I waited; then it was our turn. Traffic was backed up. We were turning right, and the light off to the right had turned red.

     Still the traffic was moving, pulling up to the light, so I couldn't move just yet. I'd have to wait to the end of the line. I looked to the right, then to the left. There was an older Ford Mustang, tricked out with some extra big tires and a racing stripe -- a hotrodder of some sort, I thought to myself, figuring I'll certainly have to wait until he goes by.

      I looked through the windshield of the Mustang and caught sight of the driver, a 20-something kid with scraggly facial hair. But instead of the expected scowl, he gave me a polite smile, and he came to a stop. Then he waved me in front of him. Wow, I thought, that's a surprise. One more time, another stereotype . . . busted!


Banjo Steve said...

Good for you. Like you, there are often times when I'm glad to have my stereotypes smashed to smithereens.

Stephen Hayes said...

It's hard to eliminate the stereotypes in our minds and replace them with firsthand observations. I've had similar experiences that challenged what I thought. Good for you that you're open to change. said...

Welcome to the Postmodern world where nothing is as it seems. Probably never was. Dianne

Dick Klade said...

It takes a long time to change a culture, and that's where my stereotypes came from. I'm working on it.

Olga said...

Good thoughts. None of us really knows what it is like exactly t live in someone else's skin--even those close to us sometimes.

CathyS said...

Doesn't that just su**? We all do it. The difference between you and most people is you understand that you do it. And now, you'll think twice before you make judgements. I have a couple of areas that just drive crazy. I can sound like a bigot in my own head. I'm working constantly to change. But, in the end, we're hard wired and it takes a lot of work. But, we can.

DJan said...

I have these thoughts, too, when I see something that doesn't fit into my preconceived notions. I think you told the story very well, and I examined my own ideas carefully afterwards. Well written and thoughtful. Thanks, Tom! :-)

Linda Myers said...

Your post triggered a reflection for me. On May 18th I'm going to a wedding of a woman I know well and her partner, also a woman. Gay marriage is now legal in Washington State, and I had to think long and hard about how I would vote, because of my own biases about the nature of marriage.

Now I am thrilled my friend and her love can get married, and can hardly wait to attend the ceremony.

Jodi @ Heal Now said...

Keep busting htem, Tom! Good on you!

Anonymous said...

I would have had the same reactions to those situations you described. Stereotype-busters, indeed! Good for you!

Douglas said...

We seem to have, as humans, the desire to categorize others. I suppose it makes life seem more orderly... or maybe there is something connected to the "survival instinct" involved. A lesson learned, one you probably were taught at a very young age but failed to incorporate completely: Never judge a book by its cover.