“I’ve never been so insulted in my life”, I bellowed.
The camp twentysomething next to me at the bar could not disguise his bafflement at what he thought was a compliment. I smoothed down my cardigan, held my head high and marched off to find my friends, elbowing my way through a smorgasbord of drag queens, well-groomed gents and the occasional goth.
I related the exchange to my friends, still reeling. “…And he said how brave it was for an older lady like me to come to a place like this. He called me cute!”
My pals couldn’t hide their amusement. As out and proud gay men, each one has experienced far worse than being perceived as a novelty. But in more than a quarter of a century of friendship there have been few occasions where this straight, white, able-bodied woman, has been the one marked as other.
We were at RuPaul’s Drag Race Live in a dodgy Birmingham night club. For those not acquainted with the show: first of all, shame on you. Second, let me enlighten: RuPaul is a supermodel drag artiste, media mogul and internationally acclaimed glamazon. She hosts a TV talent show that aims to find America’s next drag superstar. The show involves contestants – of any gender identity or sexual orientation – in full drag persona, competing in themed, performance-based challenges.
I’ve been involved in LGBT culture and society all my adult life. In my youth and drama-school years, I always felt more welcomed in the gay world as a straight visitor than in the straight world as a resident. That’s why this small but significant shade-throwing from the young man at the bar really whipped the rug out from under my Clarks slip-ons.
I live an age-appropriate life. Working with young people, witnessing their journey through the complicated life lessons that many of us experienced, reaffirms how content I am to be older, if not wiser. I have no desire to revisit my youth, so for it to be implied that I was still clinging onto it hit me hard.
Fuelled by indignance
On the way home, fuelled by straight privilege and indignance, I was still ranting about my terrible feelings of injustice over my perceived exclusion from the community I’d been loyal to.
“Yeah, I know exactly how you feel” said one of my mates with a knowing smile. “It’s almost like that time in the 1980s when a gang of blokes beat me to the ground.”
I took his point. There are degrees of exclusion.
“Then they pissed on me while I lay on the floor bleeding.”
It’s always useful to be reminded to check your privilege, even though it’s seldom comfortable to do so.
The mate in question then turned round, adding with a RuPaul flourish: “None of them called me old, though!”
Much like you, I am what I am. Though sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded exactly who that is.
Sarah Simons works in colleges and adult community education in the East Midlands, and is the director of UKFEchat. She tweets @MrsSarahSimons