"It's complicated," you said with a shake of your head. "You know? I mean, you know. Stuff is just so complicated with us."
I knew exactly what you meant by "us." You were referring to our shared culture and how tricky it is to navigate through it sometimes. And sure, it isn't that way with every black family. But still. I understood what you were saying.
"I'm sorry this is making it harder for you," I responded. I was leaning on my knee with my hand wrapped around my chin. I couldn't really think of much else to say.
"When somebody says they had sex with dude and they're a dude, tell the truth--deep down what do you feel inside?"
Your question caught me off guard. "Me?"
"Well. I guess I don't think much of anything. I think it's your business, you know? But if you're asking do I feel bothered by it, no. I just don't. I know some people do. But I don't."
"A lot of people feel disgusted. I see it in their face when somebody is all obviously a gay dude, you know? I have friends like that. And they just don't care what nobody thinks about them. And see, me? That's what I don't want. I don't want that."
"Does that sound crazy?"
"What--not wanting to be looked at with disgust? No. Not to me."
"What would you do?"
Your questions were making my head hurt. I had never been asked these things so directly. But it was good. Good to be put in a position to challenge empathy.
"What would I do if what? Like if . . . I guess I want to understand what you're asking."
"If you loved a woman. Like the way you love your husband." You pointed at my wedding ring when you said that.
My first instinct was to answer immediately, impulsively. But then I decided to respect your question and actually pause to think about it.
What would I do if I loved a woman the way I love Harry? What exactly would I do?
Well. The truth is that I can't be fully sure. But I can guess. And that postulation would be based upon more than just me being "true to myself" and all that sort of thing. It would be grounded in how my family has always treated me and how sure I am that my parents would love me no matter what. And, as a result, they'd love who I love, too. I'm pretty sure my true friends would stick around and that I'd likely have just as everyday-boring-what's-for-dinner-wash-the-dishes-boring as I do now.
Just with a woman.
"Probably most of the same things I do now. Just with a woman."
"You'd still go to church?"
Lord. These questions.
"I think I would."
My head began to throb right after that because I started sifting through what it would look like to go to my church with a wife instead of a husband. And though I can't say it would be a no-go, I can say it would complicate things. That's for sure.
"So you'd be all out in the open? Like, you wouldn't be scared?"
"Ummm. It all sounds scary because that's not my reality. But hiding sounds much scarier to me. It sounds scarier than anything we've talked about so far." I bit my lip an let myself continue pondering your queries.
"Yeah. I can see that." You turned and faced the window. Not in a rude way, though. I think you just wanted to feel the sun on your face. I could still see the side of your cheek and your eyes. They looked like brown pools of water when you gazed into the sunlight. It was beautiful, actually.
"I . . .you know. . .I have a super supportive family," I added on. I needed you to know that. I didn't want to trivialize your feelings. "A lot of people loving and accepting you for who you are can make you brave, you know? So I think with that, it wouldn't be as hard for me."
You shifted back toward me and turned one side of your mouth upward. "I could see that when you walked in. Somebody told you that you were important when you were a little girl. And you believed it."
"I . . .I don't even know how to respond to that."
"It's true, though, isn't it?"
I nodded slowly while still holding your searing eye contact.
"Stuff would be easier for me if that was my story. But it's not."
Since I didn't know what to say to that, I just stayed quiet. After a few moments I spoke. "I feel a little scared that the hiding is standing in the way of you getting better."
You just stared at me without speaking when I said that, lost in your own thoughts. I waited to see what you'd say, the pause uncomfortable and prolonged. Finally, I couldn't take it any more.
"Tell me what you're thinking," I said.
"You know what I'm thinking, Dr. Manning? I'm thinking shit is complicated. That's what I'm thinking."
"But it doesn't have to be." As soon as I said that I immediately wished I hadn't. I hoped you didn't take it the wrong way. Easy for me to simplify the biggest hurdle of your young life. "I'm sorry I said that," I whispered.
You chuckled. "That's okay, baby." I immediately felt relieved. You raised one eyebrow and then added, "You want to know the real secret about complicated shit?" I widened my eyes in response to that, nudging you to go on. "The real secret about all complicated shit is just that--it's complicated for no reason. It never has to be complicated at all. But for whatever reason, it just is."
And that? That was some real talk right there.
And this? This is Grady. The place where I am challenged and pushed to search my heart. And think long and hard about what hides in the shadows of my mind.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?