Careful not to bump into the headless mannequin or tip over the velvet painting of the afro woman and child, I reached out and spun the carousal of earrings located on the cluttered counter of the thrift shop in Raleigh. I was visiting North Carolina on vacation to see my father, who lives about 50 miles away from Raleigh, and wandered into the store as sort of a break from sight-seeing in the stiff heat. After surveying this funky little shop with all its odd ball trinkets, my eyes caught the attention of a pair of hot pink, hoop-style earrings. I am a lover of earrings, especially the big, funky and handmade kind. My motto is: the more brazen, the better. In fact, my top drawer of my dresser is dedicated to my eclectic taste in jewelry. I tried them on and thought that the little appliquéd women in long white skirts and blue shirts, holding hands along the woven multi-layered pink ribbons, had sort of an old-world, Peruvian llama-farm woman feel to them. As I stood there, admiring myself in the small carousal mirror, my mind drifted to some unknown future where I would be frolicking down the streets of Philly in my white, off-the-shoulder flared dress, some hot pink flats and these earrings, dangling from my ears. Passerbys would compliment me on my keen fashion sense, at which I would shyly replied, “thanks.” Then they would inquiry about the earrings, at which I would giggle and say, “Oh these old things. Well I picked them up in a small boutique somewhere down South.” I asked the sale clerk how much for the earrings and she told me $3. I paid for the earrings and a pair of equally funky sunglasses and left the store.
Earlier the next morning, I stood in the kitchen excitingly telling my father and his wife about my adventures in Raleigh. I couldn’t wait to show them my purchases including my funky pair of earrings. I took them out the bag and held it up in front of his face, “Aren’t these nice,” I said, smiling from ear to ear. He squinted, mumbled something about not being able to see them very well and flicked on the light switch. Raising his eyebrows, my father said, “uh, yeah. I guess they are nice.” Disappointed with his reaction, I surveyed the earrings again, wondering why he was not as in awe of my find as I was. Then there, in the full light, I noticed something very different about my once-wonderful find. The ribbons were no longer multi-layers of pink but rather layers of red, orange, yellow, green, red and blue. Wide eyed, I stood frozen (or paused, as we say out on the streets), looking uncomfortably at my dad, who stared at me back with one raised eyebrow. Somehow my old world Peruvian llama farm-women earrings have turned into the rainbow flag. OMG, I thought to myself, my earrings are gay.
Now as someone that prides (no pun intended) herself on progressive thinking, I am always taken aback when my reaction to real life situations are not so progressive. Certainly I have no problem finding the humor in these peculiar moments in my life, like the time when I was on the 23 bus coming from downtown and a woman with a snake made a pass at me (I’ll have to save that for another post). But I also hesitate in retelling these stories to my friends and acquaintances. What would other people think? Will they laugh with me but secretly speculate about my sexuality? Or will they blatantly call me out (as some of our folks are known to do) for every “suspect” moment in my life, in which I would be forced to have to defend my hetro-ness to them?
Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with homosexuality and I can say that I am comfortable enough in my own sexuality to acknowledge that. However I can also admit to harboring some deep-seeded feeling of homophobia, which I believe has little to do with disliking a person because they are gay, but rather the ridicule and admonishment that comes with the label of that particular lifestyle. Meaning if the earrings that I’d brought, were wrapped in blue, red and white ribbons with the appliqués of the cross of St. Andrews pasted on it, I don’t think I would mind so much if people thought I was British. But as for people thinking I’m gay, well that’s a whole other thing. And I’m know, that I’m not alone in this reaction but it really doesn’t make me feel better about it neither. As trivial as it sounds, these situations remind me of how not accepting we can be, not just a community, but a society as a whole. It also reinforces the need for us to challenge these archaic notions of identity – whether it be sexual, gender or race-based.
I thought about that as I packed the earrings in my suitcase and headed home – I also thought about how I definitely need to make an appointment with my doctor to get my eyes checked. Originally, I thought about tossing them in the recycling bin or giving them away as a gift or perhaps dying the ribbons to more socially acceptable colors. But perhaps one day, I will work up the nerve to actually wear them outside, with my pretty off-the shoulder white dressed that flairs and hot pink flats – not caring one bit what anyone thinks – perhaps.