Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fetishes and funerals

I have two topics bouncing around in my head that are completely separate things, so they really should be two blog posts, but I don’t have time to do all that so I’m just going to lump them together.

The first thing is the idea of social convention, and this came out of the encounter with the foot fetishist in the subway and being propositioned outside my apartment last weekend. It made me think a lot about the idea of rape culture we have that I marched against at SlutWalk, how women are made to fear being sexual beings in public but men are not. And I find one thing sorely lacking in modern society, especially in a city like New York, is the idea of social conventions on how people (especially strangers) are permitted to interact with each other.

I must be terribly old-fashioned to think that people should not greet or talk to each other without first establishing eye contact – that’s my rule. Especially these days when everyone’s on their cell phones and talking into the air, I don’t respond to anyone talking to me unless they’ve established eye contact and made some form of direct address first (i.e. good morning, hello, etc.).

Now it gets a little trickier when a foot fetishist sits down next to you and start complimenting your toe polish. Ideally, it would be nice if they were to introduce themselves first (although I tend to frown upon that too, as I always prefer someone else to introduce me to someone I’ve never met). But at least it would be closer to proper social protocol. You don’t just bust out a compliment without creating some kind of rapport – it’s incredibly rude in the nicest possible way.

I’ll give you an extreme example of violating social conventions that I witnessed a while back. On older commuter trains, the seats are arranged in rows of three seats and two seats (think rows of sofas and loveseats). The established convention is that outer seats (window seats) are taken first, then the inside seats of the couches, leaving the center seat vacant. After those are all filled, then the inside loveseat places are taken, then finally, the center seats on the sofas.

Well, once I saw a man asking to sit next to a woman who was sitting in the window seat of a two-seater when there were plenty of empty inside seats available on three-seaters. She looked at him as if he had two heads. I couldn’t believe such a serious breach of social convention was happening. I believe the woman surrendered the entire bench to the man and moved to another car rather than sit next to him.

When strangers greet you on the streets of New York, there’s an assumption that they need help with directions or something. When it turns out they just wanted to say hello to you for no particular reason, it’s creepy. It’s especially creepy when they address you with an endearment, like “hey gorgeous” or “good morning love.” It’s ironic that those words are having an opposite effect than what they probably intended them to.

Anyway, the next time a fetishist approaches me in a public place, I will have a firm response ready, something along the lines of “while I appreciate that you have a fetish about _____ and it’s great that you feel so open about it, please understand that I don’t share that fetish and you do not have my consent to talk to me about it.” I wonder how that would go over?

So the second thing I’ve been thinking about is funeral arrangements, only because I just finished “A Game of You” in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. For those of you unfamiliar, there’s a pre-operative transsexual character named Wanda in that story who lives alone in a New York apartment. She’s from Kansas and her conservative religious parents have disowned her, presumably when she came out to them.

Wanda dies at the end of the story and her body is taken back to Kansas for burial under her birth name, Alvin, but not after her hair is cut and she is made to look like a man. Wanda’s best friend, Barbie, attends the funeral and in a final gesture in honor of their friendship, uses Wanda’s favorite lipstick to cross out “Alvin” from her tombstone and writes “Wanda” in its place.

Since my situation is very similar to Wanda’s (other than the pre-operative part) I wonder if that will happen to me someday. My parents aren’t quite as religious as Wanda’s (last time I checked, anyway), but it’s very unlikely they would choose to bury me as Michelle.

And on the one hand, it’s not like I believe in a Christian afterlife where I’d care what happened to my body after I die. But the idea of someone having that control over the way I am remembered by the living disturbs me. And not that I think people will be lining up to visit my grave, but it could be the last permanent marker that I was ever here (if the Internet ever got wiped out by a super-virus or global EMP).

I haven’t made any specific plans to make sure this doesn’t happen, other than making sure my parents are not listed anywhere as my emergency contacts. But in the event of my death, I wonder if the authorities will be obliged to research next-of-kin through public information databases, rather than simply acceding to my written wishes for those decisions to be handled locally by my loved ones. I’m sure law enforcement has ways to track down my birth family, and even my ex through court records – the question is whether they are compelled to do so.

Anyway, sorry to be so morbid, but that’s what I get for reading stuff like Sandman. It does make you think about how these messy details get handled when one of us departs this mortal coil. There must be a lot of people employed just doing stuff like this. What an awful job that must be.