I’m standing in the elevator on the UC campus with my partner. A professional looking man gets on the elevator and says to my partner “Oh, you brought your son to work today?” I am reluctant to say anything, but their conversation continues.
My partner: No, she’s a girl.
Man: Oh you brought your daughter to work today.
My partner: No she’s my girlfriend.
Man: Oh, okay cool, your daughter, uh…I mean, your daughter…
This was an awkward moment of about five seconds of this guy stumbling over his own words, but was saved by the elevator doors opening through which he quickly escaped.
About a year ago I was shopping in a local Kroger. My eye for all the sweet, sugary treats had me in some sort of daze as I stood there glaring at the assorted donuts, cookies, and cakes being unable to make the right decision. A grandmotherly woman approached me thinking that I was much younger than my 26-year-old self. Our conversation went something like this:
Strange woman: Does your mother know where you’re at?
Me: Well, she knows that I live in Cincinnati, but I don’t think she knows I’m standing in a grocery store if that’s what you mean.
Strange woman: Come with me. You can’t be in here all alone. We’ll find somebody to help you.
Me: Look lady, I’m 27 years old. I can be in in the donut aisle if I want.
She couldn’t believe I was a day over 11.
More recently, I was shopping at Sam’s club in Illinois on a Saturday afternoon when the aisles are filled with employees serving up free samples of various food items. I went up to the stand in which an employee was serving small slices of pizza. This is what happened:
Me: Hi can I have a sample?
Employee: I’m sorry no. You’ll have to come back with a parent.
Me: I’m not a kid. I’m 27 years old.
Employee: Um, No your not.
Me: Hey Dad, can I have some piiizza?! (I yelled, in the best kid’s voice I could muster to my partner’s father who was at this point too far away to hear me anyway.)
By this time there is somewhat of a small crowd building. I take off the beanie hat I was wearing thinking that I could look a little older without it (not that it makes any difference). Another employee in the crowd says, “oh she looks old enough, I think it’s okay to give her a sample.” I get to have a sample and the employee says, “So, what’s your secret?” I replied, “I don’t know. I just look young.”
More often than not, I have experiences like these. I do realize at some point in my life, I will begin to look aged and will relish in the memories of today. While some stories that I share do give my friends and family a bit of a chuckle, navigating today’s social world looking like an adolescent but carrying the responsibilities of an adult has a real impact on my daily life. Ageism and heteronormativity quite literally limits my choices and actions.
When people pick me up as they hug me, all I can think is put me down; I’m not four years old dammit!! When I go car shopping or apartment hunting, not being taken seriously completely rules over the interactions I have with people. Often, people comment on my weight. “Is everything okay?” “Are you eating?” Even the health professional at the UC clinic said to me multiple times, “If you’re having trouble, or you feel the need to throw up when you eat, it’s okay to tell me. You won’t be in trouble.” At a military veteran’s service I was told, “Oh, I’m sorry but these pins are for veterans only” because I looked far to young to have ever possibly worked with bombs and missiles as an USAF ammo troop for eight years.
People are people. We come with various shapes and sizes. We have our own thoughts, desires, and experiences. This blog is a space for me to share some of my stories. I encourage you to truly see and listen to those around you before claiming your personal assumptions as somebody else’s truth.
Niki Dorsett is a 3rd year student majoring in Communication and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.