I’m an Anthropologist?

This morning after my yoga class, I stopped at a nearby coffee shop for a cup of tea and a pastry. It’s become my comforting little routine. As I waited to order I saw a classmate who had just been in the studio with me, and who I happen to know frequents my yoga classes. She too was waiting for her coffee. We both smiled and said “Hi” across the shop. We crossed paths a minute later as she was getting her cup and I was taking the table she had been waiting at for her to go order. There was a moment of small talk, and then I asked if she often stopped here for coffee after yoga. She commented it was her little ritual.

It’s funny how a word or an action can start a train of thought, one that in an inspired moment connects with some other stream of thought and the confluence of the two becomes something greater. Just then I had one of those moments.

I’d woken up that morning feeling questionable about my body, my visage in the world. Feeling that maybe I wasn’t enough of a woman. Too fat, too butch, too much of too many things to be accepted as a woman, queer or otherwise. Yoga helped that some, quite a bit in fact. It brought me back into myself, but the underlying awareness of self doubt was still there. That worry I carry as a queer woman in our current cultural and political climate about being accepted as who I am in the world.

As often happens for me, the combination of being alone in public, a hot cup of tea, and reflecting in my journal gave that confluence a push down the road into awareness. The pouring out of words and thoughts in my journal brought me back to a realization I had a while back.

Women smile at each other as a warm greeting, an unconscious form of connection.  When women smile at men, it’s often something very different, and very intentional. I got to thinking about rituals, how rituals are something we do, but often don’t understand the true purpose of. Yes they are comforting because of the routine, but there is often an underlying reason the ritual exists. Like my classmate who has a ritual of getting a coffee after yoga as a reward, the women’s social smile has a purpose.  Connection. Shared sisterhood. Solidarity. acknowledging each other in a world where there is often a link simply because they are women. In a world where a simple connection with a man could have all sorts of strings attached.

Over the last year, I’ve marveled at the women who smile when their gaze meets mine. Walking into a women’s restroom and crossing paths with another woman walking out, usually results in a kind smile. Standing in line at the grocery store, or at the coffee shop, crossing paths in the mall, in all sorts of fleeting non-verbal meetings, women smile at each other. At me. It’s an amazing little system of micro-connections that happens so automatically I doubt there’s even awareness of it.

I’ve picked it up myself without thought or effort. After I got past the initial surprise that came with awareness, it has became part of who I am like I’d been born to it. In a way I suppose I had, it just took a while for me to be aware of that bit of socialization. It feels good to fit in and become part of this little system of solidarity and connection. To be able to draw strength from it. Acceptance from it.

That’s where it all flowed together. If I was seen as an invader, as an other, as not woman enough, that smile wouldn’t be there. I know I’ve been lucky in my coming out experience to be well accepted, but now I’m feeling downright joyous. Every day in a slew of small interactions I’m being accepted. This means far more to me than the overt displays of acceptance, because those are often done with intent. They are not always indicative of someone’s true feelings. The action of a ritual however is automatic, without thought, and comes from subconscious assessments of what triggers it.

So every day in small ways women all over are showing they reflexively accept me as one of their own. I’m good enough for them despite my own fears. That feels comforting and affirming in a way I couldn’t possibly have expected.

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