Top 5 things I hate being asked in a bar; OR: on the frustration of labels

by jdavidcharles

Forgive the lack of blogging recently—I’ve had yet another occurrence of strep throat (a somewhat common relapse for me) plus was writing a piece of music for a new music concert (the piece is called Things arise and she lets them come—catch the Tao reference, huh? huh?), and thus was a little out of the blogging loop. That being said, I finished the piece (feel free to shoot me an e-mail or post a comment or whathaveyou and I can send you a copy) and am getting over the strep.

So. In order to ease my way back into the comfort ability that is my blog, I thought I’d post a list of the top five things I get super frustrated at when asked at a bar (and by super frustrated I mean answer with a smile and no noticeable difference until I wake up steeped in depression or frustration the next day).

Number 5: Are you a vegan for health or ethical reasons? The answer, of course, is YES. This question was really annoying back when I smoked, because it often took the form, “WAIT, you’re vegan??? BUT YOU SMOKE??? THAT’S FUNNY!!! HAHAHA” etc. Like. YES. I get the irony that smoking causes cancer and that red meat increases the risk of cancer but you know, that’s not the ONLY reason for being vegan. Like. There’s that whole commercialization and reduction of life to a commodity. You know. That part. Of course when I would tell the person this, upon hearing the word ‘commodity’ used in a non-positive way the person instantly would go through this thought process: “commodity, huh? sounds like Marx… therefore communism.. therefore Stalinism… therefore fascism.. therefore some offensive analogy involving Hitler!” If the person is nice, however, they usually list all the positive things about veganism and why they *can’t possibly* be vegan. This ranges from being allergic to soy, gluten intolerance, anemia, and other such reasons that if you know something about veganism aren’t very good excuses at all.

Number 4: Some demeaning question about being a poet. This one can take a few different forms, but it typically rides off of being asked where I plan on going to grad school or what I plan on studying. It usually is followed by the other person proceeding to tell me how they really loved poetry in junior high and wrote some great ‘haikus’ (‘haiku’ is plural, damn it!) and got one published in the school paper and it was swell and they wish they could’ve followed their dreams of being a professional haiku-ist but then they had to get like a real job and start earning money and being a real member of society. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone give me a compliment for trying to take my poetry seriously without being extraordinarily patronizing or demeaning. One annoying aspect about being asked about my poetry is it tends to lead to the other four annoying questions, i.e. “oh what are your poems about?” “Well, it’s often me processing through ecological, personal, and sexual issues by taking up the metaphors of each, so, like seeing what sort of ideas and images arise when we put queer theory and say animal rights into a poetic blender and see what comes out.” Blank stare, slightly confused and disgusted face upon hearing the words ‘queer,’ ‘animal,’ and ‘blender’ in succession. “Ummm… animal rights… uhhh… so are you vegan (if so, for health or ethical reasons?)” ETC.

Number 3: Music composition grad? So… are you in a band??? This question can also take the form of, “Composition… huh…. so… what instruments does that mean you play?” or “Oh yeah! Like John Williams” or “oh wow—I play guitar!” Now. I love music. And I love talking about music. But for some reason people feel the need to categorize and label everything about someone when in a bar, and most people don’t know the labels ‘concert music,’ ‘art music,’ ‘contemporary classical,’ or a host of any others. Which causes the confusion of thinking I write film music. Let’s get one thing straight—I. DON’T. WRITE. FILM. SCORES. I have loads of respect for people who do, but, as should become obvious at this point in the conversation (people normally have blazed through a couple of these questions before this one), I DON’T WANT TO WORK FOR DISNEY. I’M NOT A HUGE FAN OF CAPITALISM. I don’t know how this could not be excruciatingly obvious by this point.

Number 2: So you went to Biola/a Calvary Chapel High School, so you’re a Christian then? This means one of two things. Either the person is about to list everything about contemporary evangelical Christianity I hate as the greatest thing since sliced bread (I LOVE CHRISTIAN ROCK!!1!!—this tends to lead to, WAIT, YOU WRITE MUSIC, ARE YOU IN A CHRISTIAN ROCK GROUP  ❤ !!1!), or they are about to preach to me all the woes that Christians have tragically done to certain people groups at times and places. I wish saying, ‘No no, I’m not like them—I’m ANGLICAN/EPISCOPELIAN’ was a valid excuse, but, you know, like Anglicans can be pretty evangelical and the whole fact that the Church of England was killing Quakers and Puritans and such was sort of how that whole colonization/conquest of the Americas kinda got underway doesn’t help either. And I wish saying I was a liberal or secular or materialist or even atheist Christian clarified. But. This usually results in *more* hostility seeing as the other person most likely hates organized religion, but is a quasi-Cartesian dualist (but the kind that would even make Descartes twinge), who loves talking about ‘soul-mates’ and a ‘feeling of the beyond.’ When I say I think ‘soul’ is just another means of talking about the body and concerning oneself with doing good in order to be rewarded in an afterlife is ressentiment, you shouldn’t *need* a reward in order to be nice, AND I think liturgy and prayer and meditation are great, well… it doesn’t always go over super well.

Number 1: So you like boys, right? OR: So you like girls, right? One. NO. I happen to like consenting adults, thank you very much. Secondly, WHY WHY WHY do you feel entitled to ask me who and why and when and how I have sex? Is that anyone’s business other than my own and the people involved? Seriously, people. I have told people I’m straight, bisexual, pansexual, queer, questioning, and demisexual all while at bars—all only kind of true—mostly false and just a means to avoid conversation. People want a simple label. And it frustrates me to no end that I can’t share a drink with someone, chat maybe, without them feeling like they ought to label and appropriate my entire sexual identity into a neat little category so as to prevent them having to adjust their worldview (usually a neat homo/hetero binary). I don’t exactly feel like going into my entire psychical and sexual history with someone I don’t know in order for us to drink together—and the few times I have it hasn’t exactly gone well (‘ahhh… so you’re in the closet!’; ‘but you *would* sleep with so-and-so’; ‘so you mean you’re bi? Yeah—me too! I kissed a boy/girl once!’; ‘well, I only ask because my friend thinks you’re *really cute*’ etc).

All this is to say I’m kind of sick of going out and having to squirm into other people’s categories or feel like I have to deconstruct everyone else’s worldview when all I want to do is have a drink.[rant and self-pity therein concluded thusly].