I drove a friend of mine to the dental surgeon last week. He had to undergo one of those episodes of high-tech carnage that rebuild the jaw. It involved bone paste – I’ll leave it at that, and you’ll thank me. It required heavy sedation, of course, so I was to pour him back into the car and get him home afterwards.
I left him with a 20-something female nurse, ran an errand, came back, waited an hour, and then the nurse brought me into the operating room. My friend was still in the chair, a touch of blood on his lips, utterly stoned out of his kug. Whatever they had given him had done the job. He was hobnobbing with the Mars Rover, or maybe Voyager 1, out in the heliosheath. But I digress.
The nurse started to explain to me the sequence of aftereffects of the surgery and asked me to wait for the surgeon. He came in, dressed in his scrubs. We introduced ourselves and he said, “Let me show you what I did.” He ignored my queasy protest that it wasn’t necessary and brought up an x-ray of my friend’s jaw on a huge screen. I learned some things about modern dental surgery, luckily without any detailed graphics, and then he launched into the necessary details of my friend’s care and feeding for the next week or so. Ice packs, Ibuprofen, swelling, Vicodin, lukewarm mush, the works. I nodded, wondering why I needed to know all this.
I filled my pockets with gauze and ice packs and the nurse and I raised my friend onto his wobbly legs and guided him through the hallways towards the front door. We stopped to let him use the rest room. The nurse and I waited. After a pause she said, “So, are you two…….related?” Two things occurred to me.
One was the realization that she and the doctor thought that we were a gay couple. Ok, a guy in his sixties with no wife or children on his “In case of emergency” form gets brought in by a guy in his fifties. A slightly younger man who was quite gentle and solicitous about helping his temporarily dizzied friend down the hall.
The second, more important thing was that they did not care. In the internet meme parlance, “And not a single shit was given that day.” All they cared about was that my friend used his ice packs and stayed away from crunchy foods. Our relationship, whatever they thought it to be, was irrelevant beyond irrelevant. The nurse was asking out of basic human curiosity, no more.
I explained that we were old friends, and that he lived down the road from me. Maybe I explained a little too much. Not that it mattered. I could have fabricated a story about getting married and she would have sincerely congratulated me.
Later, when my friend had returned from geosynchronous orbit, I told him about it and he laughed. “Yeah, I get that sometimes.”
It’s just a mildly amusing anecdote, but it is also a data point. Here in Vermont, at least in this professional office, we seem to have passed some threshold of acceptance. Beyond acceptance, indifference. I thought it was a big deal when the Vermont legislature passed the same-sex marriage bill and a friend of mine called another friend of mine (the woman she loved) from the House chamber and proposed. Well, it was.
However, in a way it seems as if this non-incident, this kind of unheralded non-event is even a bigger deal. We’re not at the gates of utopia yet, but I am sure that other non-events like this are happening all over the state, every day. Every such act of recognition and friendly indifference is the swing of a mallet, driving bigotry another sixteenth of an inch into the ground. Perhaps we are actually moving towards a time when gender orientation will become so much background noise.