I’d Rather Remember My 39th Birthday

Do you still feel pressure of conform? If no, what age did it stop? Also, Write a post inspired by your sixteenth birthday.

Oh, my dear question generator, you are obviously not part of a subculture or a subculture within a subculture. The “pressure to conform” to being straight is all around you. Open the newspaper or turn on the news.

The difference is that when I was a child and a youth, I *wanted* to belong – I didn’t want to be the pitiful little creature who didn’t fit in, I wanted to conform. I simply hadn’t the means to do so. Or any real understanding of the fact that it required means.

I have no memory of my 16th birthday. None. I know when it took place and I can remember that I was taking Trigonometry, Chemistry II (which I was struggling with) and Pre AP English which I loved. I was in the band and had been switched to the mellophone. But I can only piece that information together by the power of deduction, not real memories. I *think* that’s the year Wendy Frankwich and I ran laps around the school at the Homecoming Bonfire and she suggested I try out for track – Homecoming was near my birthday. And I did get my license, but again those memories of learning to drive are compartmentalized.  Turning 16 had no real meaning or significance, even though I had been greatly influenced reading “Juvenile Fiction” during my junior high years and marveled at the thought of a “Sweet 16.” No one had those in working class West Mifflin during the 1980’s. At least not working class people.

So, if I were to write a story, it would be about the 16th birthday I wished I had experience. Or remembered. But I also can’t remember anyone else’s 16th birthday with the sole exception of my friend Heather Johnson. Her boyfriend Bob Siler asked me to come to his house (we had been friends since elementary school) to help him plan a surprise party. Heather was annoyed that I was moving in on her man until she learned the truth. Ha. That stands out – I wasn’t angry, just surprised at her reaction.

So I don’t even know what conforming would look like in retrospect. Turning  16 was about getting a license, not a party or pearls. I’m sure paying for the additional auto insurance was a huge burden for my parents. But again – conjecture. Writing a post about my sixteenth birthday, what would I say? I got a great gift, I liked my cake? My first kiss? I’m sure nothing terrible or traumatic happened and I’m much happier to remember my lovely 39th birthday celebration if I’m to select one in particular.  My blog post on that would be short and sweet

They came to my favorite restaurant. I was surprised. There were a lot of cupcakes from The Priory Bakery. We ate good Thai food. The conversation was plentiful. I felt loved. We went home. The end. 

As an adult, I have no wish to conform to a societal expectation to be straight (or straight acting.) I don’t want to conform to be part of the political elite. I don’t want to go to spaces filled with smoke to be included in the queer community. I’m not going to drink craft beer or stop wearing Mom jeans. I can’t embrace being anyone but myself due to sheer exhaustion and the recognition that to do otherwise doesn’t work.

I think the pressure to smoke in the LGBTQ community is very intense – I’ve repeatedly asked people who organize events to select smoke free spaces and they demur, citing turnout. It is a serious health problem perpetuated by leaders in our community who intend to create safe spaces that are ultimately quite deadly.

A good example of this was the folks featured in the Post-Gazette’s “People To Know in 2014” a feature that included all white folks with the exception of one young black man. My friends who were included were appalled and openly said so in a polite but firm manner, but it wasn’t their fault – it was a reflection of where our culture in Pgh is and to what extend those with true influence are monitoring the media’s pulse. Right now is a time to be from somewhere outside of Pittsburgh and planning to stay here after college. Embracing Pittsburgh as a transplant requires finding a way to conform to a very racially segregated system while trying to create change from the  inside. I don’t envy anyone that job or position. Damon Young had a nice response which the PG did publish.

I envy less the 16 year-olds who have no cake, no food, no access to tampons, no bus near their home, and no one to get to know in 2014 that looks like them or has those same experiences.

But, of course, I still want to be accepted, valued and appreciated. And really – isn’t that why we really conform?


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