...Too late. I have to wait until they get back - but I am refused by a peer advocate from entering the now patient-empty waiting room, so I stand in the hall with the gathering group of men while the room is swiftly wiped down, swept and mopped, for its gender scene change. I am not allowed to help, not being a peer advocate. The chairs, previously woman-clustered, are now lined into even rows facing the counter, where magazines and pamphlets are stacked in place of platters of food. The Women's Clinic troupe smiles at me on its way out with the trash, unclaimed clothes, and coffee dispenser.
As we, the new group, file into the room, which seem smaller despite its order and slightly smaller number of occupants. I watch, and guess, with no justifiable reason what-so-ever that some of these men might be straight - which I didn't even think abut with the diverse-beyond-category group of women. That's the way it's supposed to be, with AIDS, right? Gay-and-bisexual men, and women whose-sexual-orientation-is irrelevant. [Sorry - that is the "Participant" part of "Observation" speaking.] I guess, with probably-inaccurate evidence, that there are more gay nurses on the floor than there are gay male patients in the now noticeably quiet waiting room. I do not feel any more or less out of place in here as the only woman, but I do feel more like an adult without the peer advocates. I don't have as many questions in the new rendition of the space, but it's easier in this one to examine the questions I had in the last.
Understanding that what I notice about others in my environment says things about me, I hope that, reciprocally, questions I ask about my reactions to that environment might lead to answers about others as well: The Women's Clinic was established to create a sense of community in the demographic I am supposed to feel a part of. Its mission seems, from the outside, to have succeeded. So why is it that I feel I am on the outside? Is my sense of alienation some kind of literal "homophobia" - fear of sameness, fear of seeing myself here? Is my sense of upper middle-class background inscribed so permanently in my cells that it really is part of who I am to the point that it would override the solidarity it seems would stem from our same SSI, housing challenges, and even life-threatened condition? How much of my estrangement is due to race? How much of my lack of gender-specific identification is due to my disallowing myself experiences I, on some level, equate with being a woman - experiences that I consequently envy them for? Do I identify more with the waning demographic of people whose experience of living with HIV is interminably based on what it meant to be positive before the advent of effective medications, none of whom - it seems - anymore are women? Do the other quiet women who come here think of me as part of the "them" that they don't feel a part of either? Are others being sociable to each other because they feel that is what is wanted or expected from them?
Maybe I am as included and involved in this part of my communitie(s) as anyone, just not audibly. Maybe I'm tired of trying to figure out how to answer other people's questions, and it is participation enough to sit and watch and listen and wear their clothes and love that they wear mine. ~