Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Gold Suit

Something I wrote for a class experiment:

In the back of my closet hides a gold suit; not a two piece-suit, but a full-body suit. It covers every part of my body except my face, and only because I cut a hole there so I could breathe. Its gold-ness shines brilliantly in the sun and it has enough coverage to keep me warm in the evenings. It’s a full-body, one-piece, gold lamé suit. 

I bought the suit last year for a Halloween costume: I was the golden snitch from Harry Potter. When I thought of the suit sitting in the back of my closet, I knew it was exactly the thing to help me be “deviant” for a night. I slipped on that suit for an evening dinner with my dad and family friends. But before I left I took a self-portrait.

I am a self-portrait photographer, so naturally I take pictures of myself all the time, which is in and of itself a minor deviant act. I would call it a folkway. Sometimes I take photos of myself in public, perhaps intertwined in a shrub or poking my hands through the bars of a fence. The people who see me doing this, I assume, think I’m odd. I assume this mostly because I feel horribly uncomfortable whenever I take self-portraits in public. For art’s sake!

With my gold suit on, I decided to take a self-portrait on the thick railing of my deck. I set up my camera and began taking pictures of myself in various poses. I noticed a neighbor in a building across the way hanging out his window. He was wearing one of those Bernie Sanders many faces shirts and gawking at me. I focused harder on what I was doing. Eventually he yelled, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” (“Taking pictures!”) and “WHAT ARE YOU TAKING PICTURES OF?” (“Myself! Obviously!”). Three minutes later he yelled, “BE CAREFUL!” and I figured I should go back inside. 

I didn’t wear unusual makeup or shoes to dinner because I didn’t want people to assume I was a performer who had just finished a show. First I walked from my apartment on 22nd and Burnside to my dad’s on 15th and Taylor to pick him up. I wondered if by walking by the conservative Multnomah Athletic Club I would get any looks, but I didn’t notice any. Weird. One old man asked me what my outfit was about and if I was going anywhere, to which I ignored my impulse to explain and instead responded, “it’s just me, man!” He told me he liked it. I wondered if I should be concerned. Another thirty-something guy told me he liked my outfit. So far I was getting good feedback. 

As my dad and I walked to the restaurant, people would glance at me nervously, but never stare. What’s wrong with you Portland?! It felt like no one wanted to be impolite, so they would almost avoid looking at me. Was I experiencing disintegrative shaming? Were people silently rejecting me because they thought I was “just another weirdo” walking around Portland?
When we arrived at the restaurant, our friends weren’t there yet, so my dad and I had to sit in the waiting area for fifteen minutes. Barely anyone even gave me a side-eye. Our host acted like she didn’t even noticed what I was wearing. My expectations were being completely blown out of the water. I expected people to label me as a deviant, and maybe they were, but if so it wasn’t very obvious. 

When our friends got there and we sat down, I assumed the waiter would ask me about or comment on my outfit, but he didn’t. In fact, he was one of the nicest waiters I’ve ever had! What was going on? I had made up a whole story in my head about what was going to happen in the restaurant, and pretty much the complete opposite happened. The waiter never did mention my suit and didn’t once look at me with judgment. (Really…) Maybe I should write a gleaming Yelp review. 

My friends told me that when I turned to leave the restaurant, some of the customers let their mouths hang open in shock. There it was: that unknown, of wondering what people would think is what caused me to be nervous about wearing the gold suit to dinner. I labeled myself as a deviant before I even let the community label me. I thought I was a deviant and therefore I was. I knew that if I had witnessed someone wearing a gold suit in a restaurant, I would have some questions.

My dad told me a story. He told me that when he was younger his girlfriend at the time asked him to wear a costume for her company’s Halloween party. My dad chose a wizard’s costume and his girlfriend also dressed up. Before the party, they went to grab coffee at the local coffee house. A wizard’s costume is not over-the-top abnormal like my snitch Halloween costume was. You could mistake a Halloween wizard for a real-life goth or punk. The barista asked my dad what on earth he was wearing and sighed loudly before she exclaimed, “she [my dad’s girlfriend] must be so embarrassed to be with him!” 

It is incredible the control we have over each other. We are social creatures, after all. Taking part in deviant acts leads to being rejected, leads to negative outcomes, such as poverty, drug use, and retreatism. When I wear a gold suit to a restaurant, I am embarrassed but I know I’ll be okay. My support network is vast, and though I might remember the experience as an awkward one, I’ll be able to laugh it off later. For someone who is not as lucky as I am, wearing the gold suit is an everyday experience. No one wants to look at them in the first place, and if they do it’s with disgust. People like that are more likely to see the inside of a cell, to be ostracized by the rich and white, to not have anyone help pull them out of that hole. Patricia and Peter Alder point out how some sociologists theorize that if we didn’t label people as deviants, we would have no moral compass. What is right and what is wrong? Part of me agrees with this. It’s probably necessary to have some definition of right and wrong. But people should be able to take their gold suit off, so to speak. All people deserve that relief.