Passing for Them

7 Feb

Every now and then I run across something written that so describes how I feel that it literally shakes me to my core. A while ago, I read a piece called The Art of Passing for Them, written by a poet named Mary Stewart Hammond. It was on the back page of the New York Times Book Review.



The piece resonated with me so because I’ve often been in the same place. She describes a charitable gala (as a non-paying guest) sitting next to a person, a “real donor” and the one-way convo included:

His/her golf game

His/her tennis game

His/her academic background

His/her wine cellar

His/her favorite ski slopes

His/her gifted children

Now, my friends know that I am a pretty gifted conversationalist. My friend Eleanore, a closet introvert, says that I can have a conversation with a stump. The reality is that I am genuinely interested in people. I like to hear their stories. What I struggle with though are people who are self-involved to the point where they never stop talking about themselves to inquire about another person, either with genuine or pretend interest. I enjoy discovering people who are counter to what they appear to be, which is pretty much most of us, but getting beyond the surface is often not done. I like nothing more than the discovering someone is more than just his/her list. When the reveal happens and soulful side appears, I want to applaud.

In the piece Mary Stewart Hammon says she doesn’t reveal that she’s a poet because she understands that once she does she knows what will happen. It happens all the time when talking to Them. She’ll say she’s a writer, but again, knows what’s going to come next.

“What kind of writer?”

She’ll say, a sportswriter, figuring it’s familiar enough to Them, but now Them is interested and a discussion of a range of sports ensues. She doesn’t share that she’s a poet because she understands that in this crowd, this is not understood. She feels like she has to explain that she’s not a girly poet and that she’s not weird or neurotic.

“Poets are just regular, normal, neurotic human beings, who according to the latest survey are even more stable than fiction writers, yet everybody loves to sit next to fiction writers. They could have a best-seller in their laptops, meaning money, and money means some way of valuing what they do sitting home alone all day.”

My memoir is a lot about breaking free of the Them, of the Them in me. It’s about feeling good about my choice (actually I feel like it’s not a choice–its just the way I was born) to not be a part of Them. To, as my friend Carmen says all the time, stand in my truth. Of course first that means you have to know what that is and that’s probably the first problem: Most people don’t know who they are so by default become Them.

I think Mary Stewart Hammond and I have had a similar problem with passing. We look like Them, so it’s easy to mistake us. WE have a lot of the same stuff, go on vacation to a lot of the same places, have kids who know each other. But…

For me becoming a grown ass woman has meant owning all my stuff and not apologizing for it. There are times when I just don’t want to go to your party or out to dinner or certainly not to your gala. Do I have other plans? Yup, I want to lie on my couch. I need idle–for me it is divine. It is necessary. It is oxygen.

I’ve ended a few friendships because those former friends were simply too much–no  off-switch. They were quite successful, worked hard, socialized non-stop. I liked these women, but the 24-hour drive made me jumpy and ultimately bitchy. I can become irritated fairly easily by too much stimulation that is not intellectually gratifying. It puts me in a bad mood. Noise. I really don’t like to be bitchy. I came to understand, that for at least one of them, her on-switch was how she survives. Turning inward would put her in a sad place, she once said, from which she might not recover. I was too much work for her. I’m too melancholy. I can’t just show up, won’t, if I don’t feel like it. I don’t want to just talk about things that don’t enhance some understanding of who we are, the human condition, the struggles we  face, the things that really bring us joy, fear, sadness, inspiration.

So now there are times when I feel the absence of such high-octane friends, but I make a point to spend time with people who aren’t Them. The ones who are living their truth out loud and providing space for which we can all be WE. I am grateful.


7 Responses to “Passing for Them”

  1. Jennifer February 8, 2016 at 4:18 am #

    I received a tweet about Sweet Honey in the Rock’s new album, they were singing living out loud, loving out loud, listening out loud and laughing out loud. Your tweet was next saying “The ones who are living their truth out loud and providing space for which we can all be WE ” I don’t believe in coincidences, a little inspiration can change your day, or your life.


    • Benilde Little February 8, 2016 at 3:21 pm #

      Thanks for sharing that Jennifer and for reminding me of the fabulous Sweet Honey in the Rock. I too believe in synchronicity. Namaste

  2. Bernadette February 8, 2016 at 4:00 pm #

    thanks much!

  3. Mary Stewart Hammond April 25, 2016 at 12:18 am #

    Benilde Little. I’m only just seeing this, but thank you so much for what say. To be understood is one of the most important gifts anyone can give another.

    Wishing you the best and lots of nourishing alone time,

    Mary Stewart Hammond

    • Benilde Little April 25, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

      Dear Mary,
      So thrilled to hear from you–didn’t expect it. When I first read your piece last year, I literally vibrated with familiarity and to reach out to you right then. I don’t remember what happened, other than I couldn’t find a contact for you. My post got so many responses–not all on my blog, but emailed or on Facebook. I will look for your other work and maybe you’ll look at mine. All best…

  4. Rochelle Hill April 25, 2016 at 11:51 am #

    Hi Benilde,

    Yes, yes and more yes. Thank you. I, like your friend, the poet have been “there” more than I can count. I swam in so many seas with different types and sizes of fish–from the womb until today. From Harlem brownstones, to OakBluffs on The Vineyard (where I took my very first steps and learned how to walk on Town Beach) to the UES (upper east side of Manhattan for elemantary and junior high school) to the UWS (upper west side of Manhattan for private high school) to Litchfield, CT for sleepaway camp to Jack and Jill to Thailand on vacay–all of that with “Them,” around, “Them,” or chatted about these experiences with “Them.” I decided, on a milestone birthday, that I would be authentic, true and somebody with “zero fux given,” as the modern colloquialism goes. Or as Coco Chanel said a long time ago, “How many cares someone loses when someone decides not to be something but to be someone.”

    Thanks, again. It’s nice to know others, like you and your poet friend, have similar experiences.

    Warm regards,
    Rochelle Hill

    • Benilde Little April 25, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

      This post got so many amazing responses–including yours. Thank you. I’m so glad to meet other members of my tribe. Wonderful meeting you at yesterday’s bruch. Thanks for coming and for your support. All best…

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