The most uncomfortable five minutes of my life? That’s easy. That time I put my pants on backward, you might ask? Not even close...
At an unspecified time in the past, I was at a function that had an icebreaker component. The deal was you were to find someone you didn’t know and chat with them for five minutes. After that time you were in charge of introducing them to the group. Due to my position in the room, my choice of fellow attendees to interview was made for me, and I ended up with a puzzle.
Normally it would not be too difficult a task to chat with someone for a while and then introduce them to a group. It becomes very difficult all of a sudden, however, if you cannot figure out whether you are talking to a man or a woman.
I am 6’-1” tall, with a beer belly and male-pattern baldness, so I assume my counterpart had me pegged as male right away. Plus, my name is Marc. I, on the other hand, was talking with Pat. Or Chris. Or Jamie. Certainly not Jennifer or Chuck.
Everything was inconclusive. Nothing was definite.
Voice was right in the middle octaves and easily attributed to either sex. A little deep for a woman. A little effeminate for a man. Too close to call.
Clothes were loose-fitting and androgynous.
Jewelry was minimal. Subdued for a woman, far too much for a man (in my opinion), but not out of the question these days.
Tall for a woman, but not too tall. Average height for a man.
Firm hand shake. That tells me nothing.
Large hands and feet for a woman, but again, not crazy.
Slim build. No specifically-identifying bulges in any of the hemispheres.
No facial hair. Close shave or actually no facial hair? Can’t tell.
Mannerisms? Womannerisms? I can’t tell.
Eighties hair, like a cross between Bruce Jenner and Cagney and Lacey, parted in the middle, feathered and inconclusive. (Either way, man or woman, not a good look in the hair department.)
No stories using the phrases “my husband,” or “my wife,” or “I am a man,” which would have been very helpful.
It is hard for me to fully describe my extreme discomfort at this point. I am having an internal conniption fit while trying to remain calm and friendly and amicable on the outside. I am trying to carry on a normal, polite conversation, all the while searching for another metric I can observe that will answer the big question, and desperately struggling to come up with a conversation-appropriate question that could land me an answer.
“Have you ever given birth?” or “Have you had your prostate checked recently?” just wouldn’t fit comfortably into the conversation. There was no time to invite them to visit the restrooms with me, and frankly, that’s awkward either way.
I thought very seriously about pulling a Crocodile Dundee and just checking, but I didn’t really want to be removed from the event in handcuffs.
Now, in most any other situation, you really wouldn’t need to know for sure if someone was male or female, but keep in mind, I needed to introduce this person to the crowd. Pronouns had suddenly become the biggest problem in my life.
“This is Pat. They are excited to be here” just doesn’t work well.
“This is Pat. Pat loves Chinese food. Pat’s favorite Chinese place is only two blocks from Pat’s house. Pat’s hometown is Kansas City, where Pat lives with Pat’s family.”
You see my problem.
Oh, holy crap, the event host just called time and asked us to wrap up our conversations. I have gone completely brain-dead. Panic has taken over. I am sweating from the top of my head.
“Who would like to start?”
Not me, I can tell you that!
A few people volunteer. I envy each and every one of them for their easily-identifiable partner. My unclassified counterpart forces the issue and volunteers us next. We stand up and he or she introduces me to the crowd, with the luxury of confidently using “he” in the long and eloquent sentences.
It is down to the wire. My turn. The bottoms of my feet are sweating. I can’t hear anything, because my blood has become very loud for some reason in my ears, which are also sweating.
I still have absolutely no idea. I can’t just guess.
I make a last-second decision to go with a verbal bullet point format.
“This is Pat.
Hometown: Kansas City.
Favorite food: Chinese.
Favorite sports team: Royals.
Dislikes: Wind and rain.”
I fell back into my chair. Pat sat back down, looking at me with an expression that suggested he or she thought I might have shortchanged their introduction. I didn’t care. Wave after wave of pure unadulterated relief washed over me. I had made it through the last five minutes of my life and lived to tell the tale.
Sure, I sounded like a category-five tool, but at least I avoided being “the guy who thought that nice lady was a dude.”
A word to the wise – If you ever end up at a function that has an introduction icebreaker activity… just leave.
See you soon,
Copyright © 2015 Marc Schmatjen
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