“Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.”
– John C. Maxwell
Go to the Back!
It had been a long morning of learning and conversations and classes at the conference center. But now it was time for lunch.
We walked into the ballroom. On the left side of the room was a long line of tables piled with boxed lunches. Each table offered the same three options: turkey sandwich, a vegetable wrap, or a sub sandwich. We were told to pick up a box, then find any other table in the ballroom to sit and eat.
With one caveat.
The catering woman in charge of herding us through the line told us, “Don’t pick up a box from the first few tables.” She wanted everyone to start at the back table.
And she was having a hard time making that happen.
Yet she tried. As we entered the room, she yelled, “Go to the back of the room to get your box! Go to the back of the room!”
Of those who heard her, we did what she said. The food was all the same, and what’s a few more steps?
But one woman in front of me missed hearing the direction. I saw her pick up a boxed turkey sandwich from the first table.
And the catering woman became furious. She yelled at the woman with the box,
“Put that back! Put that back! Don’t take that! Go to the back of the room to get your box!”
I was in shock as I watched and listened. You don’t usually hear people yelling like this at friendly volunteers in a food line at a nice conference.
It lit something inside me. How did I want to respond?
First, I wanted to give the poor woman in front of me a hug as she was getting yelled at. But second, I wanted to grab a boxed lunch from the first table myself.
Pidgeon’s Lack of Choice
Something inside us doesn’t like to be bossed around. We want to make our own decisions when possible. We don’t like arbitrary rules that artificially take away our possibilities.
We have an innate human desire for choice and autonomy.
Maybe that’s one reason that the memoir Nobody Needs to Know struck a chord with me. It’s a newly published book by Pidgeon Pagonis. In it, Pidgeon tells how their life’s trajectory was changed when doctors made body-altering choices for them when they were young.
When Pidgeon was born, they had genitalia that was neither clearly all-male nor all-female. So the doctors chose female as the assigned gender. Over time, they performed a series of cosmetic surgeries on Pidgeon, unbeknownst to them.
As Pidgeon aged, they were given female hormones yet told they would never have a period or be able to bear children because of a previous childhood cancer. But it wasn’t true; Pidgeon had not had childhood cancer. Pidgeon had been born intersex.
Pidgeon’s book is the story of how the story unraveled, bit by bit, truth by truth, as they began to understand the implications of the choices that had been made for them, without their consent.
Pidgeon now works to encourage doctors to hold off on cosmetic surgeries for intersex babies, allowing everyone time to adjust to their bodies and make informed decisions for themselves as they get older instead of having those decisions made for them when they’re too young to understand.
In reading Pidgeon’s story, I’m like the older white gentleman Pidgeon writes about in the book:
“An older white gentleman who looked like he was someone’s father, asked if he could shake my hand. ‘Thank you so much for sharing your story,’ he said. ‘I never knew about what intersex people endured before today. You opened my eyes.'”
Pidgeon opened my eyes, too.
Recognize Whose Choice It Is
Back at the ballroom-turned-cafeteria that day at lunch, while I wanted to rebel and pick up a box from the first table, I resisted. I did as I was told; I walked to the back of the room to get my meal. I didn’t want to break the rules or make anybody’s job any harder that day for absolutely no reason.
I still got to choose between the three options for lunch, after all. It was a very, very minor thing.
But not all decisions are that minor. And not everyone is given a choice.
One lesson I learned from Pidgeon’s story in Nobody Has to Know is this:
When possible and appropriate, allow people to make their own choices.
Let them have autonomy in their lives, just as I want autonomy in my life.
Granted, when we humans are allowed to make our own choices, we may occasionally make some bad ones. But even then, we’re more likely to learn and grow from those bad choices than if we had been enslaved to have no choice at all.
Recognize what choices are yours to make, and what choices are others to make.
Let’s not mix up the two.
My thanks to NetGalley for the
review copy of Nobody Has to Know
- On the Blog—October 2023
- If It’s Only Temporary, Is It Worth It?