If you are a member of road crew or a client working with me, you have a wide selection of ways to piss me off. Talk to me like I’m an idiot. Make us unpack and repack portions of the truck because you can’t remember the order of the pack. Argue with me over why you should be allowed to use your clearly-not-up-to-code, very homemade power distribution.
But there is only one surefire way guaranteed to ensure that I will have to grit my teeth and force myself not to stomp on your neck. The fastest, most efficient way to make me hate you is simple: just call me ‘sweetheart’.
And you don’t actually have to stop with sweetheart, either. ‘Honey’, ‘babe’, ‘darlin”, ‘sweetie’…any of them will get you a sharp look and me telling you, “It’s Stephanie, actually.” A second occurrence, and you’ll hear, “My name is Stephanie, don’t call me ‘sweetheart’.” You will also ensure that I fantasize about your death and give you nothing but short, polite-but-curt responses for the rest of the day, or at least until you can prove to me that you’re not a complete asshole. Call me that a third time, and…well, let’s just say that I’m glad there’s never been a third time, because I’m not quite sure what I’d do if someone did.
But I assure you, it wouldn’t be pretty. Or ladylike.
Nothing makes me more furious than when someone on deck calls me by a term of endearment, because regardless of intention, it’s incredibly disrespectful. I get that people often can’t remember my name, and I totally get that; you can pretty much guarantee that on any given day I forgot the road co’s names approximately 15 seconds after we were introduced. But hundreds of other clients and road co have figured out ways to address me without being disrespectful: my name (for one,) Ma’am, Ms, Miss, Captain, Boss, Mate, even, “I’m so sorry, I’ve forgotten your name,” is okay by me. Never ‘honey’, never ‘sweetheart’, never ‘darlin’, and never *’babe.’ It’s especially disrespectful when the client has just introduced themselves to, say, our audio guy and replies with, “How’s it going, sir?” and then turns to me and says, “Nice to meet you, sweetheart.” That is so beyond insulting that it makes me want to spit.
*I have come upon a single exception in the almost-ten years that I’ve been in this industry. I met a road guy once who called everyone ‘babe’. Me, our audio guy, our House Manager, Kyle, the Artistic Director, people above his position, below it, men, women, everyone was ‘babe’. By the very nature of its inclusiveness, I had a hard time finding fault.
I go through life–even outside of work–cringing every time I hear a pet name directed towards me. Unless you are a member of my family or a very, very close friend, I am never happy to be addressed in that manner; I just may not respond with outward vitriol. But I definitely take it as an insult, and it definitely sours our interaction.
Until the other day.
I had my pre-op appointment with my gynological-oncologist last week. She talked me through the exact procedure they’re planning to use, and what risks are involved. They also scheduled my surgery (May 5th,) talked through my pre-op regiment (I won’t go into details, but suffice to say it involves 119 grams of Miralax and Kyle being out of the house for the afternoon,) took some blood for routine pre-surgery blood work, and gave me a chest x-ray.
The entire process had me interacting with almost a dozen different receptionists, doctors, nurses, and technicians. My doctor called me by my name, of course, as did anyone who spoke to me from behind a computer station. But a few of them, particularly the nurse who took my blood and the technician who gave me my x-ray, called me all variety of pet names.
“Okay honey, now you just relax those shoulders and give me a nice deep breath, that’s my girl.”
“Now in just a moment, you’re going to feel a little pinch…right there it is, good job, baby, almost done.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, sweetheart, we’ll take good care of you and get you back to your old self before you know it.”
Unlike every other fucking time in my entire fucking life, being called an endearing name didn’t fill me with hate-rage. Instead, I found it soothing. It made me feel safe and cared-for. So help me god, I actually liked it, which in itself filled me with confusion and a little guilt. Why do I loathe it when someone on deck calls me ‘sweetheart’ but not when a nurse does? And does that make me a hypocrite?
This gnawed at me for a while before I finally figured it out. It all comes down to the perceived position of strength in a relationship. See, terms of endearment are words that we use towards small children. It’s a name that lets the child know that even though they are much smaller than you and you could potentially eat them, you feel enough tenderness towards them that you will protect them; they are safe with you. A pet name communicates something about the user’s views of both themselves and you: that they are in a position of strength and that you are in a weaker position, and they will protect you because you’re in that weaker position. And in the workplace, I don’t need a fucking protector. It doesn’t matter if you’re the parent of a girl in a dance recital, member of a legendary rock band, or the goddamn governor (who, for the record, has been nothing but kind and respectful towards me,) I still expect you to respect me as a professional who knows what the fuck I’m doing and can handle my own shit. Not a fragile creature who needs to be protected.
But in the hospital, preparing for surgery for the first time? I was afraid. I was waaaaay outside of my element, and facing a huge unknown; hell, the most invasive surgery I’ve had up to this point was getting my wisdom teeth out, so this whole process has had a swirl of the terrifying unknown darkening it. In this particular instance, it was reassuring to have a person communicate to me that they were going to take care of me, that they wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me. I wanted a person to be in a position much stronger and knowledgeable than mine. I wanted a person to protect me from my fear. So when the nurse called me ‘baby’ and patted my back, two things that on deck, will get your head detached from your torso? Like a warm blanket fresh out of the dryer, they were.
So much of what has been difficult about this entire experience is that it has shaken so very many of my previous thoughts and beliefs. The way I think about control over my body, the way I think about my reproductive system, the way I view myself as a woman: so much of my beliefs about myself have to be viewed through a different context than previously. And one of these new thoughts that has been hardest to accept is how to reconcile my feelings of vulnerability with the public part of my person. Before I found out about my tumor, vulnerability was a secret part of myself, rarely to be shared or shown. It could be expressed to very close friends and family, maybe even discussed with the public in an abstract way. But it was never to impede my life in any way shape or form, and vulnerability didn’t even exist once my boots hit the deck at work. I’m a fighter who doesn’t flinch and sure as shit doesn’t need someone to take care of me. I got this.
Except that’s not totally true anymore. In very short order, I’ll be physically vulnerable, unable to do things for myself that I used to. I’ll need people to do things for me regardless of how much of a fighter I am, because fighter or no, there’s going to be a hole in my stomach that had to be sewed up. And in addition to the physical vulnerability, there is/will be a fair amount of emotional vulnerability. I’m strong, but the fear that I’m facing is a pretty formidable fucking foe; even though the surgeon is confident that the surgery will be straight-forward and I’ll be completely free of cancer, there’s a small amount of uncertainty, and that’s enough to feed the fear. I’m afraid in a way that I’ve never been before, an intangible but very real way, and it’s made me feel emotionally fragile in ways that I’m not comfortable with. I’m not used to leaning on others–especially strangers–for comfort.
So for now, I will just accept that as part of my physical and emotional healing, I will be doing things that I don’t normally do because right now, that’s what I need. I will be eating a lot of popsicles and frozen chicken potpies, because that’s what I need. I will be letting my coworkers lift all the heavy amps and push all the cases when I initially go back to work, because that’s what I need. And I will find it comforting when the stranger inserting my IV calls me ‘sweetheart.’
Because that’s what I need.