September 15, 2012
Don't Feed the Animals
Some background: I was a zookeeper over the summer, and gave shows with assorted reptiles to the masses who…well, were more interested in the work of the Swamp Brothers than Steve Irwin. Needless to say, I was used to getting a thousand and one questions every day related to how to kill something, how deadly something was, or how good it was with a side of gravy. I usually dealt with hecklers at my crowded shows by ignoring them, which usually worked. Not so much one day.
A man I’d predict was in about his 40s or 50s stood up and started shouting at me as I carried around my snake du jour.
I ignored the outburst, not really getting what the guy was after. Yeah, everyone on staff wore somewhat androgynous clothing, but the girls wore pastel green shirts that were cut differently than the guys’. I continued my spiel, though the heckler decided he wasn’t through.
“You shouldn’t be wearing shorts! Those are MEN’S clothing!”
I probably rolled my eyes at that. What, and catch alligators in a full-length skirt in the summer heat? I don’t think so. Obviously, heckler dude was getting mad by now since I wasn’t reacting, so he switched tactics.
“You shouldn’t be a zookeeper! You’re doing a MAN’S job! You are an abomination to the Lord!”
The 200 person audience froze in silent shock as everyone turned to look at this guy. This man had interrupted me three times. Three strikes. Everyone knew that meant I had to do something.
I suppose that day I had a rare moment of insight, because I think I handled it well. I didn’t shout at the guy, just let the microphone carry my voice-which, strangely, didn’t even change tone from the show voice I was using:
“Well, I don’t know, but I think God would be more offended by me not using my talents than by wearing
I radioed the other staff, and as the man was escorted from the park by security, I got the third standing ovation of my life in what was probably one of my finest moments.
Anyway, that happening sent me thinking: we’ve come a long way in gender stereotypes in the last fifty years, if I feel at home (and am generally accepted while) doing what might have been once considered a man’s job. I’d be interested to know in what ways the Duke LGBTQA community breaks traditional gender roles every day, even if it wasn’t as consequential as what happened to me.