I CAME out at work as unvaccinated yesterday. It was in response to a challenge to my statement that I needed to self-isolate after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid and therefore could not attend a work function. I had been dreading revealing this but thankfully received no looks of disapproval. I rather wonder if it is similar to coming out as gay several decades ago, and fearing the reaction from family and friends.
Apparently at gay establishments it is taboo for heterosexual couples to smooch at the bar in front of everyone. The patrons don’t mind seeing a mixed gendered couple, but the flaunting of heteronormativity is considered distasteful. I witnessed this phenomenon the other evening at a well-known watering hole in Soho, when a glamorous mixed-race straight couple glided in and started making out at the bar. The looks of disdain sent a clear message, particularly on a cut-price drinks night with a crowd there to get their money’s worth.
I am not likening the struggles of the early openly gay communities of 1970s New York and London to those of the unvaccinated. Au contraire, this should be a teddy bears’ picnic compared with their plight. Nor am I trying to devalue the statement which that couple may have been trying to make in combating racism by openly expressing their mutual attraction.
What I am trying to say is that there is a time and a place for everything. You don’t go into a gay bar as a straight person without respecting the lie of the land. Just like people at work have finally figured me out (at least somewhat), that I will not be coerced into the shot, and know instinctively not to push it any further. They don’t perhaps fully grasp that I am willing to go to the wall. I have a large collection of Ascot hats that may never see the light of day again, nor may I ever get to attend Wimbledon. Friends’ invitations to exotic locales such as Fiji will have to be declined. My options are becoming more limited. So be it.
To face with open eyes the possibility of becoming a pariah of society, however daunting, does not seem so much of a challenge now. I can deal with an ever-shrinking world, and there are bright spots such as the odd poetry jam or drinks at the pub where nobody gives a hoot about your vaccination status. Certainly they don’t ask at the nail salon, the sauna or the sunbed where they want your cash, they just throw you a towel and you’re off.
But again the analogy with coming out as gay seems relevant. For as far as I’m aware, most saunas welcome gays, as do most beauty salons (and have done for some time). When the Aids epidemic surfaced in the 1980s I do remember some paranoid crazies saying not to touch anything and to disinfect your hands after having your hair done by a gay person, but those loony tunes were few and far between. Though you might say the hand-wringing should stop and having ‘come out’ we should just get on with it, it’s in the more formal aspects of societal participation where non-vaccination really now does curtail your life chances, in a way that gays were never so openly discriminated against (or not since the late 1960s). Health or travel insurance or even life insurance cover, or whether you can give blood. Work events spring to mind and even in some companies it is a prerequisite for returning to the office. If you are an unvaccinated care worker, there’s government-mandated active discrimination. US news abounds with reports of Federal and business employment vaccine mandates.
Furthermore we are besieged daily by the mainstream news with articles blaming the unvaccinated for ‘society’ not being able to return to normal, and attempting to explain our ‘hesitancy’ in ever more derisory if not abusive ways. The New York Times is a particularly vehement source, rife with preachy pieces such as this harrowing account about how the unvaccinated are putting us all in mortal danger.
This article referring to New York admits that ‘only 42 per cent of African Americans of all ages (and 49 per cent among adults) are fully vaccinated – the lowest rate among all demographic groups tracked by the city’.
But no – this is not down to poverty or to race as is implied. It’s down to choice and the deep distrust many of us, right across the social and ethnic board, have of the State and its intentions.