On the heels of my previous post, I had a day that ran the entire gamut of responses to my appearance. Pull up a chair, dear reader, and allow me to share with you what the full range of reactions to my fuzzy self looks like.
It started when I was headed to my favorite comic book store in Santa Monica. I was in kilt, as I am wont to be on weekends, and waiting for a connecting bus at one of the local bus stations when an older lady approached me as she was passing by.
“Are you a Scottish boy?” she asked.
For the sake not having to explain the complexities of my family history (which does, in fact, include some Scottish ancestry) or appearance, I nodded and said “Yes, ma’am.”
She asked about the tartan, and then winked at me and asked if any of the ladies had tried to steal a peek. I blushed and replied “no, ma’am, not lately.” She laughed and smiled, and then went on her way.
Later in the afternoon, after collecting my pulls and perusing the new items at the comic store, I carried my stack to the front counter and waited for one of the clerks to make his way over.
“Are you ready to check out, sir?” one of them asked as he approached.
I turned and smiled and said “Yep, I’m all set.”
I could see his brain pull up short as he stuttered and apologized and started to call me “ma’am”. I smiled and shook my head and said “It’s alright, don’t worry about it.” And that was that.
Right after leaving the shop, I ducked into a fast food joint to grab something cold to drink. As I was standing in the lobby and waiting for my order to come up, I was approached by an older man. I suspected he might have been homeless, given his appearance and smell (beer, body odor, and piss). Still, I tried to be polite and when he burbled “Hey, where you from, maaan?” I replied “Santa Monica”.
He snorted and hissed through his teeth and said “Nawww. You’re pulling my leg. No way. I thought you were from Norway or somethin’…with that beard of yours.”
Still trying to be polite, I shook my head, said “nope”, and moved to another part of the lobby. He shuffled after me and kept talking, loud enough for everyone in the place to hear:
“God damn! God DAMN, I can’t figure out what that is!”
“…Hey, c’mon. You lick parking meters? You ever kiss a vending machine? Shiiit… C’mon, you gotta let loose!”
“I dunno whether to kiss you or fight you!”
The place was crowded, so there wasn’t much of anywhere to retreat. I didn’t respond to him any further, hoping he would get bored and shut up, but no such luck. Nobody else in the place wanted to get involved, of course. I was glad when my order was up and I could take my drink and leave. On the way out, a younger gentleman sitting nearby got my attention and said “Hey, that guy…what a dick.” I nodded and smiled at the young man, then left.
The first two occurrences are pretty common for me. The second moreso than the first (though I will add that people are often more flustered by my lack of offense at being mistaken for the wrong gender than the expect me to be for being mistaken in the first place). The first happens very rarely, but I have no problem smiling and nodding and just going along with it. I know full well that I have a very ambiguous appearance, and don’t mind or take offense at being taken for a man, and sometimes it’s just more convenient to roll with a total stranger’s “mistake”.
The third, occurrence, however… I can say with all honesty that that was the first time I have ever experienced such a verbal dressing-down by someone over my appearance, let alone in such a public place. I have no doubt that people whisper behind my back, and I don’t much care. But being riffed on so openly, unabashedly, and in public was a genuine first. The only thing that bothered me, though, was a concern that the guy might have been drunk enough to make the matter a physical one.
I did, for the briefest of moments, contemplate shaving off my muttonchops as soon as I got home. But then I returned to my senses. Forget that guy. This isn’t about him. It’s about me, and being comfortable in my own skin. I was put in mind of a quote from an essay by S. Bear Bergman:
…and perhaps most of all I want to be queer, visibly queer, several bubbles off gender and tilting fast. I want the outlaw I am to get a public hearing, a public viewing, and to have a chance to speak for hirself.
As much as masculinity is comfortable on me, as much as there are moments when being a man is convenient or satisfying, I have invested a lot of time and energy in making the world a safer place for queers and I am not ready to be finished with that work yet. Going out in the world as a masculinely gendered, female-bodied person, as a butch, creates a kind of queer visibility that I could never approach as Sir.
I haven’t invested as much time and energy as much as Bergman by a long shot, but I’d like to. I think daring to be unashamed of my own existence is a good start.