My androgynous appearance has a funny way of bringing out the worst in some people. Ever since I came out during my senior year of high school and began dressing flamboyantly (or wearing dresses, make-up, etc.), I have frequently encounter harassment from strangers. For the most part, I can cope with it–as I have very supportive friends and family–but I must confess that it does rather get to me, especially when it occurs frequently or when the threats are violent or made by groups of persons. Humor has often been my coping mechanism and it is with a humorous perspective that I see many of the encounters I have had, with special exception to the violent threats I have received.
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A while ago I crossed paths with two young boys who live in my neighborhood. I was on my way to a grocery store when the older of the two called after me, “You look like a guy.” I turned around and replied, “That’s because I am one.” The other boy, in a smart tone, said, “But you’re wearing a purse?!” I replied, with a grin and a flourish of the hand, “That’s because I like it.” Their curiosity seemed to be satisfied and I went on my way.
I have found that my ambiguous appearance (I think my sex is dead obvious but, then again, I have insider information) brings out a peculiar and frequently embarrassing side of people. They gawk, comment, and talk behind my back. It has been a long time since I have felt ashamed, humiliated, or intimidated by these incidents, largely because most of these people apparently have no talent for public ridicule.
When I was active on public social networking websites (you-know-where) I would receive nasty insults by private message. One writer compared my appearance to Michael Jackson’s but I fail to recognize the resemblance. After all, I have a larger nose.
Others have called out to me from their moving cars, rendering their intended insults rather weak and inaudible. It is very difficult to feel threatened or even insulted when my offender comes and goes in a flash. On one occasion a Spanish-speaking woman called out, “puta,” a word which means “whore.” I’m not sure why she assumed I would know the language but she is fortunate that I at least knew that one; otherwise her message would have gone nearly unnoticed and possibly misunderstood as mad ravings.
Those who have chosen to speak behind my back, oftentimes on the bus, attempt to discuss my sex covertly. They lean in to each other and whisper, making a scene of themselves as they attempt swift glances back at me or as they pass me in the aisle. It amazes me how much people will say as long as they think they are unheard. My partner has given stern looks to several bus gawkers and talkers. One woman even approached me after taking a series of photographs of me with her camera phone (I would have said something if I had only known for certain that she was photographing me) and asked me if I had any tampons. I politely responded with an informative, “No.”
There was even one occasion where I was insulted directly over the phone. A man who messaged me online gave me his phone number. Curious, I decided to give him a call and when he answered all that he said was, “Don’t call me again you fucking fag.” I did as he bid me, which was fine by me anyway, and proceeded to write his number on bathroom stall walls whenever the opportunity arose. Nowadays I would never do this but at the time it amused me immensely.
Still, of all the perplexed people I have encountered, those I find the funniest are those men who look bewildered when they see me leaving the men’s restroom and have to check the door again before they can enter with their senses intact. Attendants at Ross have consistently called after me as I casually enter the men’s fitting room, frantically informing me that I am going the wrong way. I am not at all upset by this and will gladly use the women’s facilities but it can become a bit annoying being frequently told I don’t know where I am going.