It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I walked under the radar and the suited professional asked me to move off to the side – apparently gel and hair “smoothing milk” are considered weapons against humanity when taking a flight on an airplane. As he rummaged through my flannels and chuck tailors, he made small talk about how he works out to avoid having, “no offense, boobs;” because it's simply not sexy to fall outside of the perfect body. Wrapped up in my own internal dialogue on identity, I casually said, “yeah buddy; me too.” As he struggled to rezip my overfilled carry-on bag he looked at me with a smile, and I offered one in return. Swaggering off the smile remained.
The waiting area of the New York airport was chock full of people heading southeast on a balmy Tuesday evening. I sat there uncomfortable. What was it? Maybe it was because I hadn’t seen my family or the city since that hot and humid August day when I packed my car and departed four months prior. But I knew it wasn’t. It was my feet. They were nestled comfortably into a pair of grey boots cut out of suede in to a feminine style. They were loosly pulled over one of my favorite pairs of faded skinny jeans. At that moment they were not me. I felt so out of place, like a costumed character in a bad Christmas play. I rolled my carry-on case to a lonely corner of the USAir wing, located my sneakers and made the switch. I changed my shoes and sighed with relief. I felt so good in my more comfortable genderfree look of jeans and vintage flannel. Moments later I was confident as I stood waiting in line to find my seat on the tiny, overcrowded jet.
When I landed I touched my short hair, now cut into an edgy fauxhawk, and the anxiety crept up from the pit of my stomach and into my face. Flushed, I sent a text to my support: “OMG – I am a huge dyke in my hometown!” It took only seconds to receive, “Awesome babe!,” and “Of course you are honey; what’s wrong?”
My city of three rivers can feel stifling at times when I think about the various cultures that make up my hometown demographics: machismo and feminity reign strong here. Can I walk around rocking the cocked-to-the-side baseball hat and scarf, showing my slim hip bones off like a boy in a town where foundation was built on the sweat of men and the aromas of women? Do I have the right to walk my own path in a place where history has carved out my "purpose" long before I asked it to? Will I be judged for a-line tanks with a bra, instead of v-neck and cleavage? Can I make jokes as I chug beer, legs casually spread apart on the barstool without getting a look from the patrons around me?
Beer in hand I bobbed my head to the booming, yet sultry voice coming from a person no larger than my leg who stood, eyes closed, singing into a microphone on the tiny stage. The room appeared candle lit, and I felt at peace with the radiant variety of skin color around me -- all of us swaying and reflecting on the importance of true hip hop; a communication style that speaks truth to not only our minds but our limbs. Orientation doesnt seem to matter here. Race doesnt seem to matter here. Gender doesnt seem to matter here. Until it does.
The hallway to the bathroom is damn near dim and I'm headed to the stalls when I'm stopped.
"Why do you look like a boy?" He asks me; wrinkles across his otherwise smooth face.
"Excuse me. Um. Why do you," I asked back, adding that I think we should question why we only identify our outward appearence based on historical "purpose."
"Cause I'm a boy, and I can see that you are feminine under all those clothes."
For a second, a wave of fear rippled through my body as I felt the pressure to explain, while also feeling the pressure to turn on my heel and run. I waited. Numbly.
"Are you gay?" He asked next -- not quite accusingly, but almost more assuredly as if all gender-neutral dressers have to be queer. The argument in my mind fell flat as I dribbled out a HELL YES I am, and realized that perhaps I now fit his stereotypical and narrow mind of expression. And then he said it. Like a meat-eaters pompance comment to a vegetarian about how they only need a well-cooked steak to shake them of their custom; as if to say values and morals can be shifted by a well-built grill; a warm summer evening and a bottle of A-1 sauce bought on sale at the local market.
"Maybe you just need a good man" to release and to "re-embrace" the man-pleasing woman inside who is just begging and tearing through my vagina -- waiting for him to hold me and point me in the right direction.
Or maybe, I thought, I just need a good man (or a bunch of men and women and trans folks) to release the heterocentric gender binary and "re-embrace" humanity and insert self and reciprocal love back in to communications; back into relationships; back into love and trust and reality. No matter who we are and what we have between our legs or on our backs.
Instead I shook my head no, and made a jumbled statement about self-determination and individual affirmation, and then politely asked him to not follow me into the restroom.
A couple of days later my head was between the hands of old classmates as I pranced around a crowded, music-less room for my ten year highschool reunion. My hair seems to be a constant point of discussion as many gal pals find bravery and sexiness in my decision to chop it off and be free of conformity. But Im just trying to be me, and I realize one night (back in the my bubble in NYC) that it is super hard to stand out, remain visible, be an educator; while also being private and wrapped up in my growth as I seek out who I am.
In the meantime, my dangly earrings, tights and flats are slowly covered in dust as I button up my size small men's collared shirt in the mirror. I smile, and say hello to my reflection. My friend and gender mentor recently remarked on my height: "It seems like every time I see you, you get taller." I laugh and wonder if that is simply my confidence - perhaps we all stand a bit taller when we are truly good to our souls and those around us.
It reminds me of an email signature I came across in my inbox, of which asked me to remember that somewhere between my soapbox and tears is a person who is working hard to sift through the healthy and not so healthy contradictions:
"Be kinder than necessary
Because everyone you meet is fighting
Some kind of battle"