Tales of a wandering lesbian

Yes Ma’am

Okay, I’m in a ranting mood today.  I apologize up front.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to being called “sir”.  It’s not that it’s too formal, or anything.  It’s just that I’m a woman.  And generally I’m not all that concerned about the gender thing.  I mean, okay, if I’m dating you I care, but other than that, I’m not too concerned.  But, for some reason, people I don’t know are terribly concerned with the gender question.  I know it’s not their individual faults, necessarily.  I’m sure there’s a social norm that I’m violating that dictates the way some people react to me.  I guess that makes me gender-nonconforming.  I guess.  Who knows?  I don’t try to be difficult, you know.

And I want to say up front, no, I don’t think it’s just the hair.  I don’t know if this is an experience unique to lesbians, or short-haired women, or women with a certain energy/sensibility, but it doesn’t seem to depend on the length of my hair, in any case.  I get far more compliments when I have a shaved head than I get “sirs,” but they still sting.  And I’m not sure what it is that is more stinging, the fact that the airport smoothie clerk thinks I’m a man or the fact that she cares.

Honestly, it happens much less often than it used to.  I used to correct people.  I got to a point where I could smile and in a Zen-like state engage in a conversation about gender-norms.  I’m not there anymore.  Maybe I’m just out of practice.  I’d like to get back there.  It’s a much more healthy place.  But I feel like something snapped.  I remember when it happened.

I was walking into a Wal-Mart, something I very, very rarely do.  I was working, and I had to pick up a donation check.  I’d put myself in the best mood possible for the venture (I don’t like going into Wal-Mart for a variety of reasons), but in the parking lot someone turned my smile upside-down.   I’m someone who tries to smile at everyone I meet.   My family is often warning against this.  But I like to engage people – to make their day better in the smallest, simplest of ways.  Unfortunately, not everyone has the same goals.

I saw the woman walking toward me from about 20 yards away.  She was coming out of the store with a full basket – and her mouth gaping open.  I fixed a smile on my face and looked at her warmly.  After all, we were neighbors of sorts, living in the same town.  As she drew closer, she actually aimed her cart in my direction, apparently caught in my tractor beam.  Her mouth was wide open, and she was unabashedly staring.

Now, I AM quite beautiful, so I’m used to being stared at.  But this woman didn’t seem to be stunned by my striking good looks.  In fact, she seemed horrified.  I tried to keep the smile on my face as she slowed down and turned her head as she passed, now about a foot away from me, craning around to look at me.  I maintained eye-contact and said something like “hi” or “good morning”.  Evidently, that was what she was waiting for:

“I’m just trying to figure out if you’re a man or a woman.”  It wasn’t said with malice.  But it was also more than mere curiosity.  I tried to tell myself that it was okay, at least she was honest, but I was totally thrown by the fact that she’d said it out loud.  I’m used to having kids ask their parents, “is that a boy or a girl?”  Those conversations are easy.  I just answer the question and ask the kid the same thing.  Usually they smile, think about it and tell me, and then we’re best friends.

But this, a grown woman gaping at a stranger and declaring that she wanted to know my gender was unnerving.  Why did it matter to her?  And how could she not tell?  “I’m a woman, thanks.”  I probably could have been more gentle, but I was shaking.

“I was just wondering!”  Came the retort.  I considered the fact that I was there on business; that I was wearing company logos; and that I have a general policy to be kind to anyone who asks questions of this sort.  I find I can answer pretty much any question from someone about my sexual orientation, no matter the motivation or the language used, but when it comes to gender, my patience is much more thin.  I really wonder why that is.

This must be something that people going through transition from one gender to the other deal with every day.  It must be incredibly trying.  Or maybe, like answering orientation questions for me, they grow used to it.  I don’t know if there are a lot of people who deal with this, or who choose to think about it much.  Although it gets me all riled up, It’s pretty fascinating to me.

I know that for most kids, gender is really interesting, and important.  “Is that a boy or a girl?” is a useful shorthand.  It’s a box to put someone in so you know what kind of birthday present to get – truck or doll.  But it does more than that, too.  Checking one box or another means it’s okay to wear a skirt, or it’s okay to have a certain haircut.  It means it’s okay to cry, or not.  And for some reason, we really seem to care which box a stranger has checked, even if it’s so that we can choose the correct greeting.  Or maybe it’s just me.

Every time someone calls me “sir” I bristle, which must mean that I’m not so evolved that it doesn’t really matter to me.  And maybe that’s what bothers me most.  I’m just as guilty.  What does it matter, really, if someone thinks I’m a man?  I think I’m beautiful and intelligent and super-charming.  I am incredibly proud of the woman I am.  This is the conclusion I come to after every “sir” incident.  Maybe next time I can smile, gently correct the other person and be grateful for the moment of contemplation that I know will follow.  Or maybe I’ll start shaking and run off to blog about it.  Either way, really.

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1 Alycia { 01.21.10 at 9:18 am }

I’ve been reading your blog since the beginning — enjoying it silently. This post made me decide to reject my status as a lurker and finally comment! I heard my own voice in every one of your words! The realization that a simple SIR can’t break our elusion of evolution. Oh well — gender norms are boring! Guess we have to keep evolving…
Thanks for keeping me laughing.

2 KFlick { 01.21.10 at 10:54 am }

Thanks Alycia. Your comments on my writing always come at just the right time. 🙂

3 Ask a Gay – Gender | Mid Leap { 04.30.10 at 1:06 pm }

[…] The questions surrounding gender identity and gender expression are fascinating, and ever-shifting.  I am by no means an expert on the subject, but it’s something I consider on a regular basis.  Usually when I get called “sir.” […]