Ah, kids. Adolescent insults haven’t improved since I was a sullen fifteen-year-old. Walking in a public park recently I passed a group of teenagers whose commentary, “Hey! You! Hey! Are you a man? Hey! Hey you! Are you a man?” was singularly uninspired.
Or at least so I thought. Until a few days later when the young child of a friend asked me the similar question, “Are you a lady?” That’s not even to mention the time a while back when I handed my ticket to an airline attendant who said, “Thank you, sir” as I walked past. In fairness, I’d taken to wearing my hair short. But I was also wearing a dress.
Where is all this gender-bending confusion coming from? I was dressed in distinctly female garb on all three occasions. I admit, I’m taller than the average girl, but I have fairly obvious feminine attributes. Also, for the record, I’m not saying that a dress necessarily makes the wearer a girl, but there’s a simple way you can tell the difference between me and a drag queen: I lack the requisite fabulousness.
Some people might find it refreshing to be asked this question. My genderqueer friends could also probably come up with some pretty interesting, and far from one-word, answers.
However, I work darned hard to look like a girl. It’s not so much the eyeliner and smoothly shaven legs (…well sometimes) that bothers me when they go unnoticed, it’s all the little physical gestures and subtly feminine vocalizations. Most of these are, at this point, unconsciously made by me, but it’s been a lifetime’s work to cultivate them. I’m not doing all this giggling and hair-tossing for nothing, you know.
Perhaps my new young friend wasn’t enquiring about whether or not I am a man. Perhaps she meant “Are you a delicate flower-like princess?” versus “Are you a hardy and outgoing tomboy?” This is a much more difficult question to answer. On the one hand, I do jiu jitsu, and spend rather a lot of time trying to punch people in the nose. On the other hand, I’m also a belly dancer.
You might think these two hobbies could not be more firmly in opposition, but the similarities are really rather striking. Both groups wear special equipment, engage in extensive training and, if you end up in conversation with them, don’t talk about anything else. The first rule of Fight Club may be not to talk about Fight Club, but the first rule of jiu jitsu and belly dancing clubs is that you must talk about them all the time.
In my case the trick is to remember which stories go with which groups of people. The belly dancers, for instance, tend to recoil in horror when I show off my bruises from training. In jiu jitsu these are badges of pride. The jiu jitsu lot, by contrast, tend to show distinct signs of boredom when I go on at length about false eyelashes and how difficult it is to find a decent pair of dancing shoes.
I suppose on reflection that my answer to those confused youths should have been, “No, but I bet I can still break all of your noses,” and to my friend’s young daughter, “No, darling. Ladies live very boring lives tucked away in castles wearing clothes they can’t even breathe in, and they aren’t allowed to talk to anybody. I’m no lady—I’m a fighter, and a dancer.”