It started out as the perfect evening. My friend DJ invited me out to dinner and suggested that afterwards we could go back to his place and break out the whip cream, if you know what I’m saying. Of course I accepted his invitation with glee.
I should have known right then that this was all too good to be true. Something was bound to come along and sour my evening.
And it did.
It happened after we took our seats at the restaurant. After the waiter asked my dining companion for his drink order, he turned to me and asked, “And what will you be having, Miss?”
In that instant, my perfect evening crapped the bed like Paris Hilton’s recording career. I looked at DJ (who recognized the warning signs that I was about to make a scene and quickly scanned the room for places to duck and cover), swung around, channeled my inner bitch and replied, “Well, I have a dick, thank you very much, but I’d love a Diet Pepsi”.
Needless to say, that kind of beginning promptly signaled the end of my perfect evening. Dinner and drink could not remove the bitter taste from my mouth, and neither could DJ, though God bless his big heart and even bigger bulge for trying. I spent the rest of the evening gesticulating as little as possible, speaking in a voice low enough to give Bea Arthur a run for her money, and secretly pondering whether a steak knife would be sharp enough to hack through my considerable amount of color treated hair.
The next day at lunch, I recounted the whole “Miss” incident to my friends. Their reactions ranged from, “You may be a big queen, honey, but nothing about you screams woman, especially with that five o’clock shadow going on”, which made me laugh, to “Oh, it was a simple mistake. It’s not like he accused you of terrorism”, which made me feel rather silly. But were my feelings about this really that ridiculous? When, whether malicious intent or not, the world at large rattles your identity, wouldn’t you get defensive?
I confess my reaction to this incident was pretty extreme (you think?) and that poor waiter, who I’m sure is a nice enough fella, will probably spend the rest of his life on Prozac and fearing the public because of it. But his “simple mistake” as my friend put it, represents a much bigger problem in this fickle world of ours: the constant need we have to define and label people.
Yes, I have long hair. Yes, I’ve got a rack that most teenage girls (and some grown women, to be perfectly honest) would kill for. And I’m very well aware that I’m about as butch as a poodle wearing a hot pink tutu. But in spite of the gender roles and stereotypes we’ve had drilled into our brains adnauseam, having or expressing a feminine side doesn’t mean I am or want to be a girl. And likewise, being a big, Nellie queen does not make me less of a man. Until called into question, I hadn’t spent a lot of time looking at myself as exclusively one thing or another. I’ve always been just Robby, deifier of many categories. Unfortunately, this planet hasn’t caught up to speed with me yet.
I know I’m not alone in facing society’s idiocy. Quite a few people in the queer community deal with it everyday as well. Too may people believe drag queens really want to be women and that lesbians must really want to be men. I have yet to see any case where this is true, and I watch cable. I can’t even begin to imagine what someone who is or actually has transitioned has to put up with.
The whole concept of having to adhere to specific gender roles and stereotypes because that’s what people are used to and are comfortable with is just so yesterday. Until the day comes that the world starts seeing things with a different set of eyes, I guess I’ll be forced to continue my public finger wagging at these antiquated perceptions and remind people as loudly as I can: storage boxes are for labeling, not people.
And if you’re going to call me something please, for the love of God, at least be accurate.
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Originally published in the June 2008 issue of The Empty Closet, New York State’s Oldest Continuously-Published LGTB newspaper since 1973, through the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.