Gender Paradox: A Life is the title of my memoir. Below is the first part of a four part excerpt. I look forward to your feedback in the comments, and thank you! (Read Part 1 | Read Part 2 | Read Part 3 | Read Part 4)
A few bright and kind women told me that they liked hanging out with me dressed this way. Men stopped staring at them and hitting on them. I was like the prize in the cracker jack box. They had a female friend who had super butch powers to thwart the evil glances and predatory stares of men. Somehow they thought me still safe.
That safety? Rather a lie on my part. Truth be told I possessed a bad temper. I picked fights and attacked the jugular with a verbal knife. An ex-girlfriend could have ticked a few boxes on a “are you being abused” checklist.
I induced fear in a woman as a singular person. A woman may have gazed upon me in horror (‘what are you?”) but never terror. Being and living as a woman in and of itself generated no sense of threat to a woman unknown to me.
What happened that day on the elevator was simple and correct. The diminutive African-American woman correctly read me as a man. Her reaction to me reinforced my emerging masculinity.
In my fantasies about becoming a man I neglected to the tick the box that reads “all women will probably fear you, even when you are a stranger.” I had read in my women’s studies classes that women feared men in general.I had no frame of reference for that behavior. As a woman I did not fear men.
I did not sign up for this. I wanted the nicer, quieter, hotter masculinity of GQ models and endless make out sessions with women. in an instant her look of terror crushed those fantasies. I had signed up for the masculinity that made me feel comfortable in my body for the first time, comfortable all the time, everywhere; not the masculinity that induced fear in strangers, not the masculinity that forever cut me off from a tribe of people I had belonged to for thirty years.
That she correctly read me as a man by embodying terror now sickens me and saddens me. Saying this, of course, ties in to a defining feature of relationships between men and women, relationships that are complicated further by race and ethnicity and class: fear and threat of sexual terror. If I thought women had been bluffing about feeling fear towards and about men, that woman in the elevator called the bluff and raised with a dose of reality that still takes my breath away.