A few weeks back, I was verbally harassed on a MUNI train. I was a woman in a suit and he took issue with that. Names were called, slurs were used, and it was an unpleasant few minutes.
Just had to get that out there up top. I've been trying to write about this in a way that would do what I'm trying to say justice for a while, with little success. I think part of the reason why I haven't been able to get into it is that...well, I wasn't allowing myself to get into it. I danced through some preambles, trying to introduce things a little more gently - why, I don't know. It was not a gentle thing. So forget the dance. There it is. That's what happened.
I'm a woman who loves menswear. I'm also a woman who loves women. And men - with less frequency at this particular point in my life, but certainly often enough to mention. All of these things are not mutually exclusive, but they are all true. I mention them in the same breath because, within the confines of my own personal story, I wasn't able to embrace one until I was honest about the other.
The guy on the train was part of the reason why.
For better or for worse, style can affect how a person is defined. We (in the general sense of "we") rarely expect traditionally feminine women to be gay, for example. A whole new term was created - metrosexual - to reframe the perception of fashion forward straight men.
Because of this, I knew - both subconsciously and, in that last little stretch of time before I came out, consciously - that if I looked the way I wanted to, dressed the way I wanted to, my orientation would be questioned by some people. Probably not as many as I thought - that was what I like to call Closet Logic. But. I wasn't ready for that.
About three months before I came out, I started tentatively pushing at the edges of my interest in menswear. It was bow ties that did it - I wanted so much to learn how to tie them and wear them. Once I did, I couldn't stop. I'd found my gateway to style, and the rest of my look slowly began to take shape - clumsily, at first. I was learning. That I had friends old and new who were being so supportive of the choices I was making counted for a lot - it was a shot of confidence that kept me going when I got nervous about trying some new things.
Full disclosure, I love learning new things. I don't love acknowledging that I don't know everything, nor that there are people around me who know better. Yeah. It's a process.
Coming out and getting settled in that really stepped things up. Without the paranoia-laced hindrance of Closet Logic, I don't second (third and fourth) guess my choices. How I present myself is up to me and me alone, and as such, I've had more fun playing with clothes and hair and make up than I ever thought I would. Because, turns out, I love clothes, guys. Love them. I take actual joy in them. I just didn't love the traditionally feminine options I'd been presented with for so long.
Now, here's the thing: I'm incredibly lucky for so many reasons, not the least of which is that I live in the bastion of freedom and self-expression that is San Francisco. While I had a lot of personal identity struggles, it would be hard to name many safer places for a young white cis woman to figure herself out and ultimately look the way I do. I just cited a lot of privilege, and that's not something I lose sight of. Ever.
The guy who took issue with me on the train was not the first to have something to say about how I look, but he was the most aggressive. Still, because of who and where I am, he was an anomaly. I'm privileged as hell that I get to say that. There are places in this country, in this state even, where it would not be safe for me to look the way I do. Where it's even less safe to be another race, to be trans, to be anything or anybody outside of the norm. Where the options are either deny yourself, risk abuse, or leave.
The point of me talking about this isn't to say poor me - I'm fine. 100%. In the time that's passed, I've cut my hair shorter and decided to try some new suspenders. The point is to ask why.
Why, in 2016, do we feel it is still acceptable to view others as, "less than," so much so that we would deny them the space to exist? Why do we feel comfortable equating discrimination with protection? What, exactly, are we protecting? Why is inflexibility and closed-mindedness so noble?
Why is being different the worst possible offense?
The short answer is, of course, power and fear. Dress it up however you'd like, but that's the only explanation for someone looking to actively restrict the rights of another person rather than saying, "Hey, no thank you," and moving on if they get asked out by someone they're not interested in.
The long answer? I don't have it.
There is so much ugliness in the air right now, and that ugliness is empowering fearful people. Suddenly, it's more acceptable than ever to spit venom and call it freedom. I want to react. I want to shoot from the hip and shout people down and demean and disempower because I am tired and I am frustrated and I am hurt and it feels like it should finally be my turn to do all of those things.
But it's not my turn. It will never be my turn. That's not how empathy works. I have to consider where other people are coming from, not at the expense of my own voice and values, but to try and affect change (and, honestly, to decide who is and is not worth my time). I'm not perfect at it. But I try. And I'm ready to try harder.
I'm also ready to use my voice more - not to shout down, but to raise up. Even more so, I'm ready to listen and to learn.
There is ugliness in the air, but I'm not going to let that stand. I'm going to tie my tie, button my vest, and do my part to make something beautiful. Or handsome.
I'll let you know about it when I do.