As previously discussed, I leave just enough time in transit to get where I’m going on time. Sometimes I run close to the wire. Recently, I was on the opening shift and putting away the day’s newspapers just as the doors opened at 9AM. Two men walked in to the newspaper shelves, reached for their papers, and one walked out. One seated himself and I continued putting up the papers.
The one who took his news to go happens to wear women’s clothing and makeup.
The one who stayed in the room with me announced not quietly and with plenty of distaste, “it’s unnatural!”
I was the only other person in the room. I froze.
He had waited until the first customer left the room, so he wasn’t looking for a confrontation. Why, then? Was this statement for my benefit, somehow? Was he trying to gauge my reaction, or worse, did he assume that I agreed with him? Or, was he just THAT comfortable with airing his views wherever he pleased? And, was I willing to possibly be reprimanded for yelling at a closed-minded customer?
It was a real drag.
Never one to quip quickly or effectively in arguments, I instead simmered quietly over my ethical dilemma. I wanted to tell this dude that what is UNNATURAL is pumping enough carbon into the air that the glaciers are melting and it is 75 degrees for a week in the East Coast in February. Humans NATURALLY wore very few garments, and they were designed to protect them from the elements, not to designate gender or convey status.
Then I reflected a little.
When I started at the library, my initial reaction to the gentleman who wears women’s clothes was to judge him. I thought, “who is he kidding? He does not make a very convincing woman.” And, he really doesn’t. His frame is masculine, his wig is clearly that, and his makeup and clothing are out of style as well as more overdone than ‘en vogue’ women wear today. (I immediately noticed these things critically, which says more about me than about him. I was working three jobs, taking a full course load and was stressed and often bitter.) Then, however, I arrived at a conclusion. He dresses like a woman even though it is clear he is not one. Huh. He must just like it!
A similar revelation came when I listened to Eddie Izzard’s FANTASTIC audiobook about his life: Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens. I know I’ve raved about this book before, but here I go again. I remember Eddie’s standup by several sketches, immortalized on YouTube and burned into my mind because they portray the scenes he talks about using Lego characters. I had forgotten that he cross-dresses. When I started the book, I realized I couldn’t remember if he was gay. He addressed this, for all the similarly clueless people like me: he isn’t. He just likes women’s clothes! Huh.
Maybe this customer had also associated cross-dressing with homosexuality, but that too is a severely backward reason to judge someone. I don’t know. All I know is, I felt conflicted enough to ask my colleague what his opinion was, whether I should have said something to the rude one. His wisdom soothed me, as he thought I could do no more than to enable all customers of the library to feel safe and welcome.
Every other colleague I asked said the same thing, even one who is undergoing gender transition. Gender is a controversial topic with them, but they agreed that as employees and representatives of the library, we can’t be on the cause crusade and must make all customers feel safe and welcome, even if it makes us ill.
Of course, three hours of debating myself later, and through many iterations of “what’s it to ya?”) I thought of what I felt was the perfect, non-confrontational but I-see-you-and-your-unkind-ways response I should have said: “to each his own.”
All of us said that if we weren’t on the clock, we would have SCHOOLED him. About gender theory and human decency. Equally as much as my silence made me cringe, librarians’ words mean a lot.