I was working away at a Starbucks last week in an exurban Atlanta setting way-the-hell outside of the perimeter in advance of a meeting. It was 9:00 am, and I was nestled in, laptop whirring and iPhone pinging, with the usual crowd of North Fulton County real estate mavens, portfolio managers, multi-layer-marketing disciples and various other such windblown flotsam and jetsam of the new economy, just minding my own business and an overpriced cup of coffee.
The Fashionable-Mom Set was well in attendance too, their kids plugged into somebody else’s grid, great hair, faces freshly made, textured leggings, big belted cardigans and bigger buckled bags weighed down with god knows what.
It was a very cool day (by Atlanta standards), close on freezing point, raining, threatening sleet and altogether grim. And then, fighting against the elements and social conventions walked in a member of our proud CD/TG sorority. Her wig was not well settled, and the very big, very dark sunglasses were out of place in the grey indoors and out. The make up was not expertly applied, and perhaps a bit bold of color around the cheeks. Shoulders hunched in a thin jacket that would not close, and do little to keep the rain at bay. The beige skirt left a very solid 10” of thigh exposed except for the nude sheers pinched into 4” strappy sandals.
Heads turned and people hushed. And there on the sidelines, O so familiar with the hopes and the fears sat I, in drab, worrying for this soul who should be feeling such joy, but quite clearly was not, not at these moments. She did not smile. She must have felt terribly exposed, and very much at the limits of her daring. I was not surprised when she did not seek out a table, and turned awkwardly on her tall, pencil-thin heels, beating retreat across the parking lot and into the safe confines of her car.
I met then with a client. The business went well enough, and with time to kill or a lack of will, I bundled myself then into a mall. Upon entry to Dillard’s, I turned left through cosmetics, ran a quick reconnaissance mission in shoes and was then drawn, like bees to flowers, to intimates. On my path, walking calmly in my direction appeared an attractive form, dressier than the mall norm. A black faux-wrap dress to the knees, dark hose, and low pumps, nicely accessorized beneath a well fitted tan trench coat. A great look, dressier than the norm yes, but very setting appropriate.
As I passed her, she knew she had my attention, and she smiled nicely. It was only then that I noticed that she too was a member of the sorority. Perhaps her smile came from the place that knows that a guy eyeing the racks and bust forms of the lingerie department long after Valentines Day and even longer till Christmas likely has a secret of his own. But the smile came from a place of calm, and comfort, the place I like to think I occupy when en femme.
I continued my clockwise tour, and doubled back again to see how our sister was faring. She was now thoughtfully eyeing the table top displays, handling shoes here and there, and gracefully making her way through a lazy mid-afternoon. I thought for a moment that it would be nice to strike up a conversation, to somehow bridge the gaps between strangers and just say howdy. But we had left the moment wafting in the air beside the pretty B-Tempt’d Bustier back in intimates. She seemed happy though and so was I, so I chose not to force the point.
And now to the current moment. I am drafting this post from a non-Starbucks coffee shop, in the middle of a work-week afternoon. We are a little closer into town here, not far from my home. More piercings, tattoos, and racial diversity here, making this shop is one of my favorite remote offices, indeed, to me, much like Winnie the Pooh’s thoughtful place. This post is about to leap the editorial tracks and head off in a new direction.
6’4” of well muscled post-gender humanity just walked in, grabbed a drink and walked out again. No pretense at “passing” here. The face bore no traces of beard shadow, or of make-up, and to my guess had been through the electrolysis wringer. A terrific complexion for anyone, let alone a mid-fifties man or woman. Now to the ensemble:
A black Clint Eastwood cowboy hat (circa “For a Few Dollars More”). The denim shirt, opened over a dark t-shirt, exposing the clanking strapped purse, hip height, over a simple black, below the knee A-line skirt. I know enough Scots to know the difference between a kilt and a skirt, between a sporren and purse. There are, believe me, no bagpipes anywhere nearby.
A low heeled and nicely jeweled pair of western boots completed the look and really added to the sound of the outfit. Not the dancing cadence of a woman’s walk, and not a thudding man-gait either. Something in between. And to the slack jawed woman he brushed by on the way out, in a deep baritone, smiling and confident … “how you doing?”
So, what to make of all of this? Atlanta is a blue town in a red state, yes. Liberal as the south gets and a bit of an urban catchment area for square pegs who simply do not fit well in round rural holes. Not quite Portland or San Francisco, but pretty accepting of all sorts. With a population topping 4 million practically every variation in human behavior and potential can be spied if you just keep your eyes open long enough.
These are far from my first sightings. They just happened in a bit of a cluster which made me think on it a little. How many more do I miss? How many drab chaps in business casual are nursing the same desires as I do? How many smartly dressed women are part time, or transitioning or newly possessed of all the right biology? How many people are looking for the box that says “none of the above” on their own census form? Are things changing to the extent that more people will be, at worst indifferent, and at best accepting of variable gender presentation in our most vanilla broad daylight environs?
I cannot help but feel that we are all at a threshold moment and that the waves of differently dressed unrest that have been gently lapping at shores here and there will be soon taking on more force and surging where we might not expect.
I realize that many are going to have moments that our short-skirt, strappy-sandal friend at Starbucks no doubt had. Moments that make you question the merit of the whole enterprise, moments that force people back into the dark confines of the closet.
Many tentative tottering steps, and many practiced and perfected pirouttes are being taken, here there and everywhere. They might as well be taken by you. I hope that if you have not found the nerve to just get out there and experience the world in a new skin and through different eyes, that you will. If you have tried and feel as though you “failed”, if the hurt weighed more than the delight, take your time, make a plan, and try again.
Have a good look around you. Somebody, in some way, not too far away from you already has taken those steps. Maybe even be the chap in the cowboy hat.