Something weird happened Thursday.

The way I leave school every day, I pass the playing fields. I usually cut across the field to get to the path that goes up to the road, because it’s quicker. During this time of year, the football team has off-season practice, and there were a few burly guys in football t-shirts throwing around a football. I guess that on Thursday they didn’t want me cutting across “their” grass, because they started yelling at me. “Hey, you with the bag! Turn around! You with the man-purse! Why don’t you catch the ball?” I take my books to school in a green Lands End messenger bag, but I would hardly call it a “man-purse”. And last I checked, I wasn’t a man. So I kept walking; I didn’t turn around—same as I always do when someone mistakes my sex, I ignore it.

But I regretted my cowardice intensely as I walked up the hill. I had mental images of myself turning around to give them the finger, being aggressive back at them and picking a fight until I could defiantly say, “What? You’re gonna hit a girl?” Though I realized that wouldn’t teach them the lesson, that what they said was prejudiced on so many levels, from judging me to be male from my appearance to judging me to be an effeminate male with a man-purse who couldn’t catch a ball from that appearance. I passed up a teachable moment out of my fear that those guys would really hurt me, and out of my self-consciousness, and I’m still ashamed.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen to me often at school. While there’s a lot of latent homophobia, gender stereotyping, sexism, all that stuff, I’ve never gotten that kind of response. People tend to keep their prejudices to themselves, and when they see me in the women’s restroom and think I’m not a woman, they are the ones who double-check the sign on the door—usually they don’t accuse me of being in the wrong place. I’m thinking back, and I don’t really think I’ve gotten teased or bullied for my clothing and bag choices since middle school. I guess that’s what was so weird about this occurrence; it seemed like the football players were being more immature than usual. I’ve been taught that it’s my duty to speak out against things like that, to bring those kids quickly up to how a 17-year-old, and not a 12-year-old, is supposed to behave. But I, who can barely manage to say anything when kids use “gay” as an insult, find it so much easier to just keep walking.

I tend to go through my life thinking that things are really not that bad. More of my friends are allies than antagonists, and my school isn’t as bad in this regard as a lot of others. But sometimes sexism or homophobia or … gender identity-ism(?) will just come up and slap me in the face and I can’t quite believe it’s happened.

And then I remember how this is daily life for a lot of people, and apologize for complaining.

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One Response to “Something weird happened Thursday.”

  1. I’m nearly 30 and there are times when I will simply walk away rather than get into yet another confrontation about my appearance and clothing. It may strike many as cowardly or just plain wrong to miss such a ‘teachable’ moment, but you can’t fight every battle, not and keep your spirits intact. There’s a difference between going into the ‘battle’ ready and willing and being caught in a ambush and massacred.

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