16 May 2010

Getting Out: Anonymity In Chelsea

Another gorgeous spring day when I couldn't ride and all I could do was read a bunch of papers.  So what's a girl to do?

Well, between papers, I did some saddle shopping.  It's scary to have to start over again, trying a whole bunch of different saddles.  Well, I hope I don't have to do that.  I'm looking at the ones with the cutouts:  what are sometimes called the "donut" saddles.  They're what Dr. Ronica recommends.  I want something that fits, but I don't want hideous graphics, either.  That was one nice thing about the Brooks saddles:  They always looked good.

It seemed like everyone in New York was riding bikes today.  Everyone except me, that is.

I took some time off (for good behavior?) to run an errand.  I sold two of my Brooks saddles on eBay and I promised the guys who bought them that I'd ship them tomorrow.  This semester, I've had some time late Monday afternoons when there weren't department or college meetings.  But then I remembered that tomorrow I have an appointment with the ophthalmologist after work.  So, I decided to go to the main post office in Manhattan to mail those saddles.  

That post office is the only one I know of that's open on Sundays.  Besides, it's a beautiful building, and it's right across Eighth Avenue from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.   All you have to do is walk in any direction from it to find something to amuse, annoy, shock, entertain or endanger you.  

So I strolled down Eighth Avenue toward, then past, the Fashion Institute of Technology.  I taught there one semester--a geological age ago, it seems.  While there, I dated another part-time faculty member who was divorced and about a decade older than me.  Back in those days, I was the "before" photo:  a triangular torso and a shock of a beard along my jawline and chin.  I really fit in!

Anyway, one day, she and I went to an exhibit that was held at FIT.  I forget what, exactly, the theme was, but I recall seeing dresses from 200 years ago or thereabouts in France and England.  I pointed to one.  "That one's beautiful," I exclaimed.  Catching myself, I intoned, "I'd be interested to know how they made it."

"No," Lea said.  "You want to wear it."

That was the only time that my gender identity ever figured, in any way, into any of our conversations.  But, it seemed that it was rearing its head any time I entered or left the campus.  You see, it's near the end of Chelsea.  Because I was in such good shape in those days, I had at least one man approach me for sex any time I walked that stretch of Eighth Avenue.  

And, when I first started to venture out "as" Justine, some guy would hit on me.  Some of those men took me for a drag queen, if not a very glamorous one.  (Wearing lots of glitter never appealed to me.)  I don't think they were the sorts of guys who liked transsexual women:  It's been my experience that such men usually aren't gay.   The guys who were hitting on me in those days thought I was one of them.  I might've spent the night with one or two of them, but in those days I wouldn't simply because I didn't want to see myself as anything but a heterosexual male--albeit one who knew that A-line didn't refer to a segment of the New York City transit system.  

Today I walked down that way for no particular reason except that it's pleasant on a day like today.  (Then again, what isn't?)  I practically brushed elbows with dozens of gay men who were coming as I was going, or vice versa, depending on your point of view.  

Not one of them paid me any mind--at least not that I noticed.  What's really ironic, though, is that it didn't upset me.  At other times, I fret when I think I'm not being noticed, at least a little.  Lots of us go through that when we know we're aging and we don't look the way we once did.  Then again, I don't have a memory of myself as young and pretty.  I wasn't really good-looking as a man; whatever attractiveness I had came from my physical conditioning.

So...I walked down eight city blocks and not one man paid attention to me.  Funny, how that, in other circumstances, could be a source of sadness for me or other women.  Or it could cause us to feel relieved, especially if the streets were in a rougher neighborhood or the guys were drunk.  But today I experienced what may be the ultimate irony:  I walked by hundreds of men, and they walked by me without giving me a second glance, or even noticing me in the first place---and I took it as an affirmation of my womanhood.  Who'd've guessed that I could go to Chelsea to be sexually anonymous?!

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