We were waiting for our coffee and I said, "I could write a story about this barista."
"The girl making the coffee." (Girl, gal, and guy are terms I use indiscriminately and with no disrespect implied.)
The look I got in return was skeptical. "That's a bloke!"
"Doesn't matter," I said, because the point was I could still write a story about the barista, and she wasn't a guy in my story.
She wasn't anyway, as quickly became clear when she called out someone's order in an unmistakably female voice. There is always something to give it away. If you don't hear the voice, you can see the hips, or the chin that doesn't need shaving even when the "bloke" has crow's feet and gray hair.
My eyes always go to these women, whatever their age; I spot them in any crowd. I always rest my eyes on them, for a moment longer than anybody else. Sometimes they look back, and when they do, it’s a look of recognition. It says, I notice you noticing me. It says, You and I are not alone in this place.
Understand, I don't know anything about the barista, about how she identifies herself. She might be a dyke, but I can't assume that, any more than she can assume that about me. All I know is that she looks the way she does, and that, even today, takes a certain amount of guts.
When I see one of these women, wherever I see her, this is what I see. She is not afraid to wear her hair like that, or her piercings. She is not afraid to be thought of, sometimes, as what she’s not--or other times, as what she is. She isn't afraid of walking into a "ladies'" room, or down the street, or of holding her partner’s hand in public.
Or maybe she is afraid, but she goes through her days anyway. Hopefully, most of the time, she can get through without harassment or even thinking too much about it. Just being who she is.
Maybe she grew up hearing that she’s ugly, or undesirable. That no one wants her. That she’s not woman enough to be a woman, really, and not man enough to be a man. Maybe she’s gotten used to it.
Or maybe she has a girlfriend—or a boyfriend—who loves her for who she is. Is not intimidated by her sexuality, does not humiliate her for her gender. Maybe she can take off her clothes for her lover without feeling self-conscious that hair isn’t growing in fewer places, or that breasts haven’t grown more.
Maybe she despaired of anyone ever touching her the way she needed to be touched. Maybe she grew up thinking that she would never meet anybody else like her.
Maybe this is what she sees when she looks at me.
I don't know anything about this woman, but I can write this story. Because, of course, it’s my story.
© 2012 J. E. Knowles