To be seen

Something strange is happening. Men are seeing me on the streets. They look at me, see a woman, and act in certain ways. This is unsettling.

I once told a friend that I would usually refer to myself as ‘a person of indeterminate gender’ but what I meant to say is that I am blissfully androgynous. On more than one occasion, I have been mistaken for  a boy.

Just today, though, a man walked up to my face and whispered hello in what must have been his idea of seduction. It creeped me out. I have been catcalled, followed, touched, spoken to by strangers. All because there’s no hiding my gender in clothes when I have this identifier.

Every day this month I’ve had to remind myself why I got braids (I don’t enjoy combing my hair) and that this is a thing I don’t deserve (the street harassment).

I was an early bloomer and by 12 I knew that boys, and girls who looked and acted like them, got less nonsense from men as we walked home from school. So I cultivated male friendships, hair, manners, hobbies (yes, please, I know there are no ‘male hobbies’ but cycling starts to feel that way after a certain age) to protect myself. Sadly, it worked and continues to work each time I return to that way of being.

I feel 12 again with this hair: female, exposed and vulnerable. Strange, because I’ve started being more comfortable in this body, this gender and its performance. How then do I say, “I wish I was back in the shadows”?

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