Cats, Cucumbers, & the Trans Five-Mile Stare
Having People Undress Your Soul With Their Stares Is Not As Fun As It Sounds
This last Saturday, my wife, Pam, and I were having a fantastic morning in Fort Collins and our hometown Loveland, Colorado, breakfasting, shopping, and just enjoying each other. The sun was shining, the fall temperatures were fantastic, and Pam bought me a tea-kettle/tea-cup set of earrings that had me looking and feeling fabulous.
Then I saw the older woman dining outside, who, when she caught sight of me/us, drop-kicked me with what I’ve come to call the Five-Mile Stare (5K-Stare for those with the metric system). Her eyes, having glimpsed us, locked on and followed us like her life depended on keeping track of us.
And, in her estimation, it may have.
So, yeah, when I open my mouth or you observe me for a while, I’m pretty sure you’ll know I’m a trans woman. That doesn’t bug me … uh, ‘cuz I am an unabashedly trans woman. I’m also gorgeous and love being me.
I get a lot more stares nowadays than I ever did before I came out as a trans woman. You might think that, being trans, I just notice stares more than I did when I was a privileged white male for whom the world was my oyster. But, peeps, I had a beard that flowed over my chest, dark-brown wavy hair that floated onto my shoulders, and a dozen tats visible on my snow-white skin. I looked for attention.
Part of it was because I was trans but didn’t know it. So, I compensated by calling attention to myself via my stentorian voice, dime-store vocabulary, and just about anything else I could do to draw people’s gazes. I’ve never had a problem with public speaking but relished it. Sadly, I was so unattendant to my true self that I desperately sought affirmation in the attention (good or bad) of other people.
Nowadays, I’d rather blend in with a crowd. Oh, if someone compliments my tats, I definitely respond because the tats are insanely good (thank you, Cliff, Audrey, and Scott at Arsenal Tattoo in Bryan, TX!) and anyone with a good tat knows that it’s a great conversation starter. It’s art that you publish with your body, and that art tells a story about the art, the artist, and the bearer.
This older lady may have lock-stared at me for any one of a variety of reasons. I’m post-surgery and, as of this writing, have been on HRT for 18 months. I’ve also lived with the ravages of male-onset puberty for four decades. So, yeah, when I open my mouth or you observe me for a while, I’m pretty sure you’ll know I’m a trans woman. That doesn’t bug me … uh, ‘cuz I am an unabashedly trans woman. I’m also gorgeous and love being me. That joy alone communicates a contagious confidence and joie de vivre that I prize in other people. So it’s unsettling when a gaze is anything about my joy in life but looks rather like the gazer wants me to not exist.
She may have ogled me with disapproval because of my tats. I get that. Though tats have long since passed their societal-acceptance/-celebration, tipping point, some folks innately associate them with coarseness. Myeh. Fuck ‘em.
Last, she may have soured at her sighting of us because Pam and I are unapologetically lesbian. At that moment, we didn’t happen to be holding hands, but we had already done so that morning, as well as exchanged a public hug and peck on the cheek or two. It wasn’t like I was wrapping my tatted legs around Pam and doing a throat exam on her with my tongue. Still, I know that a thankfully smaller and smaller percentage of people wish lesbians and gays wouldn’t exist. Again, in my best joie de vivre gusto, fuck ’em. We’re fabulous.
Regardless of the above potential reasons or another I can’t grasp, that woman’s withering stare has happened with more frequency than I ever noticed in my manning-it-up life. The feeling is analogous to the mansplaining and outright disregard I now get from many men since I transitioned to 24/7 en femme.
Still, I know that a thankfully smaller and smaller percentage of people wish lesbians and gays wouldn’t exist. Again, in my best joie de vivre gusto, fuck ’em. We’re fabulous.
My response to both the mansplaining and the Five-Mile Stares is to engage the delivery person. I hand the mansplainers their asses, and I hold the gaze of the starers for as long as they can abide. (This gets interesting when I’m wearing shades, which is the visual equivalent of engaging a mansplainer via email. The starers and email writers behave as if they possess an invulnerability—“I can’t see your eyes or you, so you can’t see/engage me.”)
But my response still doesn’t allay the downer of having someone undress my soul without apology.
I said earlier that the older lady stared at me like her life depended on it. And, to her, it may have.
You may have seen those asshole videos in which some banal jackass puts a cuke or zucchini behind a feeding cat so the cat spasmodically jumps in the air when it notices the object. What titillates those ignoramuses is, for the cat, abusively induced stress. The cats jump because the green, cylindrical shape of the vegetable at the edge of their gaze looks alarmingly like an encroaching snake. It’s hard-wired into cats’ autonomic response systems to get the fuck outta Dodge at the first sign of danger posed by a serpentine predator.
But it’s most manifestly not hard-wired into some people to regard trans persons, tats, or lesbians/gays as predatory dangers.
But it’s most manifestly not hard-wired into some people to regard trans persons, tats, or lesbians/gays as predatory dangers. Hatred, fear, ignorance, and the gall to act upon them with a follow-you-down-the-street stare is something that some folks cultivate and justify. Unlike the kitties’ cuke-response, such hatred, fear, and violence aren’t involuntary—they’re the poison these persons ladle out. The starers aren’t tamping it down but savoring it as their right to reduce another human being to an objective threat, a thing to eradicate.
But the only thing folks like that eradicate is their own humanity.
Thankfully for me, a white trans girl, the murderous Five-Mile Stare has been the extent of the violence I receive. For trans persons of color it tragically translates into murder. Where the eyes go, so the heart goes. Where hatred of self goes, so goes hatred of the other. The murderous stares of this minority with murder in their hearts have, at this juncture, been enacted in the violent slaughters of 19 trans women of color in the U.S. alone. And those are merely the recorded instances.
hatred, fear, and violence aren’t involuntary—they’re the poison these persons ladle out. The starers aren’t tamping it down but savoring it as their right to reduce another human being to an objective threat, a thing to eradicate.
This last Saturday, I had a hundred interactions with other human beings that highlighted their love, compassion, and joy in knowing that I exist and the fact that their lives were better because of me, and my life because of theirs.
If you’re gonna five-mile stare at my magnificent tats, my trans beauty, or our lesbian love, then I’m gonna give you an encore. ‘Cuz you need an education in enjoying life and loving yourself. If I don’t do it for you, you sure as hell ain’t gonna see it in the mirror any time soon.
And everyone we meet is our mirror. Be love. Be kindness. Avert thy self-hating gaze.
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