Friday, October 19, 2012

Going in Drag Again

Midway through my Friday evening at home, it struck me that I need to get my car to my mechanic for the annual state inspection so I can renew my license plate. Fortunately, my mechanic is only two blocks away. Since I have no need for my car tomorrow morning, it occurred to me I could take the car to the garage tonight, place my keys in the drop box, and let them do the inspection tomorrow morning while I putter around the house. A good plan.

There was just one problem. I’d need to walk home after leaving the car at the mechanic’s. It’s dark by this time of night. The mechanic is only two blocks away, but I’m in a transitional neighborhood. I have many good neighbors. It’s a designated historic district. There’s a big church across the street. But the cops are also making a lot of busts within a block of my home. Some houses often have fights in their front yards, and some people keep their pit bulls staked out in those front yards. The police are nearby very often. And my mechanic’s shop is next to a gas/convenience store that is a magnet for thugs.

Since it was 9 p.m. by the time I had my bright idea of taking the car to the mechanic and walking home, I found myself strangely cautious. I took off my jewelry. I emptied my pockets of everything but my driver’s license, ancient cell phone, and house key. And I put on my burly parka since the temperature here is now into the 40s and it would give me cover.

It all went fine. I’m home safely. When I left the car at the garage, I adopted my “don’t mess with me walk,” putting some attitude along with my 5’10” height and slender build under the parka.
But in the midst of all this, I suddenly remembered an old memory and another time when I felt unsafe.

The Old Memory
I was just a young teenager, in the small Southern town of my birth, walking down Main Street. An adult I didn’t know stopped me, engaged me in conversation, and asked me if I was [using my father’s name] his daughter. I said I was. He said he guessed I was because of my walk.  Apparently, I walk like my dad. I don’t know why. But I never did learn the “girly walk.”  I have no idea how women make their hips get into the action when they walk. It’s a mystery to me.

The Scary Memory
During college in Dallas during the 1970s, I was very close to a family who had a ranch 100 miles west. They weren’t there often, but I could go there as often as I wished and have the place to myself. They also let me use their old Jeep for the travels. I drove out there often to escape the city. I went there one weekend and found a “snippy” note they had left. As I learned later, it wasn’t meant for me, but I took it personally.  I left the Jeep there and determined to get back to college on my own. What did that mean?  Of course, it meant hitchhiking 100 miles back to my Dallas campus.

Even then, hitchhiking wasn’t exactly safe. I remember donning my jeans, flannel shirt, Levi jacket, cowboy boots, and hat, and walking the two miles out to the highway.  I didn’t have to walk along that highway too long before a car pulled over, offering me a ride. Three guys were in it – “good ol’ boys” about my age.  They asked my name. I pretended to be a boy, said my name was “Len,” and got in the back seat, thinking I’d be safe if I could just be one of them.

It was interesting to ride with them. They were drinking and toking, and I was the one not drinking or toking. I remember how they responded to “babes” they passed on the road. I’ll just say their responses were genital and leave it at that.  I felt like an undercover agent.  But I kept quiet, trying to keep my cover.

Eventually, they needed to make a “pit stop.”  Obviously, I didn’t use the facilities. I remember the guy who stayed at the car with me. He came on to me, thinking I was a guy, saying something about how those other guys didn’t appreciate a “guy” like me, offering me some time out back alone. It was clear to me that this “good ol’ boy” was propositioning what he thought was a young man. I managed to “play dumb” just long enough for one of his buddies to get back to the car, thank goodness.

The ride resumed. Stoked with more beer, those guys got even more gross in the rest of the drive. I mean, REALLY??  Does a guy need to jack off just because an attractive woman passes by? But they got to the place that I claimed was my destination, and I got out safely and walked the rest of the way to my college.  I tell it calmly now, but I remember being terrified then. I had been “cool” on the ride, but was terrified once they finally departed and I was back on my way “home.”

All of that came back to me tonight as I faced the dinky little two-block walk back from my mechanic’s.  I know the feeling: If you’re a woman on the street, walking alone, you’re fair game. I’m lucky to have a body-type and walk that can look “male.”  Unfortunately, as I discovered, even if you can pull off a “drag” act, you still might be “fair game.”   What is it about males that makes us vulnerable in either case?

I hate it that I went into “protection” mode for my little two-block walk home. But my history told me it was necessary.

What stories do you have to tell?

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