Archive for May, 2021

Are You an Old Lady?

May 10, 2021

“Are you an old lady?” asked my very serious and analytical four-year-old granddaughter during our recent visit.  She greeted me with the question first thing one morning, so I knew it had been on her mind since she woke.

“You bet!” I replied with a grin.  There are things worth claiming that come with that title. A sense of humor, for one, and an ability to see life from the Long View.

My life has always been a quest to understand the play between genders.  Not in the way of so many folks nowadays, now that we’ve begun to strip away the fairy tale of binary gender identity.  The idea of a society in which every human can freely express their true identity is mind-blowing.  That we are, even imperfectly, lurching toward such a society fills my heart with love.

But my own journey, shaped way too much by the Doris Day-Rock Hudson movies of my youth, has certainly been more traditionally binary, propelled by attraction to, and curiosity about, The Other. It’s taken me into and out of a series of serious relationships, and culminated with the rather unexpected achievement of actually Getting It Right.  In my Old Ladyhood.

I’ve done some pretty serious intellectual exploring along the way, culminating with writing a sci-fi based novel – my attempt to examine archetypes on both sides, and create a female character based on an entirely different model of The Feminine.  Having served its purpose in reaching a readership of maybe half a dozen (well, mainly me…), it now gathers virtual dust out in the loneliest reaches of the internet.

All of which is the set-up to explain just why I was so moved and intrigued by a series of three seemingly unrelated interactions with masculine figures on a recent trip to Chicago. 

The first took place in an Uber. Two mornings in a row, we took an Uber into downtown Chicago from our hotel in the suburbs near the analytical four-year-old and her quite dignified two-year-old sister.  By pure coincidence, we had the same driver, Andre, both mornings. The ride was over half an hour, plenty of time to chat about all the topics one does with an Uber driver.  Andre was in his fifties, a life-long Chicago resident and a man of substance and good nature.  We were well-acquainted that second morning by the time he dropped us off at our rainy destination.  My partner reached toward the front seat to shake hands.  From directly behind the driver’s seat, I did the same.

And Andre kissed my hand.  As gallantly and elegantly and respectfully as the finest knight of old might have done.  I was totally surprised, and surprisingly moved.

Interaction number two.  We always search out art galleries on our travels, and the final day in Chicago led us to a diverse neighborhood where a number of emerging artists had galleries.  In one of those, I came across a photo that has haunted me ever since.  It is a portrait of a young Hispanic man, exquisitely beautiful, with dark eyes gazing directly at the lens. He is bare-chested but for a white lace garment that covers his arms and shoulders, and he fingers a locket on a long chain.

His expression takes my breath away.  So much comes through that dark-eyed gaze.  His utter state of rightness, in that feminine wrapping he was meant to wear, born to wear, as lovely as the most alluring young woman could be, knowing his true self belongs in that virginal yet sensuous white lace.

And yet, too, there is an almost unbearable sorrow, the part of him that is so fully, totally, aware of the eyes of the world, the world that would look and say “what’s wrong with this picture?”.  When the beauty of the picture so precisely lies in the unquestionable and stunningly beautiful rightness of this young man.

And finally, interaction number three.  Coming home, there are few good opportunities for rest stops once you head south out of Branson toward Fayetteville.  Your best option is the convenience store in Alpena, Arkansas, which you’re probably picturing pretty accurately. But I can attest that it’s clean and the clerks are friendly, and never try to bust an Old Lady who’s not there to buy anything, but is hell-bent on getting to the restroom without delay.

I reached the door at the same moment as a young man who could only have been a local.  The next day I would see in the paper a picture of another man, arrested for meth dealing.  The young man who held the door for me there in Alpena looked much, much worse.  Haggard, hollowed out, his eyes were downcast, unable to meet mine.

And yet he stood aside and held the door for an old lady with surprising grace, and the kind of respect and good manners that told me that somehow, sometime, he once had a mother, or grandmother, maybe, who taught that boy right.

I try to always acknowledge good manners, and so smiled and said a heartfelt, “Thank you, sir!”  Was it just my imagination that a stranger’s – an old lady’s – few words of kindness and respect somehow went straight to his drug-ravaged heart, striking some forgotten memory of self-worth buried beneath the hopelessness and shame?

This week has since brought me back to live rehearsals with my three spectacular women bandmates, making music together for the first time in 14 months, a joy beyond measure.  I’m also tiptoeing toward a new project that is all about producing a female anthem of mine called She Will Sing Us Home. I navigate the world in this female body – this “old lady’s” body, and continue to be awed by the parade of humanity that marches by me every day.

Sometimes I find it’s best not to try to stuff experience into that small box labelled “Conclusions!”  This week feels that way.  

Males.  Females.  And everybody in between.  Every heart has a story to tell, if we just listen.

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