"Dude looks like a lady."
There oughta be a name for people like me. You know, people born one way but because of interpretation — ours and yours — perceived another way.
I'm talking specifically now about hair, breasts and the juxtaposition of the two.
Let me tell you what it's like walking around as a black woman with short hair and 40 Cs. I mostly keep my hair buzzed short not out of any confusion over identity, self-hatred or penis envy, but because I'm lazy and it's cool looking and I'm cute.
I had hair — lots of it, in fact. But it's overrated and sometimes a security blanket. I never felt freer than when I first cut my hair off so long ago now I can't remember the year. Even when I had hair, I never could relate to those commercials with flaxen-haired white girls throwing their stuff around.
Yeah, I've got a pretty, round, brown face and dark eyes. Lest you think this is a singles ad, let me move on.
My point is, people get so twisted over female presentation and what exactly is feminine that my hairlessness is cause for pause.
People actually stop. Their physical stature changes. Some stare and, when I try to make eye contact, look away. Then there's the case of the two white guys — one we'll call Hyde Park Man, the other we'll call Norwood Redneck Man — who showed flustered frustration or old-fashioned rudeness.
I'm addicted to those butter cookies at Graeter's. I was recently waiting in line with a 50ish, silver-haired Hyde Park matron at the Hyde Park Square Graeter's. The clerk (aka Hyde Park Man) was on the telephone and servicing patrons at the counter.
The lady perused the cases. Hyde Park Man, phone tucked between his ear and shoulder, glanced up at me. "What can I get ya, sir?" he said.
I'm accustomed to but not immune to this kind of hurried assumption. "Just these," I said, handing over the bag of cookies.
"Oh, uh, uh, oh, I mean, ma'am. I'm sorry, ma'am." He was falling all over himself.
It's been my experience that what's best in instances like these is one quick apology. Either that, or everyone should just continue on as though the infraction never happened.
The lady next to me was more outraged than I.
"I cannot believe that," she said, her voice hushed like we were at the opera. "There's no way you could be mistaken for a man. You have such a pretty round face. Those cookies should be free."
"Forget the round face," I said, "What about the 40 Cs? How could you not see these?"
Weeks later I was walking into Joseph-Beth in Norwood. Though people who shop Rookwood Pavilion exude the arrogance and stuffiness of Hyde Park and like to think they're spending their money in Hyde Park, let's not be confused. This is Norwood.
It was mid-afternoon, so hot I was feeling delirious, and I was thinking a skate through the bookstore would inspire me to write.
Plus, I was killing time before returning to the barbershop. I was about two weeks off my regular hair-cutting ritual. In what could've only been an outtake from a post-modern version of Deliverance, around the corner came a shirtless, raggedy white man driving a raggedy white van. Yes, it was Norwood Redneck Man.
As I walked through the parking lot, we made eye contact. He slowed down. I slowed down. Just as I set foot on the sidewalk to the bookstore, he yelled from his window: "Take your boy-lookin' ass on somewhere!"
I felt like I used to in the fourth grade when Robert, son of a Klansman, would put pictures of black folks hanging from trees on my desk. I was angry and confused. How could he just yell out what he thought of me when I squelched what I thought of him?
Acting on that, I turned around and walked up the embankment of Longhorn Steakhouse and waited for him to drive past. Hopefully, he'd get caught at the light and I could have a word with him.
I caught a glimpse of myself in my mind's eye. I remembered my mother — tall, black and proud with fists fitted on her waist like an Angela Davis action figure. Throughout my childhood, she was always somewhere setting someone straight. While it was thrilling to watch, it almost always left her drained.
But Norwood Redneck Man turned the other way. Lucky for both of us.
Laughing at the absurdity of this guy's presumption that he could denigrate my appearance and my very identity, I walked into the bookstore and cooled off. I didn't shirk it off quite so easily, though. I seriously reconsidered cutting my hair again but then stopped myself when I realized I was allowing some fool to have power over me.
Who I am is a beautiful black woman with little or no hair, which makes me unfettered and unadorned but free. It makes me Kathy.