When I am alone, in public, this thing happens.
“You look like a lost puppy!” said a friend as I was looking for my seat in the college cafeteria. Once someone offered me a glass of water as soon as I walked in. Another time, a man pulled me off the street and forced me to sit down at an outdoor table and didn’t even ask me about the water—he just gave me a glass. And yes, there was that really bizarre time when I was in high school, and a teacher grabbed me by the shoulders, shook me and said to me V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y: “The Sophomores. Are meeting. In the gym.” But what usually happens is, people—other white women, not much older than me, if they are older than me at all—call me “sweetie.”
“Here, sweetie,” says the woman behind the counter at Wendy’s, handing me my food. At a fancier restaurant, the waitress says “Follow me, sweetie” as she takes me to my seat. Men, I notice, don’t do this. They offer to help—”Are you okay?” “Here’s some water.” “Do you need help?” Older women just leave me be.
This does not happen if I am out in public with other people, even people my own age. I can’t show it to anybody I know and ask if they see it too. Even now I doubt myself. Does this really happen as often as I think it does? Am I reading too much into things? And what the hell is wrong with people being nice?
But it is not niceness. It is You don’t belong here, dressed up in the prettiest Emperor’s clothes. Your kind belong somewhere else. And I am lucky as hell to get this form, this quiet suggestion that I am in the wrong place instead of disgust or gossip or a punch in the face or attempted murder or a refusal to acknowledge me at all. Would a black woman who gave off the same cues I do be this lucky? A trans woman? A Muslim woman? A Latina woman? A genderqueer person? An older woman? A fat woman? A woman who dresses less androgynously than I do? A woman who dresses *more* androgynously than I do? A woman who lives in New York City instead of a small Nebraska town? A woman who lives in poverty? A woman less able to speak in similar situations than I am, or who doesn’t speak at all? A woman more able to speak in situations like this than I am? (Would she be thought of as an uppity bitch?) A woman with chronic pain? A woman who uses a wheelchair? A woman who responds to the stress of being out in public or the stress of being wished away in a more-obvious-to-other people fashion than I do? Or men? Any kind of person I’ve forgotten? Any combination of the above?
So, yes, I am lucky. And my luck could change at any time.