A River of Stereotypes

11 June, 2011

Dave Barry once wrote, approximately, the key to writing is having a great opening sentence. Once you have that great opening sentence everything else flows. Given the intense labor I consider writing, I have never penned a great opening sentence. Take this entry for instance. How hard can it be to come up with a great opener about a cadre of tailors, two department stores, and a spiteful shopping cart? Very. Apparently. So, instead I’ll start by telling you about a wedding.

Myriad words exist solely for toasting weddings. It seems these words, usually long and sounding like the scientific name for a flower–such as pulchritudinous–gather round the thesaurus’ water cooler and swap stories of weddings-past while they wait for their turn in use. I break their personified hearts today because of all the descriptors one could use the best for this particular wedding is: pending. It is my brother’s wedding to a wonderful, and feisty, gal slated for August twenty-first. A wedding in which I am the Best-woman.

As Best-woman, I will be in a sleek, fitted suit designed to work with the few assets I currently have. Because I don’t have such a suit I trolled store sites like Babe Winkleman futzing through the waters of northern Minnesota with his line played out behind him hoping to scare up a big’un. I’m not sure what shady shoal Babe will find his big’un but mine is on Chadwicks.com. A chic, tailored pantsuit with a unique and flattering design. It’s belt-style loops through silver tone grommets; the lined, v-neck jacket has long sleeves and a mandarin collar. The jacket pairs with slightly flared pants great for heels. The only difficulty was not knowing my current measurements. So I embarked on quest through the mall, a girl determined to get the measurements that make her the chick in the smokin’ hot pantsuit at her brother’s upcoming nuptials. I had no clue what I was in for.

As I have stepped my skirted-self about town, I have gotten use to getting odd looks and glares. These things come as recognizable landmarks in trans-territories and second puberty highlands, but was unprepared for actual bigotry. Worse, the bigotry came at the hands of the transwoman’s stereotypical best friend: the fashion industry. I visited two high-end department stores and three professional tailors and all five refused to take my measurements. My favorite two reactions were the Lord and Taylor staff who asked me to take a seat and then ignored me for nearly half an hour (had I not gotten up and left I would probably still be there) and the tailor who looked me in the eye and said, “We don’t do women’s measurements” while three feet behind him his colleague measured a slender, fine-boned African-American woman. It was at the third tailor’s, however, that I had my fill. I entered the shop and politely inquired of the lady at the counter, do you provide measurements for formal events? The woman didn’t respond. Thinking she hadn’t heard me I repeated my question a little louder. She still didn’t respond. Perhaps she’s deaf, I thought and turned to address the male staff member a few feet away. I got halfway through my query before he turned sharp enough on his heel to please a Marine drill sergeant and walked away leaving me . . .

. . . to abandon my quest and set off in search of groceries and, more important, beer.

Away to Shoppers and the politest check-out clerk I ever had. Now, consider this contrast. The fashion industry, which makes a fair amount off the whims and egos of drag queens, transvestites, transsexuals, and gender queer individuals, had zero tolerance and a fair amount of hatred for little old youdon’thavetocallmebeautifuljustprovidetheserviceyourjobasksofyou me. Then, in blue-collar and sales land, a courteous stock boy and a friendly cashier who complimented my outfit provide superior customer service. Do the stereotypes seem off to you? Their kindness, the compliment, and a twelve pack of craft beers mended my mangled spirit and I was again feeling upbeat as I bounce-bounced my cart through a parking lot boasting more lumps than homemade gravy.

Whether it was the heat or the washboard surface I will never know, but at that moment the cart’s front wheel jammed and the cart refused to budge. So I drug and tugged the ridiculously heavy cart with an immobile wheel across the lot one yank at a time. Half way to the car a white man in a crisp shirt and ironed trousers starts, “Let me help you, miss,” and finishes with “Oh, yuck,” and an about-face after glimpsing me. Chivalry among the white male is certainly dying if not dead. It is alive and well, however, in the Latino population. Back at the apartment an elderly Latino man volunteered to help me with my grocery bags. Going out of his way to carry them up to the fourth floor. “Are you having a party?” he asked. No, I replied, just groceries. “Pretty women like you should be invited to parties every night,” he said. My reply entailed a strong blush and soft chuckle.  I thanked him for his help and he ended my excursion on a positive note by saying, “It was my pleasure, darling,” before shuffling off.

Being a woman and navigating the inconsistent world of stereotypes is certainly a mixed Versace Patent Flap Shoulder Bag.

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