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Monday, January 22, 2007


I make reassuring noises when she tells me this, that someone asked her if she was? What? ‘Is she hermaphrodite?’ Senior daughter is a long way away and my protective abilities are waning. ‘Pity the poor schmuck and put them right,’ I advise. What kind of idiot uses hermaphrodite when they mean androgynous anyway? The fact that someone lacks the social skills to know that such a question is inappropriate, says more about the speaker than the person addressed. I quell my ire, knowing that such a question comes from the ignorant, the narrow minded and sexually insecure. This was not some esoteric query where the questioner believes that your male side is dominating your female side. This is someone who doesn’t know that snails can produce off-spring regardless of which sex they are designated. I want to jump on a plane, march up to her accuser and give them a good smack around the head, but I cannot justify the defence of a 25 year old child with such behaviour, and I would be a poor role model resorting to such tactics. The fact that the questioner was also an American, where pink denotes ‘female’ devoid of any other clues, makes me rile. But I’m too distracted to give her a proper reply because I have a zillion things to do and junior is standing on my feet, rocking from one to another, so that my metatarsals make crunching noises against the floorboards.

I have sudden recall of a similar query that I experienced myself. I used to walk home every day, [translation = regularly] in my navy blue sweater, navy blue jeans, discrete black boots, with my hair tied up in a knot: “are you a boy or a girl?” he asked one day. I was taken aback, I wanted to correct him: “do you mean androgynous?” or, since I was in my feminist phase at the time, “do you mean ‘am I a woman or a man?’” But of course that’s not what I said at all, as I was young, aggressive and hypersensitive, so I simply shouted “female” at the top of my lungs as I stomped past in a state of high dugeon, clutching my macramé sack to my side, even though it had been fashionable the decade before I was born.

Reflection with adult eyes, makes me wonder why a young man in his early twenties would say such a thing to a teenager, as I must have been about 15 at the time. We were in the street in broad day light with no-one else around. There were so many other socially acceptable ways for him to have discovered that nugget of information. I had seen him every day for a few weeks as I walked home. I wouldn’t describe him as lurking, he was merely walking in the opposite direction at the same approximate time as me every day, which meant that at some time during the 7 minutes that it took to walk from the entrance of my road to my house, I would meet him coming in the other way. Perhaps I encouraged him by greeting him with “good afternoon” every time we passed, although he never returned the greeting. He looked very ordinary, he did not look ‘hip’ or ‘with it’ for the times, he looked safe because he was dressed like my father on a casual day, slub coloured clothes, the garb of a respectable middle aged man, although I didn’t see the mis-match at the time. The short back and sides hair cut made his head and face open, no lizard eyes peeping out under a shag of hair. He was not a lout. [translation = thug] It was not a taunt or a tease, or a come on. [translation = sexual invitation] I cannot remember before or since, ever being asked such a forthright question? Although people may have had the same query, they never voiced it in such a direct manner to my face.

I can see him now, me on the path [translation = sidewalk], him in the road [translation = pavement] but that, in and of itself, was not odd, 30 years ago in a single track cul-de-sac road. No, it was something more intangible, the way he stopped so abruptly, spoke so simply and directly, not an accusation or a threat, but a question which he wanted to know the answer to, quite a simple question really, but a rare question in the tight lipped Island known as England. Such buffed toes on his tan leather shoes, neat lace-ups rather than trainers. The shirt and tie should have alerted me, to say nothing of the crease in the trousers, the empty hands without baggage, the person with no physical adornment.

If I examine myself with a critical eye, it is easy to see the confusion. In that summer when I was fifteen, I was shaped like a plank, straight up and down, no in and outs. Tallish and lanky, without make-up or other visual clues, I didn’t assist a casual observer, I could easily have passed for male teenage youth, which perhaps was what I was aiming at?

When I think of the harshness of my response, feathers flying, although I didn’t stop to watch the effect, I know that the following day, whilst I was braced for a rematch, he never re-appeared. I hope I didn’t do him permanent psychological damage?

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