OK, so here’s the thing:
I had encounters with two young couples this evening while doing my laundry here in Yellow Springs. The first couple (let’s call them “Couple A”) consisted of a boy and a girl, both in their early twenties; both were of the earnest and amusing sort that one might find in a Dorothy Parker or Trevanian short story. They had come into the laundromat after I arrived, and responded to my usual cautious “Hey” with cheery “Hello!”s. He was glib and besotted; she was equally besotted, but shy and a little unsure of herself, as well as being the smarter of the two (so smart, in fact, that she let him think he was the smart one). I gleaned these characteristics while overhearing their banter in the muggy laundromat, smiling to myself and trying to remember if I’d ever been that young, or earnest, or lucky. When the timer went off on the washers I was using, I transferred my clothes to my usual three dryers and, gathering up my purse and tea, went outside to sit in the cool night breeze and read my Kindle while waiting for my clothes to dry.
Even industrial dryers take awhile to get the job done when one is washing, well, EVERYTHING, and I’d been outside for half an hour or so when I met the second couple of the evening (let’s call them “Couple B”). They were walking toward the parking lot, on their way home from an evening’s entertainment in the Springs. They, too, were a young couple, and, filled with the bonhomie after watching Couple A play “Barefoot in the Park,” I smiled at the passing couple and went back to my book. This couple was made up of a young man and a young woman, both in their early twenties; they were polished and yet ratty in a way that only hereditary affluence seems to make possible; the smell of Axe and TiVo’d “Jersey Shore” episodes was thick in the air. The guy, a scruff-beared alpha male with a backwards baseball cap and arms that had lifted many a weight but cracked only a few books, was pontificating about something, and when I smiled up at them, he broke off his monologue and stepped quickly away from me with an odd, guttural sound; they kept walking, but he recovered and said, just loud enough for me to hear, “Only in fucking Yellow Springs.” His girlfriend darted a glance at me, and looked away hurriedly, prompting him to resume his story. They rounded the corner and reappeared a few moments later in his customized cobalt-blue Hummer (and, not to be Peppermint Petty here, but OF COURSE it was a fucking Hummer). I saw him sneer through the window and then they took a hard turn, driving out of town and away from any contamination I may have threatened.
While I can’t be certain what set him off (does he hate fat girls? Did he clock me as trans? Maybe he just really, really hates George R.R. Martin and his readers?), I got the message. I sat there, feeling the same burn creep up my neck and into my face that I’ve felt a thousand times before. Nobody changes someone’s mind with a streetcorner confrontation, but as I sat there, feeling judged and angry and somehow violated, I wanted to grab that young man’s gym-honed arm and say, “I came here to be myself. I came here because the people I’ve met here are kind, and generous, and accepting of difference, and do not make it their mission to cause suffering in others, provided said others don’t litter or try to extract the natural gas from their yard. In short, I came here to get away from people like YOU. Yet here you are, a rogue meteor of bigoted assholedom, spinning through the universe in your own icy cloud of self-absorbed white male privilege, uncaring of what worlds you may damage or destroy as you slam into them.
And aren’t you lucky? Traveling through life without ever knowing what it’s like to wake up every single morning wishing you could undo the accident of your birth? Isn’t it wonderful to be young and have a pretty girl on your arm? Isn’t life just a sterling silver bowl of cherries?
But it’s not enough, is it? No, it never is. It’s not enough that you have all these things and stride through the world like somehow, somewhere, Carly Simon is writing a song about you. No, you have to reach out like a Dickensian villain and kick the puppy, because, hey – you can. It’s not like people who are different have feelings, or problems you’ll never encounter, or a soul-crushing disconnect between their bodies and minds that has driven them to the very brink of despair. Whether it’s a puppy, or a black kid, or a Muslim, or an overweight, bookish transwoman minding her own goddamn business except to give you a smile and wish you good evening, it’s all the same to you. It’s your world, and we’re just living in it, right, chief? Well fuck you, Charlie.”
That’s what I wanted to say to him. Even though I knew it wouldn’t make a difference, at least not right away. And even on well-lit streets in full view of other people, transwomen have an unfortunate tendency to end up beaten or murdered.
So I let him walk, then drive, away unchallenged. I let him think he not only had the right to treat ME this way, but to do it again to the next transperson he meets. And that weighs heavily on my tiny charcoal heart.
Soon after Couple B drove off, the timer went off on my dryers. I went back inside, where Couple A was finishing their own laundry, laughing and chatting in that slightly showy way people have when they’re deliriously happy and want everyone to know it. I started folding my towels, and then, after they packed up, Couple A stopped on their way to the door and said, “Goodnight!” and “Have a good night!”, giving me a little wave as they disappeared into the night beyond the fluorescent laundromat glare. I found myself standing there among the baskets full of whites and brights, tears in my eyes; I was reminded that I HAD come to this town because I could live my life amid people like them, instead of living a life full of fear of people like the man from Couple B.
Like so many people, I’m often guilty of taking simple courtesy for granted; moving to a town where people not only greet each other on the street, but genuinely MEAN IT when they ask, “how are you?” was a bit of an adjustment for me. Yet I wouldn’t trade it for the world, just like I wouldn’t trade the wonderful group of amazing friends I’ve made since I’ve moved here, or the slowly-developing rhythms of a life lived in joy, rather than fear.
Chances are, I’ll never see Couple B again. They can go about their lives, and I’ll go about mine, and if all the gods of sea and sky are good, our paths will remain mutually exclusive. I was hurt in a way I thought I’d armored myself against tonight, and it would be so very easy to hold onto that pain, and use it to add another layer of charcoal to the tiny lump that resides in my chest. But instead, I think I’m going to hold onto the memory of Couple A. I think I’m going to try to remember that there are places in this world where selfishness, and greed, and “homo homini lupus” are indeed vices rather than virtues.
I’m going to live my life, and love the awesome, amazing and quirky people who share it. I’m going to seek my bliss, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let some neckbearded douchebag from Dicktropolis rob me of one more second of joy. This is my home, these are my people, and if I ever see Couple A again, hey – the drinks are on me.
“Only in Yellow Springs,” huh?
You’d better fucking believe it.