Sunday, September 10, 2006

A Boy Named Sarah 

About 10 months ago I had my hair cut very short, and since then it's mostly fluctuated between chaemo-patient (as someone here put it), fascist (as I think most of my English friends put it) and crew-cut. A number of memorable moments of gender mis- or re-identification have occurred since then, my favourites including the comments "you could be a boxer with a chest like that, sir" during some close measurements for a suit-fitting, and "I really think women are the future... You and I are on the way out" from a man at a party, where the rest of the group were girls.

For the most part, these moments have become a routine part of my life, and something I usually quite enjoy, their unpredictability being the only hard part. But something about the differences between England and America - possibly just a mere fact of accent - seems to have removed the power of the normal tip-offs that I might be, at least biologically, female. Whereas at home the mistaken impressions were usually corrected with great embarrassment later on when I spoke more clearly, or allowed my chest to show more prominently, here that corrective seems to be largely absent. "Oh, he's just English..."

Even my name on my ID card - and my long hair in that - doesn't change things here. Cashing travellers' cheques at the bank yesterday, two of the tellers discussed options about bank accounts for me - "he'd get a $250 bonus with his first payslip on that account", "yeah, but he doesn't have a social security number yet..." And after this, one of them looked at my passport for a long time to write down some details, before handing it back with a 'here you go, sir'. Another time, I'd just been ID'd in a bar when I got into a chat with a Brazilian man who talked all night about sports, because he thought I must do a lot of tough ones with a physique like mine (you see, only women are fat - men are built)

None of this seems to be a problem in a university town on the East coast, but if I ever leave here my life may rapidly head into Boys Don't Cry territory. And one thing that still scares me about living in this country - people here carry guns...

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