In the post-piny quoting me (swoon!) days, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of gender relief, and I wondered if it might be the sort of thing anyone else had experienced.
There’s a man who asks for change pretty regularly outside the CVS I used to frequent, and he quickly became my favorite panhandler in the square. (I feel like I might be a little insensitive referring to him that way, but I don’t know what better word to use. There are quite a lot of people, mostly men, in the area who I’ve seen in more or less the same place for going on five years now, always asking for money. I don’t want to call them homeless because I have no idea if that’s true, but I feel like even ‘panhandler’ sounds like I’m making a value judgment. I’m not–I just can’t think of a better word.) I try to make a point of giving him change when I see him, particularly when the weather’s getting colder.
Now, he’s a really polite, friendly guy, always upbeat and pleasant. But that alone isn’t why I enjoy seeing him. It’s because more than a few times he’s used a unique approach with me. He certainly recognizes me at this point, and at first when he sees me–particularly if I’m with someone else–he addresses me as “champ” or “big guy.” When I get closer, however–either to give him some change, or apologize for not having any–he quietly says something along the lines of “Thank you, beautiful.”
This isn’t simply a case of someone on the street who’s asking for money initially thinking I’m a man, then correcting when he sees his error. That happens all the time, and it has a very different flavor–there’s usually something apologetic in the tone, or a hesitation and then a rush to talk to someone else. No, this man definitely recognizes me, and he definitely reads me as female throughout the encounter. The conclusion I’ve come to is that he’s trying not to blow my cover.
I’m not really sure how exactly to explain what I mean by that, but that’s the best description I can give of these encounters. I guess it’s entirely possible that he’s this way–complimentary, polite–with everyone who gives him money. Still, I think it’s significant that he’s always very discreet about the way he compliments me. We’ve actually had a few conversations–once he gave me advice on dying my hair–and in more than one of those it was clear he’s family. That, combined with the persona he allows me to have when I’m with other people–the champ, the big guy–leads me to believe that he recognizes something in me. It’s like he’s saying hey, I see who you are, and that’s beautiful.
I wish I were explaining this better. It’s just a very different kind of gender relief than the kind I experience when a professor refers to me by female pronouns before being introduced, or a grocer addresses me as “miss.” Here, a man recognizes two truths–the butch persona and the female identity–and acknowledges them both.