Articles / Gender fog / The closet

I broke a promise

Years ago, I promised my wife I wouldn’t go out in our neighborhood, presenting as a woman.

It was 2001 and we lived in the South Bronx. Everyone agreed it was a dangerous neighborhood, particularly for women and people who were seen as “faggots” or “travestis.” We had a neighbor who was a trans woman, and we never saw anybody attack her, but we didn’t want to take any chances. We talked about it, and we agreed.

Not going out in the neighborhood meant that I couldn’t go out at all. I stopped by the “LGBT Community Center” one day. I figured that a safe place to change was a basic service to the “T” community. The receptionist told me, “No, we don’t let people change in the bathroom, because they make a mess with all the makeup and stuff.” (They have since changed their policy, and you are allowed to change in the bathroom.)

And then one late summer day I was at home. I’d been laid off. I put on a skirt and heels and admired myself in the mirror, and then I started to take them off. No, I said. Fuck this.

I stripped down to my underwear and put on a layer of foundation makeup. Then I put on some androgynous pants and a T-shirt and packed a bag. In Riverside Park I put on lipstick and earrings. In a Barnes and Noble women’s room I changed into my skirt and heels. Then I got on the subway and walked around Midtown.

008_DR-1It felt so good to be walking around as a woman. I felt pretty and free and excited. I didn’t want it to end. And then it came to me: why should it end? Everyone here sees me as a woman. My neighbors will see me as a woman. None of them will recognize me! Nobody in the South Bronx will attack me, because they’ll see me as a woman!

And that’s how I broke my promise to my wife. How I went against my own better judgment. I got on the subway in my skirt and heels and lipstick, with my guy clothes in a shoulder bag. Half an hour later I walked up the stairs and click-clicked my heels down the Grand Concourse to my building.

Then I remembered the older guys that hang out in front of my building. They’re an interesting combination of doorman, neighborhood watch and senior citizens’ club. They weren’t there when I left in the late morning, but of course they were there in the late afternoon. They held the door for me, and I scooted inside.

Clicking around the corner I came face-to-face with my next-door neighbor. “Hi, Myrna!” I blurted out in my perky women’s voice, before disappearing inside my apartment. Why, no, I’m not your neighbor, I’m a complete stranger who just happens to know your first name!

As it turns out, there was no fallout from that incident. I ran into Myrna a couple of weeks later, and she said, “I saw your … sister?” I said, “Oh, you mean my cousin!” Her son helpfully translated, “Ah, la prima!” which suggested that I had been the topic of their dinner-table conversation. The guys at the front door asked my wife, “So you live with your … brother?” She said, “No, my husband.”

And that was the end of it. Nobody attacked me, nobody harassed me. Everyone was just as friendly as before. That’s not the point, of course.

The point is that it could have been worse. My wife and I sat down and made a sober assessment of the state of our neighborhood and the risks of going out in public there. I was frustrated with that, which is reasonable. In a thoughtful, sober state of mind, I would have gone to CDI until I had a chance to move to a less notorious neighborhood, and in fact that’s what I later did.

The point is that I took this sober assessment and threw it out the window. And that’s an example of gender fog.