I try to fit in, I swear, I do.
Just passing through small town Northern Ontario, wearing a black parka, driving a silver truck with sensible snow tires, hair shorn recently. Still the three good old boys smoking cigarettes outside of the only hotel that’s still open in town this time of year all stop mid-sentence to check me out when I walk by.
I nod politely, just enough eye contact to not seem suspicious, but not enough that I am looking for a fight. The bells on the door tinkle behind me and the waitress with smoker lady red lips taps the little table in the corner with a plastic coated menu.
“Right here, hon. Getchoo some coffee?”
I nod. She winks.
I’m getting good at telling, after all these years. No second look. No forced politeness. No clipped words. She thinks I’m a clean-cut young fellow.
The old boys outside the front door, I’m not so sure. Maybe they saw a dyke; maybe they think I’m a gay man. There was definitely something about me. Goddamn Fleuvog boots. Have to remember to change into my Sorels. Even though they are a bit hot for the long drives.
I like to think that I am not overly hung up on gender, that I don’t treat strangers all that much differently based on the gender I perceive them to be.
I also know that this is not quite as true as I might like it to be: my heart pounds faster when I’m alone in the park at night and I think the person walking up behind me is a man, and I would rather buy tampons from a woman.
I do know that there are a lot of people in the world who have a whole lot invested in the man/woman dichotomy, and all of the requisite expectations. I know all this because I have to. I study it all every day.
Calling it a survival tactic might be a little dramatic, but it would still be true.
So I try to fit in, and most of the time I do. Ironically, for me, not bringing attention to myself means passing just a little bit more as the gender I was raised to call the other.
For the most part, strangers read me as a clean-cut young fellow. But still, if they are looking close enough, there is something about me that doesn’t fit. A little gesture, something about my voice, or my hips, or my lips, that makes them take that second, longer, closer look.
Some people don’t care at all. Some ask if I am in a band, and are we playing in town this weekend. Some just don’t like me all that much.
And then there are those very few that want to kill me.
Whether this is for being an effeminate or homosexual man, or a masculine or queer woman, I am never quite sure. I rarely take the time to ask.
I sit down with my back to the wall. The three good old boys have finished their cigarettes, and shuffled back towards their newspaper-strewn table in a rush of chilly smoke-scented air.
“Close the damn door, Albert. I’m not paying to heat all of Ontario.” The waitress hustles through the swinging doors with a pot of fresh coffee.
I shudder at the thought of paying the heating bill for this province. It is fucking huge. I know. I just spent the last three days driving across it.
I study the menu. Burgers, burgers and more burgers. What is a gluten-intolerant homo in half-hiding to do?
What is more gay: ordering a burger without the bun, or just ordering a burger and leaving the bun behind?
I could just have a tossed salad, I think, laughing to myself.
I’m not going to ask the waitress to find out if the soup of the day is thickened with flour or cornstarch, not with those three guys eyeing me from over by the pinball machine.
“I’ll have the breakfast special, please. Over easy. Bacon,” I tell her. “No toast,” I add, a little under my breath.
Two days later, just outside of Medicine Hat, Alberta, I am letting the little dog run around on the almost winter brown grass outside a rest stop bathroom. I heard the voice before I saw the guy.
“I got a little fella like that in my truck. He a Shih-Tzu? Mines a Cockapoo. You should bring yours over to meet him.”
I look up. Late 40-something, grey at the temples, GWG jacket, cowboy boots, little bit of a belly, clean-shaven, brass belt buckle, wallet on a chain. Was probably really handsome a few years ago. Still good-looking.
“My wife wanted a little dog. I thought she was nuts, but then I fell in love with the little guy. She got the house. I took the dog.”
I nodded. “Mines a Pekinese Pomeranian cross.”
“Bring him on over to the truck to meet mine.” He gestures over his shoulder at a shiny light blue rig winking in the weak sunlight over in the parking lot.
He smiles, looks down at my crotch, slowly slides his eyes up over my chest and back to my eyes.
It begins to dawn on me just what he wants to show me back at the rig. It probably isn’t his Cockapoo.
“Just got the truck. Bought it off an old-timer who just retired. It’s got satellite radio and a flat screen TV in the sleeper. All the amenities.” He runs his tongue over his lips.
“I uh… I like the colour.” I bend and scoop up the little guy, shovel him into the cab of my truck. “Thanks, but I gotta run. Have a good one.”
I pull back out onto the highway, under a wide, wide sky. Thinking. It could have been the little fluffy dog. Maybe that’s what he saw. Or the boots. I had changed back out of the skidoo boots for my gig in Winnipeg. Goddamn Fleuvogs. Get me every time.