Friday, 10 August 2012

Men in aprons

I've been away for five nights at Lyme Regis, hence the lack of posts!

It was a strange holiday. Nothing upset me, but the mood was not quite right. I was doing it on a tight budget. That meant no meals out. I now see that this was a mistake. So often, I've found pleasant conversation with strangers in pubs and restaurants where I've come for a meal. This time I denied myself that, and although I ate very well in the caravan, I ate alone, and I felt the lack of people-contact. I'm really as gregarious as anyone else, despite my constant assertions that I need space, love the freedom of doing things on my own, and never feel lonely. Next time, I'll make sure that I have enough good company.

However, meeting people can be complicated. It's not going to hold me back, but it's always in my mind: how will I be received? As such, passing isn't a major problem. I'm sure that in a general sort of way people see me as I present myself, and that means they see only a middle-aged woman. They may wonder about me if they give me a jolly good, close-up scrutiny. But most people won't. Kids don't give me a glance: I'm not young, I'm not part of their world, and can be ignored. Older people may be too busy or preoccupied to goggle at me. But there is potential danger from a certain kind of woman who was brought up to feel uncomfortable with anything that isn't quite right and proper. I saw one or two of these give me a piercing look while on holiday. I smiled back. They remained stone-faced. I wondered what, in their eyes, my sin was.

Then of course there are some middle-aged men who are simply not going to be fooled. Despite a very clear and natural female presentation on my part, they will persistently call me 'sir', because they feel absolutely bound to ignore my obvious gender preference. They do it on principle, to demonstrate to other men that they have eyes, and are not taken in. They are quite sure they know exactly what's what. If they can remain polite (as did the man behind the fish counter at Waitrose in Sidmouth) I will ignore their 'sirs', stay natural, and having bought whatever it is (a halibut steak in the Sidmouth instance) I will say thank you, and walk away without a fuss. Secretly I will be a bit nettled, but they are not going to see that I am!

I've noticed that it's mostly men serving in a shop, behind a counter, probably with an apron on, that assert their no-nonsense masculinity like this. Such as the man at Waitrose mentioned above. Such as the three chaps at Clive Miller, the Hurstpierpoint butchers, when I made the meat purchases for my Family Gathering six weeks back. These meat men didn't actually say 'sir' at any point, but I could see they were bursting to. I think two things kept them under control. First, the size and value of my purchase. Once it went over the £100 mark, I was going to get big respect. Second, Fiona. When they realised that the impressive Volvo parked in front of the shop, and visible through the window, was actually mine, they became as accommodating as could be. Men set such store on cars. One of them carried all the meat out to Fiona for me, and believe me, it weighed plenty. I rather enjoyed that moment. But I still realised that, in their hearts, they knew exactly what I 'really' was, and that as soon as I drove off, they'd be murmuring among themselves all about me - darkly - and nodding their heads. I hope they didn't share these murmurings with the other customers.

I wonder if the aprons, and the need to be deferential to customers, make them feel less than proper men? So that, when they can, they score secret points off the customers to re-establish their male dominance and self-respect? People like me must be a godsend.

Not all men are playing games like this of course. I've met some who were very nice, and were ready to treat me with a fitting (and not ironic) courtesy. But then they weren't in positions where I was the customer, and they my servant. We were conversing as equals. Insofar as men and women are ever in fact equals. At the best of times, even with the best of people, that's pretty debatable.


  1. Hi Lucy,
    I think you are right, that some men feel that they have to prove something - maybe they want to reassure themselves that they are 'real' men and want to put some distance between them and you. I guess as long as they are polite and do not make a song and dance about it then it has to be ok. A bloke is a 'sir' whether he's in a skirt or trousers. If they want to join in and play the game then all the better, but it's not obligatory and despite all the gender equality stuff, we can't assume they are all signed up to play along. Having said that I am surprised that you had a problem in Waitrose. I had thought that John Lewis staff were on-side having been told that all customers deserve respect....
    All the best

  2. Oops! It would appear that you do not pass as well as you thought Lucy, at least on this occasion. The guy in the apron or the other middle-aged guys must have thought you were a transvestite - a cross-dresser rather than a woman or maybe they thought you were who you are - a transitioned woman but refused to accept it, hence the 'sir'. I'd have been mortified had that happened to me. I probably would have challenged the use of the wrong title or pronoun and put them back in their place. In fact that happened to me about 8 years ago when I was 2 years post. In those days I guess I didn't pass as well as I do now. I had become friendly with this woman who was having trouble with her womanising boyfriend. They happened into my local pub one afternoon and she introduced me to him. He began using 'he' when referring to me and I pulled him to pieces. In so many words I told him that he was the only one sitting at the table with a penis between his legs! They left soon afterwards and I have never seen them since.

    Shirley Anne x


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