My gaze stuck to her retreating silhouette like a bluebottle on a piece of meat while I was still getting to grips with what my friend had just told me.
I was on a fag break, chatting to said friend outside the Film Museum, when this gorgeous creature walked up to us. Both exchanged pleasantries; small talk ensued. I remained a bystander, intrigued by the cleavage and the curve-hugging mini skirt, the rather heavy yet carefully applied makeup and the long dark hair. When she’d resumed her walk to wherever she was headed to, my friend turned to me.
“So,” he asked, “what do you think?”
I can’t quite remember what I replied, but it most probably was something positive – and noncommittal. After all, it’s not like we’d had a long, meaningful conversation. What I do remember, though, is what followed.
“That was a man”, he said, clearly waiting for an awestruck expression to appear on my face.
I obliged – and not because it’s what he expected: I was genuinely impressed. What I had just seen simply didn’t compare to the drag queens I usually came across in bars. Then I thought back. All right, the voice had been a bit husky and yes, there had been something slightly masculine in his/her features. So maybe if we’d spent a few hours in each other’s company… but we never did. And as this had been the briefest of encounters, the artistry had worked its wonders on me.
Eventually, my friend explained that while this person had kept his manhood, he/she had also breast implants and lived as a woman. She worked in a different city, offering services to people (mainly men) with very specific tastes. I smiled, my curiosity titillated.
That was twenty years ago.
Today, I find myself wondering if this kind of freedom, i.e. that of being who we want to be, will carry on existing in the coming decades – or years, even. How long before fingers are pointed at people who made non-conformist choices, whether these choices pertain to their gender or whether, more generally, it involves their lifestyle? How long before the pitchforks come out, for that matter?
There’s no denying that the zeitgeist has taken a turn for the worst since the aforementioned meeting and that tolerance is slowly departing from these shores. The general consensus these days seems to favour ‘smallness’ in every possible sense of the word: the confines of strictly defined states and cultures, the ever-tightening bounds of what’s viewed as acceptable and normal. Expanding one’s horizons, whether literally or figuratively, isn’t necessarily considered something to aim for anymore – a consequence, I guess, of the all-pervading, increasingly populist rhetoric fed to us by mainstream media. Dislike and wariness of otherness and diversity as a way of expressing dissatisfaction, that’s how it appears to me. And it looks like history is repeating itself once again.
Yet if we managed to rid ourselves of narrow-minded, constricting and bigoted notions, then the idea of alienation would become irrelevant. If there were no more borders, if we no longer had clearly defined countries and individuals were free to broaden their view of a home, then the whole concept of exile, too, would become irrelevant.
We would all be part of one same world, hopefully rich and diverse. The irony is, of course, that we already live in the same world: we share the same planet. We’re an integral part of its ecosystem. And we all share the same gene pool.
Borders, frontiers, dogmas, preconceived ideas… they’re our doing. Our invention. And for what purpose? Protection of what we’ve claimed as ours. Protection from what we deem inappropriate and, consequently, threatening.
So today more than ever, I wish that, if I were some socialite snob, I could say “But darling, that’s so passé!”