From the Rockies to the Atlantic, A Presence You Can't Stare Down
Cages or wings?
Which do you prefer?
Ask the birds
Fear or love, baby?
Don't say the answer
Actions speak louder than words
—Jonathan Larson, Tick-Tick Boom
Okay, so the trip. Promised I'd write about it. Events, though, outstripped my capacities, such that the trip is turning into a book. This post isn't so much a TL;DR but a nugget of concentrated travelogue.
Betty the Red-Orange 1973 VW Camper is a miracle beast. Pam and I didn't know she could hit 80 mph, but she did. We kept her at 65-70, but she wasn't built for such speeds in two key ways:
Betty came from the era of "Drive 55, Stay Alive." Her air-cooled engine is a wonder, though, and sustained the 4-days-each-way, interstate-dragging-with-semis very well. Buuuuut … we discovered she had to cool down for 15 minutes at each fuel stop before she'd start again. Fair. She, like me, is a lady of senior years.
Betty is not as aerodynamic as later-model vehicles now on the road. Nebraska through Ohio, the winds were vicious, not to mention the air blasts we'd get when passing or being passed by 18-wheelers.
The routine was that, after 2 hours, both Betty and Pam (who did all the driving) needed rest and refueling. (And I, of course, needed to use the bathroom.)
Neither Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, nor rural Pennsylvania presented the dangers I worried about, considering the transphobia coming from demagogues in those states. Granted, we were in our car except for convenience-store potty breaks. (Travel Tip: Sapp Bros. gas stations are the shiz, with heated-toilet-seat BIDETS equipped with dryers, people! They also sell Squishmallows, and Pam bought me one!) We glimpsed an occasional "Let's Go Brandon" t-shirt, but also saw (in the most remote of stops) stickers for sale that read, "Zombies Eat Brains. Republicans Are Safe." Yet, even when we ventured a few miles away from the interstate to a gas station or overnight campground, the people we met were simply people, most of whom adored Betty and cheerfully asked about her and our trip. We were always greeted with "Hello, ladies!" or "If you're looking for the restrooms, they're that way, Ma'am."
We got to Boston (specifically, Revere), hugged our daughter, and cuddled Nicco, our adorable brand-new grandson [pic below the PS]. Other adventures ensued, which will be duly covered in the book (look for it in six months). One, though, bears recounting here.
We and the fams went to see Sh!tfaced Shakespeare in Boston. We dined at an excellent Italian restaurant on Hanover and were walking down the street to Improv Asylum, when I noticed a man in a blue polo staring at me. I locked eyes with this middle-aged broseph who apparently operated like he'd every right to stare me off the sidewalk. I did not drop my return gaze. His eyes drilled into me like I was an offense to him and bore an astonishment that I had the temerity to stare back. I'd had a cocktail and glass of Chianti with dinner, so I was equipped with my fair share of piss and vinegar, in no mood to brook his attempt to ruin my evening.
I halted on the sidewalk and said in my best Boston-Italianese, "You got a problem?!"
Only then did he avert his gaze, but Pam was shooing me down the street. "Are you nuts? Just keep walkin', Babs!"
The rest of our party had noticed the interchange as I fumed. "I went through fuckin' Nebraska, Iowa, and points eastward, and the first transphobia I get is in Massachusetts' biggest city?"
"Move along, Bethany," Pam said, taking my hand. I don't mess with Pam when she's in mama-bear mode.
By the time we reached the theatre, I'd stopped grumbling but was not cheery, even though Pam's brother bought me a beer. As I'd settled into our front-row seats (it was a U-shaped arrangement, and we were on the left side of the U), I felt a burning sensation on my neck and turned to see a total Karen in the third row of the bottom of the U, staring at me like she was warding off Cthulhu. I elbowed Pam, and she saw it this time. We both stared back. I was ready to blow a kiss when Karen dropped her eyes.
Halfway through the show I regained humor for what was a hilarious performance. Afterward, we had cocktails and desserts, and the waiter and I carried on a banter that reassured me that assholes are far in the minority. I'd shaken off what's become an expected experience for me—the evisceration of my existence with eyes alone.
For some people, there's nothing louder than trans. Growing up, I was taught that staring is impolite. Others, though, engage in such manners only to a certain threshold granted them by the privilege of their skin color or compatibility with their gender-assigned-at-birth. Apparently, their birthright—nay, duty—is to stare difference into annihilation. With such gazes, I'm told by eyes alone that I've crossed a boundary merely by being present.
Why, yes, I am different. But my difference is not fodder for your gaze. Maybe some would like me caged so they can feel safer as I listlessly pace like a circus tiger. What are others keeping behind the bars forged by transphobic legislation? Will they euthanize me if the children they're "protecting" fall into the pit within grasp of my claws?
I don't bear claws and fangs. That I seem a danger to those in seats of privilege reveals how they view the world. In being me without apology, I threaten them. In walking down the street or sitting in a theatre, enjoying the company of my loved ones, I signal for them that the world is on fire.
But who, really, is engaging in scorched-earth tactics? The folks who are merely being themselves? Or those who would rather see it go down in flames than let me smile, stroll freely, and enjoy life?
Fear or love, baby. Gazes speak louder than words.
I won't be stared back into the flames.
PS - The trip and its adventures were entirely worth it. I mean, look who we got to meet …