I stride down the street, making full use of my long legs, the inseams of my jeans taut along my inner thighs. I shake the burden of the day from my body as I go, releasing the close constriction that a pair of old nylons had pressed into my hips and legs all week. I work out the kinks in my feet from work shoes — my “good shoes” are flat-soled and more comfortable than most women wear, but they still pinch and cramp. I toss back my shoulders, shaking loose the tightness of a poised and proper day at the office. I am in no mood to negotiate tonight. I’m in no mood to placate, to cooperate, to compromise, to buckle. I’m in no mood to tone myself down, to make myself soft and welcoming, to make myself what I am not, so that someone else can pass me in the hall without averting their eyes and moving an extra body-width away from me, as I walk by.
Tonight I am a dyke. And I feel it. In full regalia of loose, faded jeans, a silver cigarette case holding a fold of five dollar bills tucked in my back pocket, black tooled leather boots, a silver earring in my left ear, and a grey sweatshirt with sleeves rolled up to my elbows, I am dressed for the first time all week. I push the hair from in front of my face with a purposeful, no-nonsense sweep of my hand. In my legs I feel it, in my shoulders, in my arms, my high-held head. Tonight I am a dyke.
I take the block under my voracious stride, daring it to resist me. I am coiled with the anticipation of an evening about to unfold, for the woman I love waits for me only a few blocks away. My boots are solid and sure on the hot cement, and a storm threatens beyond the periphery of the treetops. Thunder rumbles to the west, as a sulky, humid breeze scuttles plastic bags and maple seeds down the street in front of me. As the last of the squawking roosting starlings settle in for the night, I turn the corner and head down a side street, almost at a run. Gobbling sidewalk underfoot, I slow my pace at the sight of an oncoming car, which signals to turn left into the alley a few steps ahead of me. As I pause to let the car pass, the young white man at the wheel fixes a glare on me, holding my gaze for a challenging moment. The look in his eye says, “I’m a man. What are you?”
But tonight I’m in no mood to respond to his challenge. I know the answer to his belligerent question, and I have no need to prove it. Little boy, I think, casting my eyes along the length of his beat-up sedan. Even your insecure adolescence in a full-grown body cannot take this night from me. The woman I love waits just blocks from where I stand. I am dressed for the first time all day. No look from a stranger can taint what I know, what I feel, what I am.
I flash him a brief, dismissing look, then toss my head and glance down the rest of the street, gauging my safety. I’m no longer on my block. There was an attack on a man who looked like a woman in this neighborhood, a few weeks ago. A van-load of skinheads surrounded him at 2:30 a.m. and stabbed him till he collapsed. I wonder if a woman who looks like a man is any safer. The thought of turning back toys at the edge of my attention for a moment, until I dismiss it. This evening the street is deserted, empty of traffic and pedestrians, and there’s still an hour of daylight left. I am free to move on.
Nimbly, I skirt the tail of the car inching across my path and gather the rest of the block underfoot. Tonight, this walk is mine.