Monday, July 22, 2019


I had my headphones in, so I could not hear what he was saying, but I could see in his eyes that this was not going to be a good dialogue. Taking the buds out, I asked "Excuse me?"

Pointing at my knees, he snarled "Why are you wearing a skirt? Are you some kind of fag?"

I looked around the metro car. Those that heard the question looked down or away, uncomfortable. Others looked pained or worried.

"This is an American version of a Scottish kilt called a Utilikilt and it is traditionally designed for men." I really should have stopped there. "I feel pretty in it. You don't like it?"

"No. You look like a woman, like a fucking pussy." He was clenching his fists now. "Men pretending to be women is what's wrong with this fucking country."

I looked around again. More people looking away, others now looking up from their phones, taking their own headphones out, confused. "Times are always a-changing man. Either change with it or get out of the way." I really shouldn't have been that sassy, but I'm just tired of these has-been old guards who think they can just strong-arm anyone who doesn't fit inside their restrictive view of the world.

The guy stood up suddenly, got uncomfortably close, and looked me square in the eye. I could smell the morning's cigarette on his breath. I took a mental note of where the emergency brake handle was, just in case I needed to make a wild grab for it, wondering if I would get fined $500.

But I looked back into those eyes, and for a moment, I could see into his past. I could see the wonder-eyed kid who ran through the grass, his dog keeping pace. I heard his laughter and contented sighs while looking at the star-filled sky, believing he could touch each one with the power of dreams.

And then I saw his stars go out, one by one, and his laughter was silenced and locked in a chest that was meant for boys rather than men.

Suddenly I was back in that metro, nose-to-nose with a man who intended me harm, frustrated and angry and not really understanding why. "What was it that you had to give up?" I asked.

Confused, he took a half-a-step back, looking around quickly. "Wh-What?" This was not the reaction he was expecting from me.

"That dream you had as a kid. That thing you wanted to do, but they teased you about it, shamed you for it, made you feel weak and afraid." His eyes went wide and he was back in that place: a boy frightened and confused. Loving what he loved, not understanding how it could be wrong. "They made you give it up and it wasn't fair, so what was it?" It wasn't fair, all these people breaking the rules and getting parades for it when he wasn't allowed that one thing that made him happy to dream. Why should a guy like me wear what I wanted in public and everybody accepts it, but he was forced to give up what he wanted or suffer the consequences from shame, pain, isolation.

"What was it? Tell me." I whispered. The metro was nearing it's next stop where the doors would open and the moment would be gone. I wanted to see where this would go, even if it meant his fist connecting with my face. I needed to know. "It's not too late, you know. We've thrown out the rules. You could have it now if you wanted."

Tears rimmed his eyes for a moment, his face softened, hands relaxed, but then the metro lurched to a stop and the doors flew open. The moment was gone, his face hardened and he grabbed at my shoulder to push me aside. But as he barged past me, making for the open doors, and he growled.

"Dancer. I wanted to be a dancer." And he was gone.

Copyright© 2010 John David Hickey