Androgynous looks can be unsettling

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By Janny Wilcke

Let me preface by saying that I’m in no way judgmental or sexist here. My honest stance has always been “live and let live.” I’m simply being observant.

Androgynous-looking people – meaning those folks whose gender is not obvious – while having every right to dress and to act as they please, can take a person totally off guard. If you’re not sure whether someone is a man or a woman, knowing how to refer to them becomes difficult. You may find yourself in a dicey situation with the potential to embarrass yourself – and possibly them; although it surely happens quite often, and they must expect and be used to it or they would do something about it.

Case in point: I was in a bookstore recently in the checkout line when I realized that the sex of the salesperson was impossible to determine. He would have made a very attractive girl, and she would have made an equally good-looking boy. The earrings were no clue since men these days wear as many body ornaments as women, and the chest size was one I have – sadly and intimately – been familiar with all my life; that is, almost non-existent, just the slightest of bulges, which could result from working out as plausibly as from female hormones. And since women wear their hair short and men wear their hair long, there is almost nothing that is a sure-fire indicator any more.

Let me digress while on the subject and tell you about my own unintentional run-in with “androgynousity.” (Is there such a word?) 

Many years ago at a family reunion, I was holding my oldest daughter, then a baby, on my lap. An older man, a distant relative of my husband’s, looked at me from across the lawn and asked, “Who is the cute young boy over there?” I had my hair in a pixie cut at the time but never felt boyish, although I did look young for my age. (Actually, I always looked young until about age fifty when gravity took over. It was as if the elasticity of my skin snapped like a rubber band and my whole body slid south overnight.) Anyway, my husband informed his relative that that “cute boy” (And wasn’t he nice to say cute?) was a woman, his wife.

So here I am in line at the bookstore growing nervous because I am afraid that I will inadvertently say – as I’ve done before – “yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am” to a person of the wrong sex; or I should say the right sex but the wrong person, if you get my point.

And my hope that the person will have a name tag is also dashed when none is visible and I have no idea whether he is a she or she is a he (or vice-versa).

My point is simply that I hate being embarrassed in public and am just as opposed to embarrassing someone else.

So if you think that you are at all androgynous-looking, it would be nice if you would wear a nametag. But then again, Johnny Cash sang about a boy named Sue, and over the years I have been friends with feminine women named Richie and Geoffrey and masculine men named Leslie and Carroll.

Maybe there is no answer to this problem. I always wear lipstick and a good dose of perfume to cover my bases. And I am happy to report that I didn’t slip up that day at the bookstore.

I paid for my books without any sexual references in the transaction.  As for the salesperson, he or she seemed perfectly at ease with his or her sexuality and I say more power to him or her. All I’m asking for is a simple little clue.


Jonna can be reached at editor@hclocal.com