There was this man, this man standing on the platform opposite mine with a hot pink purse slung over his shoulder; texting. My first thought was that he was holding it for somebody, for his girlfriend, or sister, or mother, or friend. And my second notion was that he was holding it for him. And then I thought that he looked smashing in order to make up for the fact that a man holding his own hot pink purse is what I thought of second.
But I’m not going to lie. I had no idea whether he looked smashing with his texting and his purse. No idea. None at all. I just called him smashing because I didn’t want to be…. I don’t know. Whatever word that applies to assigning people to certain items because of there gender. I could feel myself be so blinded by his non-conformist accessory that I could no longer tell whether it increased or decreased the ultimate value of his outfit. And that is so confusing, because on paper, I am so certain in my beliefs.
I’m not a racist.
Or a homophobe.
Or a sexist.
But I’m inherently anxious about black people in real life, and sometimes I assume people are gay because they’re flamboyant, and I feel really uncomfortable when young men sit near me on the train. And that’s not good, and I can recognize that it’s not good, but those instinctive little coils in my throat don’t go away and I’m left wondering if I can just pass this off as social programing and therefore not really my problem or if it’s something that’s wrong with me and I actually need to deal with it.
And this is very confusing to me.
And when I walk down the street the strangers passing me suddenly have none of there own features, only the ones that stand out. Black guy. Dyke. Teenager. Asian. And when I first see them that’s all I can see, these obvious things about them that have nothing to do to with who they are as a person.
I don’t know who they are, these metaphorical strangers on this metaphorical street, I don’t know what makes them laugh or makes them cry, I don’t know whether they have children or are in love, or are hateful or crude. I don’t know anything about them, but in the split second between me seeing them and me assuming things about them I hold these templates in my head up to their faces and whichever one they match the most I staple to their file. And it stays there until they prove me wrong.
And I spend my whole life with these strangers. I spend my whole life not knowing who they are, but thinking that maybe I might. And it’s so weird, and so not right and I can understand why this instinctive little bit of engineering takes place, but every now and then I have to step back. And look at the world. And just say to it:
I don’t know who you are.
And I’m sorry.