Like the time I went to the radical fringe theatre, the sort of place where you get endless Aphra Behn revivals by all-woman companies called the Scarlet Tarts, the Shameless Hussies or the Belligerent Beldames. I laid my Private Eye on the seat beside me. At the end of the show I picked it up and the woman a few seats along scowled at me furiously, opened her bag and saw that her own copy was inside. "Oh," she said, shamefaced, "I thought some bloke was nicking my Private Eye."
Some bloke! Some bloke? Blind old bat, I thought. A few weeks later, I popped into a sandwich shop. "Brown or white, sir?" said the woman behind the counter. "Brown, please," I shrilled, trying to sound extra-feminine. "Mayonnaise, sir?" I raised my voice another octave: "No, thank you." By the end of the transaction, after I had been offered every permutation of salad garnish, and was screaming like the Queen of Night, she finally raised her eyes to mine. I thought I saw a shadow of doubt darken her expression, but it might just have been curiosity about what the female impersonator was doing in her shop.
Perhaps the most disturbing incident of this nature took place in a fetish club. Questions of gender identity aren't normally high on the agenda there - everything tends to be on display. I leaned back against the wall, mistress of all I surveyed. After a while, I realised I was not alone. There was a creature sidling up towards me. It was short (despite stilettos), stocky, flat-chested and dressed in a leather mini-skirt. It had black spiky hair and a white, doughy face which leered at me.
"Nice tits," it said. "I'm Alan." Or perhaps it was Helen.
I cleared my throat. "I ... ah ... thank you."
"Can I have a feel?"
In these circles this is not such a bizarre conversational gambit, so, not wanting to seem impolite, I went, "Mmmm". Without more ado, Alan/Helen briskly palped each breast as though searching for malignant lumps.
"They're brilliant," A/H said. "Where did you get them done?"
"Done? What do you mean, done?"
A/H looked me coolly up and down, and sniffed: "Well ... you're a man, aren't you."
"I most certainly am not."
A/H's pinched little face screwed up even more. "Yes, you are. It's obvious. You are." "Am not." "Are." I began to edge away. "Man." "Not." "Man." "Not." Finally A/H broke the impasse by stretching out a pudgy little hand, gripping my mini-skirt and hissing: "Have yer had yer pussy done?" and I took off, sprinting round the dungeon with A/H clinging to my hem like a troll.
After a bit of soul-searching I decided that it must be my voice. I'm always having bouts of matey male-bonding on the phone with strangers. Like the time I was invited, with some pals, to a new Soho restaurant. Every table had a telephone and you could ring up diners you liked the look of and chat them up. The place had been open about three days and had already turned into a gay knocking-shop.
We were put in a quiet section, where the sad straights lingered, wondering why nobody wanted to phone them up. "Sod this," I thought, grabbing the handset. "I'm going to have some fun." Every table displayed a number. I could see a moody dude sitting alone. I rang him.
The great thing about this system was that you didn't have to identify yourself. "Hello, I thought you looked a bit sad," I said. Mr Cool promptly lost his cool, began blustering and sweating while my cohorts convulsed with giggles. All the callers thought I was a man, and were either delighted or terrified at the prospect. Responses ranged from the enthusiastic "Where are you? Where are you?" to blind panic. One saddo confessed: "Look, I really ought to tell you ... I'm straight." "That's all right," I gurgled. "So am I."
The greatest challenge of all was sitting two tables away. An imperturbable blond god, he had been on the phone all night. Hunching down behind a friend, and seizing the moment, I called him up. His friend picked up the phone, barked "I'll put you through to him." It was late by now, and we got deep in philosophical conversation. He was feeling melancholic. It was dreadful, he told me, people fancying him all the time. Oh, the torment of being beautiful. But I sounded so sympathetic. The sort of person you can really have a meaningful conversation with. "Where are you?" he said finally, looking hopefully down into the mosh pit, where the confirmed bachelors were cavorting.
"I'm a bit closer than that," I said. "Much closer. You're getting warmer ..." Finally he was staring right at me, eyes unfocused, still not taking it in that the woman waving at him was the chap he'd been chatting up for 20 minutes. Suddenly his eyes locked with mine, his jaw dropped and he buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God, God, God," the receiver squeaked. Five minutes later he came over and kissed me ruefully on the cheek. "You got me that time," he mumbled.Reuse content