A Gender Thing

It may have been a chain cafe that was third inline to the cafe-king throne but beyond the branding it fitted in with the market town that, beyond the typical high-street checklist of stores that are rubber stamped throughout Britain, the cafe’s brown leatherette arm chairs could have been right out of the dusty genuine antique shop around the corner. The coffee was strong and bitter and the window seat gave us a chance to gaze out of the window, recover from the day trip drive to this town and decide where to spend our time after the people watching and coffee. I always want to spend my time wisely without taking away the excitement of spontaneity and discovery, especially so when I take a day trip with my parents. There is also a certain amount of redaction of ideas because, really, they like their comfort zone.

It was midweek, coming to the end of winter and a lack of tourists. Everything was just normal. A worker in a sharp grey suit nipping out of an estate agent for a premature baked pastry lunch at Greggs and a coffee to keep that youthful energy even more unnecessarily hyper. The upper half of the high street buildings were Cotswolds old and the bottom half branded with the likes of Boots, Starbucks, Dorothy Perkins and White Stuff. As a tourist it was a case of looking above the shops to work out what was old and what was not. What had been rebuilt in-the-style because the carved date under the roof was 1980 rather than 1880.

We exhausted the historic town hall and the local pristine church of pale stone set within regimental two inch high lawn shadowed by two hundred year old trees on a day that had a full blue sky but still a cold edge to the February breeze. My Mum had disappeared around the corner of an alleyway. She had found something and called me. She called me a few times ever louder each time until I came. Around the corner was a single large covered market stall.

A display of glassware made locally. Expensive glassware. My Dad had wandered down soon after me and wandered straight in. I returned to the entrance as I just didn’t want to get straight into conversation with the man who wandered over to chat with my parents and, I expect, attempt to sell something. I looked at the items around the doorway.

“Hello, wonderful aren’t they.” he said in a west-country accent that was less farmer than Bristol but still recognisably so. My Mum as always was polite to engage, “Oh this one is lovely.” My Dad nodded while I, with my back to them, still continued to look at a purple glass decanter thing that caught my eye.

“What about the young lady? Does she like this sort of thing?” he asked. I may have not been looking but a sixth sense kicked in and I could just feel the confusion from my Mum.
“The young lady, your daughter?” he suggested.

Happiness and a smirk rose and spread edge to edge of my face. “It is your daughter isn’t it?” he said trying to nudge a reply from my Mum.

Mum had remedied the confusion, “Oh that’s my son.” she said nicely. I flicked my ponytail with my fingers as I turned and remarked “It’s the hair.” in some kind of effort not to make the man feel awkward about some kind of mistake.

The moment was, of course, over within a flash. The man was a nice man. Not just because he kind of made my day but he was funny, interesting and didn’t feel embarrassed by my Mum’s correction. While we walked around the town for the rest of the afternoon there was an alfresco elephant in the room. I thought about joking about it but then I didn’t want the gender thing to become a joke. It’s not the first time this has happened around my parents but it’s rare that it’s so obvious. Dare I mention it though. If I bring it up what possible reason would I be bringing it up for and what would I get out of it? If I joke about it, it makes it a joke.

There was no point in saying anything. I’ll just smile to myself inside and let it ride out. I know I get technically misgendered which to me is correctly gendered – plenty of times. I suppose that on this occasion it was around people who mattered to me but it wasn’t really a time to talk about it and after all was it anything special, what had happened, other than an amusement to me because I know something other people don’t?

We got into the car ready to set off for the journey home. Seat belts on. Car started. Travel sweets ready. Pay-and-display ticket pulled from the dash and stored somewhere else in the car which in retrospect would have been better off left on the dash. “Daughter.” Mum chuckled. “I wouldn’t swap you for a daughter for anything.” she ended. Ouch.

I made light of it again later that day when she retold the story to someone else in my family and I wondered to myself why I had even stuck to that moment. After all it happens a lot and it was nothing new. I guess when it’s around my parents it’s a little bit of a litmus paper. A little check to see what they might think. The problem with these moments is those tests can give magnified false positives either way. I suppose I was also pleased that it wasn’t just the man seeing the back of my hair because he had seen me before when I first walked in. There was something of a little acceptance.

It was only a week or so later when out running that I realised my phone had just fallen out of my pocket. I frantically looked amongst the almost black dead leaves on the side of the path under the park trees that made the grass almost black looking for a black phone. I stopped one of the other runners. “Excuse me, do you have a phone on you, I’ve lost my mobile.” I asked desperately.

“Yes. You might have left the ringer off though.” he said almost squeezing out what little hope I had left to find my phone.

I gave him my number and he typed it in. The screen said “calling” and I heard the music jingle from within the leaves and earth but I didn’t look around straight away. I spent just a second or so mesmerised at his mobile screen, “Calling, Hannah James”.

‘Do I know him?’ I thought, ‘No, only one person who knows me as Hannah would be likely to have me in their mobile phone as Hannah and I didn’t recognise this man. I recovered my phone and we walked along the path with his friend that had been running with him. I thanked him and he started telling me about an app he has on his phone. “Yeah this is great, so like when I called you it showed Hannah, I can tell who is calling me even if I don’t know them and calling numbers I don’t know. They collect the details from all sorts of places, other people with the app I expect.”
“That’s really handy.” I said. He hadn’t said a word about ‘Hannah.’ He didn’t say, ‘was it correct?’ or ‘is that your name?’ or ‘why it’s showing Hannah I don’t know. What’s your name?’ It appeared that Hannah was just accepted. There was a genuine correct-gendering and it felt nice – even if technology is insisting on telling the world about me.

Until next time.

Hannah x

6 thoughts on “A Gender Thing

  1. Bringing up your name from your mobile number, spooky! And a bit creepy!

    I’m glad my mum knows, but it’s also difficult because it makes me not want to call her when she keeps calling me by the wrong name and gender. :/

    • It is a bit creepy. This is the age of information sharing and we’re starting to see some of the consequences.

  2. Hannah I really wanted you to say “yes, I’m interested in the decanter”, just to see the reaction. I can’t help thinking your mothers comment later in the day was a measured response to an afternoon of thoughts. It would have been my mums response to a simillar situation if it had even arisen back then. Someone once said of me “better off staying as they were” but then they don’t know they full story or have any concept of the pain simply because it doesn’t apply to them. I certainly wouldn’t read too much into your mums comment.
    My mum is a proud mum, proud of her one daughter and wouldn’t change me for the world.

    • I agree, Deborah. It’s one of those things on the face of it that I examine but the reality is that it doesn’t mean anything beyond being a positive comment of love from a parent. So glad your Mum is still proud. I guess being someone’s child doesn’t change in most cases.

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