I was looking at a woman on the Tube. Staring, actually. Quite intensely. So much so that people around me were staring at me staring at her. Not that she noticed. Or at least she pretended not to. She was very manly. Tall, thin, with auburn hair and what you would call a handsome face, which loosely translates as “horse face”. Sort of like Paz de la Huerta but not. Are you a man, I wondered to myself.
Then I noticed her eyeliner. Whether you could call it eyeliner is debatable, it looked like she’d been savagely mauled by kohl. No self-respecting man would ever leave the house with eyeliner that bad.
Lately, I’ve often caught myself staring at people. Walking down the street and staring at people’s faces. Women’s faces. Very intently. To see if they used to be men. There are a lot of masculine-looking women out there and I always wonder, “Were you a man?” It first started before Christmas, when I was queuing at the Post Office. I was standing behind a woman. From the back and from the side she looked like a man dressed in a smart skirt-suit. A fitted, singled-breasted jacket and straight skirt that ended just above the knee. In the strip lighting there appeared to be a hint of shadow on her jawline. She was blokey and stood with her legs splayed. Then she spoke. And I realised she wasn’t a man. Her voice was too feminine, and you can’t fake a women’s voice if you are man. Not convincingly anyway. Even Jared Leto can’t do it and he won an Oscar for being a man pretending to be a woman.
Ever since then I’ve been obsessed. I find myself staring at women’s faces as I walk down the street, and in some cases following them. Following them, say, for the length of Regent Street. I really want to tap them on the shoulder and ask if they were once a man but I think they’d think me rude – and what if they say no? How do you climb out of that hole? You’ve just implied that they’re so masculine looking as to be confusing to people. You can’t backtrack, there is no graceful way out of that conversation. Most of these women, I’ve found, are quite suburban in their appearance. I often wonder, why, after going though all that trouble to transition, would you want to end up looking like a suburban housewife? Or a soccer mum?
I often think about how I would like to look if I were a man who transitioned into a woman. The answer is Cher, circa Turn Back Time. Or Joan Collins during her Dynasty days. The problem is I think she may be a little too classy for me. Sammy Jo feels more right somehow. But not a young Sammy Jo – Sammy Jo now. Thirty years later. Drunk, with skin so taunt, so pulled back her hairline resembles that of Queen Elizabeth I. Have you ever seen Sammy Jo dance. Type “Sammy Jo’s dance” into YouTube and watch. The caption says it all. Sammy Jo dances at a party and Alexis goes ballistic. I’ve always wanted to be able to dance like her and now I would. The trouble is I already am a woman, so to achieve the desired effect I’d first have to become a man, then a woman.
I did once follow a woman and take her picture. It was last summer. I didn’t follow her and take her picture because I thought she was a man. I followed her and took her picture (or should I say pictures?) because I thought she looked amazing. A sort of cheap imitation of Angelica Cheung. She had the same black, asymmetrical bob, but hers was ever so slightly tinted with red. And that was probably where the resemblance ended. I saw her on my way out of the Tube station and admired her bag, a Dior Saddle bag, or an imitation of it. She was dressed in a black sleeveless polo with a denim skirt. She wore ghetto-fabulous glasses, like something Mary J would wear circa 2000, and long strands of red beads. She carried in her hand a Waitrose carrier bag. So I decided to follow her. To get a picture not only from behind but also from the front and to see where she lived. For some reason I very much wanted to know where she lived. You can tell from the pictures that she can tell that she’s being followed by a deranged psychopath, mainly because of my shadow looming ahead of her in every picture. Also the fact that I kept running in front of her, trying to discreetly take a picture of her front. To her credit she did not call the police or ask anyone for help. The thing about pictures, as they are only of her behind, everyone I show them to thinks she is a man. But she is not. She is in fact the only woman I have followed who I did not suspect of being a man. Sadly, I never did find out where she lived. I’ve also never seen her since. It’s quite possible she has changed her route home since that day.
My favourites though were the two girls in headscarves. They were huge – the headscarves, not the girls. They extended quite prominently from the backs of their head. Imagine how much hair must be under there and how artfully arranged, as these headscarves did not move. They stood firm. Was the hair all their own or was it enhanced with weave? So many questions I wanted to ask but could not. I looked at them and wondered if they were inspired by Diva Plavalaguna, the very blue opera-singer alien from The Fifth Element, or if in fact the shape of Plavalaguna’s head was inspired by the headscarf. If you watch the scene where Plavalaguna sings, you will notice that her head is the same shape and girth as that of many women who wear headscarves. Bar the weird tentacles that fall from her temples, the two are practically identical. Sadly I did not manage to take a picture of these two women, one of whom was pushing a buggy as I was walking towards them. It would have been too obvious. Also, they looked as though they might react in an unfavourable way if faced with my phone. I am a pussy and, despite my stalker tendencies, do not invite confrontation.
Despite all that I’ve written here, I do not make a habit of following strangers on a daily basis. And not all the people I follow are women who look like men dressed up as women. I am not a stalker of the John Hinckley Jr variety. It’s just that, every once in a while, I see someone and want to know more about them. So I follow them. And sometimes take pictures.
By Natalie Dembinska