Family Discount Train Ticket, USA 1984
I try talking the travel agent
into selling me a family discount train ticket
What about sisters? I insist. Sisters are family.
No, she retorts. Man and Wife. Only man and wife.
Stalking back up the Bronx Street
with the family discount in my pocket
I have to break it to you
now one of us has to be the man.
What? you exclaim.
I can be the man, I reply.
You shake your head.
It’s decided. I become an East Coast Bohemian
sporting red plastic cat-eye glasses
two-inch stacked heels
hair swirled up, splash of lipstick, stack of books.
You dress up like a stodgy, well-educated Kenyan
Nehru jacket, thick glasses, cropped Afro.
We fake it from New York to Chicago.
You keep a growl plastered to your face.
I smile like an elite
know-it-all, possessive, protective wife.
Enjoying the backstory
I created for our cross-country gender performance
I proudly show our husband&wife ticket
to each conductor at every stop.
We are north of Kenosha
heading into Milwaukee
last leg of the journey home
when the conductor eyes us suspiciously.
He opens his mouth to question me
but before he can speak
I shoot up teetering on both heels
ready to make a scene.
You cringe pretending to sleep.
I hiss, You got a problem?
I am ready to slap him.
He hands me back our ticket
moves to the next passenger
I look around the train car
so I can point later:
You were there and did nothing
when they stripped us to inspect our female genitalia
and threw us from the train.
We make it home. We make it
knowing not everybody does.
Note: Image is entitled, Acolo, encaustic & collage on paper, from Romanian artist Victor Brauner. I photographed it last month at the Chicago Art Museum. This image expresses how I sometimes feel about being my gender.