Occasionally in life, there are moments of clarity which have a bracing effect similar to opening all the windows in a stuffy house and filling it with brisk, cool air. The mind clears suddenly and you literally feel the fresh blood flowing through your brain. I had just such a moment last evening, coming home on the train, when I was faced with the stark realization that it must really suck to be a woman.
Now, before I elaborate, I think it's important to go a little into the backstory. Just over a week ago, I made a drastic change in my appearance by going from fairly long hair to scalp-hugging short. No small part in this decision was the fact that chicks just don't check me out like they used to. Sure, there's the sense of identity which marks a long-haired person --free spirit, artistic type, independent, out of the main-stream-- and there's also the tactile pleasure of a healthy mane. But, a man who lives with his ex-girlfriend and their 2-year old child really needs to maximize his possibilities if he's going to swim in the stream of free coitus.
So, since the lines in my face have closed all doors to the kind of hippy university girls who once waltzed with me to various dark niches, I decided to go with a clean, professional and fiscally responsible look. . . . In order to get laid, in case that wasn't clear. However, my strategy seems to have backfired on me.
Last night on the train, I opened my eyes and glanced around. My vision panned across the eyes of an attentive man. I continued to scan my environment, instinctively glancing back to see if the other guy had broken his stare. But he hadn't. I looked away again, thinking, What's up with this guy? Unwillingly, I looked back. Still staring. What the fuck?! Oh, christ, yea. He's gay. Now he thinks I'm gay ... and coquettish. I just don't like being stared at, and --try as I might-- I couldn't stop peeking back periodically. And of course, he misread my interest. The compliment would have been flattering maybe; but to be honest, this guy seemed to be way too hard up. Even if I was gay, I wouldn't want to get together with such a desperate loser.
I started staring out the window across the aisle. While watching points of light float past, my eyes focussed on the reflection in the window. There was another man who seemed to be watching me. Or maybe, I considered, he was doing the same thing as I. But, if he was watching me --and I was watching a point directly behind his reflection-- then, he must be thinking that I'm staring into his eyes. My eyes jumped over onto the owner of the reflection before I could pull them back. Then, emboldened, he turned his head and faced me directly, eliminating any doubts. Oh, shit, I thought, before turning to look out the other window.
And now he kept staring. Granted, this guy was a bit more stylish and on the ball than the other, in some ineffably suave sort of way. But he was still a dude. Now, I don't make any judgements on where people eat, I just know what I prefer. Yet, ironically, here I was, a hungry man with a feast before me and no stomache for the food that was offered. Both these guys were in my field of vision unless I looked down or away. Their eyes burned into me like lasers, making me feel like I was being scanned by two horny Terminator robots. It's unfortunate they can't see each other, I thought. Because if somehow they could just start staring at each other, everybody would come out a winner.
I began to curse my hair-stylist, thinking that she'd given me a gay haircut. It wasn't the first time that a man has shown interest in me, but for some reason this was the first time outside of a gay club that I was so popular. I looked at myself reflected in the window and preened, not caring anymore if I appeared coy. She had left me with echos of Freddie Mercury. The only thing missing was the frou frou mustache. Damn.
Then suddenly it dawned on me: This is what women experience on a constant basis. Thus, my prefatory statement. What torture, having to go through life, negotiating eye-contact and enduring the tight-lipped, predatorial gazes of men. It's like having a spotlight glaring in your face. I'm sure many women must learn to love it, like little ballarinas pirhouetting on the stage. But I wonder what percentage of them must absolutely despise it. I really felt like giving the finger to these two guys. With both hands, criss-crossing my arms while flashing a Billy Idol sneer.
It struck me suddenly that I wasn't so different than them; I often can't help focussing on attractive women and wonder if their uncomfortable glances signal an interest in squishing it. A forgotten memory came just then, of me sitting in a pub in Edinburgh, chatting with some friends, when a woman walked by the table. An attractive, ballsy Scot. Our eyes met. Without even thinking about it, I turned around to check her out from behind and found myself raising my eyes into her furious expression. She gave me the finger and mouthed, Fuck you, before spinning on her heel. It hardly seemed reasonable to me at the time. It's just what guys do. But sitting on the train, I realized that, if I'd been born a woman, sooner or later I would have done exactly the same thing.
And so it was, with great loathing, I found myself rising to my feet as the train pulled into my station. Squeezing through scrunched knees, I stepped out into the aisle, gazing blankly at nothing at all, knowing the inevitable conclusion to this scene. I walked the length of the wagon, feeling two pairs of eyes burning into my backside. And I thought, From this day forward, I will stop checking out women's asses. Then I wondered how I was going to fill up the time.