I remember when I was with one of my good friends, about a year ago. We had been driving around in her Ford truck, rightfully dubbed “Big Red,” and had stopped at the gas station/diner that was popular in our town. It was still early, around ten or eleven in the morning, and we wanted to grab a snack and fill up Big Red’s tank. Being a weekend, we weren’t too dressed up; my friend was donning flip flops, capris, and the floral shirt she’d had for five years. I, myself was a bit more dressed, wearing one of my favorite button-down shirts and one of my ever popular Snapback hats.
The pumps themselves were modern enough, but they didn’t take your money or credit card standing at it. Instead, you had to go inside and give the woman at the cash register your money and she would type the pump number into a small computer. While my friend was doing that, I had wandered over to the snack area of the diner, mainly to the self-serve coffee counter. As I was arranging my cup of coffee, and my friend’s cappuccino, a pair of men entered the building. One of the men went to pay for gas, and the other had propped himself up against the counter where I was standing, not to the point that he was invading my space, but close enough where we could carry a conversation without raising our voices.
I had just finished making our drinks, and was now just waiting for my friend to finish up. I leaned against the counter in a similar way to the man beside me. He glanced at my face and gave me a gesture of recognition, a curt upwards thrust of his chin. I returned the look, and went back to my own business. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him still looking at me. Not my face, however, but my body. The clothes I was wearing. Carefully but quickly observing my ensemble. This wasn’t in some gross, disrespectful way. He seemed truly curious about my outfit, a reaction I was quite used to recieving.
I narrowed my eyes, shifting my weight so he could tell that I had noticed. His eyes shot back up to look at me, his eyebrow arched slightly. Before I could open my mouth, his face broke into a wide grin, and his eyes were filled with realization. He let out a sound between a laugh and a cheer, and exclaimed, “Oh, I gotcha, man. I can dig it, I gotcha. Rock on, bro!” He lifted his hand for a fist bump, still grinning, and my heart started to pound. I was hit with a wave of happiness and surprise. Not only did this guy NOT attempt to make an assumption, but he took the time to realize on his own exactly what I was trying to do; how I was trying to portray myself. These were things I had rarely experienced, and I couldn’t have been happier that it had come from a total stranger.
I returned the fist bump, trying not to grin like an idiot or start shouting “Thank you!” in the middle of the building. He didn’t say anything else, and his friend caught his attention. The transaction at the register was complete and they had to go. Just before the man I had interacted with turned to go, he flashed me another smile and quickly added, “You keep being you, ok.” It wasn’t a question or suggestion, but rather a lighthearted command. He had a look of understanding in his eyes when he said it, and I knew that he wasn’t simply suggesting that I be a good person in the world. I barely had time to nod before he disappeared out the door with his friend, leaving me standing at the coffee counter, still as a statue.
My friend walks over to me and questions me on who the guy was. I tell her that I had never seen him before, and mention what he said to me. She smiles and says, “You see, there are people out there who understand and respect the ones that don’t conform to society’s rules. You just have to stop looking for them; they’ll come to you, and they’ll surprise you.”
I agreed completely, and continued to think about that guy long after we had left the gas station and I had been dropped off at my house. It still bewilders me when I think about it, because it was so uncalled for, but for the best reasons. Though the fucks I have to give nowadays on people’s opinions of me is at a nice, big zero, I was struggling back then on being a baby dyke in the big world. All it took was that one encounter, along with many others after it, to set my confidence for life.
If you’re reading this, Gas Station Man, thank you. I will most definitely keep being me.
The Dyke With the Snapback