Wednesday, October 28

“Please, My Wife and I Are Just Trying to Buy Groceries.”

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by BJ Colangelo

We ran out of eggs after my wife tried to recreate my favorite 3:00 a.m. diner breakfast order to soothe my most recent depressive episode. She didn’t have time to cook before going to work last Thursday, so the last of the oat milk was sacrificed to a quick oversized bowl of Mini-Wheats. The last of the produce was turned into salsa that survived a grand total of three hours before we obliterated it while watching horror movies on the couch. Our refrigerator is barren and our cupboards are filled with random non-perishables that have been in the cabinet since Obama was in office.

We need to go grocery shopping. We’ve needed to go grocery shopping. But for a fat dyke with half a shaved head of green hair and my blue-haired transgender wife, grocery shopping is a lot like wading through a river filled with piranhas.

Children only notice two things: our whole foot of height difference and the way fluorescent lighting illuminates the brightness of our hair. Sometimes they point. Sometimes they open their mouths in wonderment trying to figure out if we are fairies from a storybook or mermaids walking on dry land. Their mothers don’t see the magic. Hushed whispers to their little ones to “stop staring” are eclipsed by squeaking wheels of a shopping cart rushing to leave the aisle without actually picking up the dinosaur chicken nuggets they came for in the first place.

It’s like they’re punishing their children for showing us kindness.

Most of the time, children are completely mesmerized by my wife’s height. She’s typically the tallest woman they’ve seen outside of superhero movies and cartoons about humanoid kaiju women. They stare up in awe while their parents immediately begin scanning her hands, her shoe size, her neck, her waist-to-hip ratio, .desperately looking for a reason to openly humiliate her. I grab her hand in these moments, and make eye contact with them. If I could pierce through them with my stare, I would. She might be towering over them and unaware of what’s happening, but I’m on the ground floor watching their every move.

I know she knows what’s happening. But after over a decade of this, she’s learned how to tune it out.

When the pandemic first started, everyone avoided each other in the supermarket. People would dart down a different aisle if they noticed someone was already standing in the one closest to them, and hurried scrambles of shameful toilet paper stockpiles ensured everyone avoided eye contact. Families would wait at the mouth of an aisle until someone moved on to the next one, to make sure that their paths would never cross with whomever was standing there beforehand. No one wanted to be anywhere near anyone.

It was the first time everyone else’s grocery shopping experience looked like ours.

The staring and the intentional avoidance can be a little disheartening, but at the very least, it’s manageable. One would think the requirement of wearing masks in public places would curb the whispering, but it’s just forced people to make their cruel comments even louder to make sure the person next to them can hear. Unintelligible whispers have been replaced with the volume of presenting a book report in front of the class.

“How do you think they…you know?” a man announced to his wife.

We were deciding which eggs to buy.

These exchanges typically happen at the bigger grocery chain a few miles away from home, where feigned politeness holds back the hatred just long enough for someone’s dad to pull off his mask and erupt “Did you all see those things?!” from the comfort of a driver’s seat. I usually hear something to that effect when we’re putting groceries in the trunk of our SUV. Someone should really tell them that the windows of a Dodge Charger aren’t soundproof.

Even in the safety of my car, the rainbow bumper sticker starts to feel like a Scarlet Letter. I’ve watched people peel out of parking lots to drive next to me, trying to get one last look at the dykes who dared share air with them in the dish soap aisle at a Target next to the freeway. Or, as has happened more than once, I’ve watched a man express disappointment upon seeing us.

We clearly weren’t the vision of the type of lesbians he’d been hoping to take home and fantasize about.

Considering we live walking distance from a smaller market, we arm ourselves with reusable bags and play Frogger across our busy street to pick up most of our core and essential items. On a good day, we can get in and out in under fifteen minutes, playing our own version of Supermarket Sweep with our grocery list. On a bad day, we don’t even make it in the door.

Street harassment is unfortunately common, but there’s a huge difference between being cat-called and being met with violence. People have called us every slur imaginable, threatened to fight us if we dared enter the store, wished death upon us, and sometimes expressed wanting to be the one who kills us. We stand as tall as possible with our heads held high and arms full of empty reusable grocery bags, because there is no way in Beyonce’s 2020 that we will allow any of these people to know they’ve gotten under our skin.

Crying is reserved for when we get home and only after all of the groceries have been put away. At least, my crying. My wife won’t waste her tears on hatred. I wish I had her strength.

On the days we make it in the grocery store’s door, we have to navigate a few different obstacles. First, there’s the pictures. On more than one occasion, people have taken a picture of us on their cell phones without our consent. Based on the giggling expression and the immediate text that follows, I know they’re sending the picture to someone in order to ridicule us.

I once followed a man with a flip phone around a Salvation Army repeating, “Excuse me, sir. Can I see the photo you just took of my wife?” over and over again until he finally left the store. A random customer who witnessed the ordeal checked in to make sure we were okay. We said we were okay and thanked them for their kindness, but we were very much not okay.

But that was before the pandemic. Now? I’m too exhausted to cause a scene. I just want to buy bananas and go home.

My wife was walking home one day with an arm full of produce when a man decided to loudly declare to anyone in earshot, “I don’t f*cks with men in dresses.” He was too much of a coward to harass her directly, but instead felt the need to point out that a trans woman was near, and everyone needed to know his position on her existence. She took the long way around our apartment building to make sure he couldn’t figure out where we live. “You’re not fooling anyone!” he shouted. “I should kick your ass!” he continued.

Plenty of people in the grocery store parking lot witnessed his tirade, but they just stood and watched. I guess no one is brave enough to be the person who stands up for the trans woman being harassed and humiliated.

This same man called me a “fatass f*cking b*tch” and screamed “f*ggots aren’t welcome here” a few weeks later while walking home from picking up medication. A woman wearing a “respect my existence or expect resistance” shirt at the crosswalk pretended not to see what was happening. I looked to her for backup, and the support was nowhere to be found. The business across the street has a rainbow flag waving above its door. I wonder if he harasses them too.

There’s something about the intersection of transphobia, homophobia, fatphobia, and misogyny that brews a perfect storm of disgust and hatred for so many people. The fact that we’re both white allows the escape from racist remarks, a privilege so many people–especially other white LGBTQ+ folx–take for granted.

My wife and I both pride ourselves on having thick skin, able to withstand these consistent occurrences and still find a way to navigate through the world. For every one person that finds a way to irritate us, there’s at least twenty that we’ve brushed aside–water off a duck’s back. These things happen to us so frequently we’ve stopped talking about them, because it’s difficult for our straight friends (and honestly a lot of our LGBTQ+ friends too) to believe us.

I need to go grocery shopping, but considering it’s never just grocery shopping, I’ll go when I’m ready.

Today is not that day. 🔥


BJ Colangelo is a recovering child beauty queen that fancies herself the lovechild of Christopher Sarandon in “Fright Night” and Susan Sarandon in “The Hunger”. BJ is a social emotional theatre teaching artist and a professional horror film journalist and theorist. She writes about horror, wrestling, sex, kicking pancreatic cancer’s ass, and being a fat queer all over the Internet. Her work has been featured in publications like Blumhouse, Medium, Playboy, Vulture, Birth. Movies. Death., Autostraddle, and The Daily Dot, and has contributed essays to the books When Animals Attack!, Creepy Bitches, and Hidden Horror 101. Follow her on Twitter.

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6 Comments

  1. Cindy Peruscini on

    It’s so sad that people chose hate. I believe the words they spew should appear on their skin like tattoos that they wear for the rest of their lives. What a boring world it would be if everyone was the same, thank you adding color and love to it. It’s a shame some people view that as a threat to their existence.

  2. You are both so beautiful and adorable together, it is both shocking and painful to me to know you experience this, especially with such regularity. Liz and I experience occasional stares and whispers, mostly from the “dude-bros” around college age, but nothing too overt. Our orthodox neighbors have been very live-and-let-live. Sending you love, light, and strength to you both.

  3. What stood out to me was disapproving of parents telling their kids not to stare. They’re trying to not be rude, they’re trying to avoid making you feel like a you are some kind of freak show. You’re putting people in a lose/lose situation here. Believe it or not, most of the folk that do that are trying to be considerate of your feelings. Let people have some kind of an option where they won’t be offending you.

    I mean, I get it. I know what it’s like to be abused so often that things others might write off seem like slights. But take it down a notch, institute a sliding scale… Something. Because there’s a world of difference between outright hostility and trying to teach kids to not treat people that look different like a spectacle.

    • I think it’s the hushed, shame filled whispered redirections that only come when parents don’t know how to engage other people with respect. The parents may be feeling awkward and doing the best they can, but they could learn to do better. They could say to their kids “ You can say hi if you’d like.“ Or “ Isn’t their hair color beautiful? Would you like to tell them how much you like it?“ That offers a way to help the children engage without just staring, but not to act like there’s anything shameful in the people they are seeing.

    • If they’re just trying to be considerate of BJ and her wife’s feelings, parents would say in a normal tone and volume of voice: “It’s not polite to stare at people” as a general statement applying to all people. People do the same thing to disabled people, not realizing that their hushed tones are just as hurtful (if not more so) as a child staring.

  4. Joshua Troiani on

    If you ever find yourself in Pennsylvania you have my heart, support and ammo. My boyfriend and soul mate is androgynous so I know the hurt you feel 💔 living in Hicksville PA. Stay strong. I have full faith that love will always win.

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