I moved from SF to Oakland a week and a half ago. I’m learning my way around – new errands, new routes, new familiar strangers – clerks, cashiers, etc. In the Oakland Kaiser Pharmacy this morning: A black butch-type person, maybe a few years older than me. Wearing black athletic clothes – jersey over tshirt, track pants. Flattened-looking chest, short short hair, no facial hair visible. We cross paths as I’m walking up to the dropoff line and ze is walking away from the counter. “How you get that?” motioning to hir chin. “It just grows there.” Shakes hir head. “Nah!” “Yep.” “I be hatin’!” ze says enviously. I shrub my shoulders and smile, “Sorry!” Ze smiles. An older black woman and a 7-year-old girl are sitting across from me as we wait for our respective medications. She smiles and says, “How are you?” I smile, “Fine, thanks. How’re you?” “I’m good, I’m good.” Which would be the end of the friendly-stranger encounter, but she holds my gaze a bit longer, still smiling. Then she turns the book she’s reading towards me, showing me that she’s reading Stephanie Brill’s “The Transgender Child.” She doesn’t say anything more, but still smiles warmly at me in a way that makes me think I should respond. “Ah, I’ve heard good things about that book. I haven’t read it, but I’ve read her other one, on lesbian parenting.” She tells me that she’s reading it because she’s got 4 children – 2 teens, I think, and I forget the details on the others – who are transgender, so she wanted to brush up a bit. “Ah, that’s great,” I say, while I try to figure out what she means by she “has” 4 trans kids – she’s a parent to these kids? Foster parent? Four is a lot. Teacher, maybe? She explains that these are kids at her church, the City of Refuge, a UCC church in SF. She asks if I saw the parade, because her church sang in the parade. I explain that I didn’t see the parade because I was in it, way back in the lineup. She tells me how the church is moving to Oakland soon, due to parking issues, and that they have people coming from as far away as Sacramento for her church. She invites me to services – Sundays at 1pm – and I smile and say that it sounds nice, but I think my hesitation is clear in my voice. She takes a phone call, lets the girl know that her mama’s meeting them soon, and then goes back to reading her book.
Posts Tagged With: Oakland
Today. Oakland, CA
It was 6pm and still in the eighties, a Bay Area snippet of summer. As I got out of my car, two preteen girls on scooters were wandering leisurely up the street. One had a razor-style scooter, the other was on an orange scooter with big “offroad” wheels. Both of them wore jeans and had deep brown skin. One was in a black velour hoodie and had pigtails, the other wore a tshirt and a ponytail.
“Is that your house?” one called out. I assumed she was talking to the other girl, as I was already partway up the street and my back was to them. But when the other one didn’t answer, I turned. The girl with the ponytails was looking at me. She repeated, “Is that your house?”
“How many bedrooms you think it’s got?”
“I don’t know. Sorry.”
“It’s a big house.” She seemed to be talking to her friend again, but I maybe still to me. “I think that’s a four bedroom. Maybe five.” She turned to me. “How many bedrooms you think it has?”
“I don’t know. I don’t live around here. Sorry.”
It struck me as an odd conversation for preteens. But, maybe it fit in with a certain sort of preteen future-dreaming; the same kind that makes the fortune-telling game MASH (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House) a perennial playground hit. Maybe this was a version of dreaming up their futures – picking a dream house within the neighborhood, filling it with a dream husband and dream children.
Her friend made some comment in response, which I didn’t hear, as I was now a quarter block up from them. They were headed the same way I was, a bit more slowly. The street kept getting steeper, turning their scooters from useful transport into awkward items to straddle-walk along with.
They followed me for the length of another house, and then the ponytailed girl pulled up alongside me. “What’s your name?”
“Rae,” I said, louder.
I was almost to my friend’s house when she called out again.
“[mumble mumble] like a boy.”
I turned. “Hm?”
“You look like a boy.”
“Yep!” I almost had to yell, given how far they were behind me, but I tried to keep the tone chipper.
“Are you a boy?”
“Nope! I’m a girl.”
“You look like a boy.”
“Nope, I’m just a girl with a beard.”
“What’d you say?”
I was now on my friend’s porch, again a few houses away from the girls. Plus, my friend’s dog had heard me coming and was now barking loudly through the door. I turned back and tried to pick a volume that would let the girls hear me but not disturb the neighbors. Or alarm my friends with the sound of shouting on their doorstep. “I said ‘Nope, I’m just a girl with a beard.'”
She made some small noise of assent and nodded. “Nothin’ wrong with that!”
“Mm hm!” I smiled and nodded back.
When they didn’t seem to have anything else to say, I called out, “Have a nice evening!”
I rang the bell as the girls moved up the street past me.