Essays

If I Was a Girl

Ivan Coyote

LAST WEEK, MY COUSIN DAN’S GIRLFRIEND, Sarah, mentioned to my girlfriend that they were hiring at the restaurant she worked at on the Drive. “You should come in and apply. We would have too much fun, and the tips are good,” Sarah told her.

But my girlfriend already has a job. I, on the other hand, have been subsisting on a storyteller’s wage since I abruptly lost my job in the film industry, mostly due to my unapologetic and appalling lack of respect for authority, and my visceral distaste for people who won’t stop talking about Los Angeles.

“Tips?” I perked up. “I can wait tables. Did it all the way through high school.”

Sarah shook her head. “No offence, Ive, but my boss likes to hire, you know . . .” She held two imaginary melons up in front of her chest. “. . . girls.”

Now, although it is true that I technically fall into the biologically female category, I do lack most of the requirements for membership in the feminine realm. And though I do not believe this would directly affect my ability to pour coffee, I knew exactly what she meant.

Mere days later, my girlfriend got a call from a buddy of hers. It turned out Playboy magazine was in town, holding auditions for their Canadian Girls special issue, and did she want to come backstage and help her in/out of her G-string and bathrobe? I thought this would make a good story, and wanted to tag along. “I’m not sure you would be . . . appropriate backstage,” I was informed.

My girlfriend does possess all the prerequisite femme characteristics, but she is at least as perverted as I am, if not more, and I really would be backstage just for the human interest angle of it all, as I don’t usually go in for the Playboy Bunny type. But she can go, you know, undercover, whereas I have never had the luxury.

My grandmother explained it best the day I tried to “come out” to her. I was nineteen.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I said. We were drinking Earl Grey tea and eating scones with raspberry jam. “I think I might be gay.”

“Finally,” she laughed and went to get the photo album. “Look, here, there you are, queer as a three-dollar bill on your first day of school.” (I was wearing double-holster cap guns and a plaid shirt.) “And look, a little lesbian goes to hockey camp, and here, poor thing, the dyke in her grad dress. I was wondering when you would figure it out.”

Just once, I would like to be in the closet, just for the novelty of it. I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d had a girly bone in my body. Would I have made it through trade school at all, or would it have been easier? Would my father have taught me how to weld? Would my Uncle John have given me a perfect mini-tool kit for my ninth birthday?

Maybe I would have made more tips, and not dropped out of college. Think of it. Maybe those two guys who jumped me in the park in ’89 and punched me out for being a fag would have left me alone, or maybe they would have been after something else.

The sweetie and I went to Seattle a couple of weekends ago. Just before we arrived at the American border, I did my usual tidying up: turn off radio, take off cowboy hat, roll sleeves down to cover up tattoos, button up shirt, sit up straight, fasten seat belt. I looked over at her. She was slouched casually in the passenger seat, tattoos hanging out, nipples a twitter in the light breeze, not a nervous bone in her body.

“Sit up, for chrissakes, and put a long-sleeved shirt on.” I was shocked by her apparent lack of border angst. “You wanna get us pulled over?”

I forgot that she looked like a girl, and thus the rules were different for her. She had a better chance of crossing without incident if she didn’t put on the long-sleeved shirt. “Next time, let me drive,” she said calmly as we breezed through the border. “Sad, but true.”

One day we stopped for gas at the Mohawk around the corner from my place. While I filled up, she went in to buy a snack. When I went inside to pay, the gas jockey, whom I have known for five years or so, was draped across the counter explaining the intricacies of Keno to my lovely companion as she drank a Slurpee. I had to drag him away to pay for my gas.

“That’ll be $22.50,” he said, still distracted by the fascinating world of lottery odds.

“I’ll get that too,” I added, motioning toward her Slurpee.

“Don’t worry about that,” he said, waving his hand like a magician, “that’s on me.”

Five years I buy gas from him and Slurpees never grew on trees until I bring the redhead in.

We talked about it in the car and the whole time we were buying groceries: the pros and cons of girlery versus boydom. She gets free Slurpees, but deals with harassment twenty-four seven. I get free anal searches at border crossings, but have to change my own tires.

We were in Shopper’s Drug Mart in the makeup section when another pro on the girl side presented itself: sixty-seven names for the colour red: heat wave red, firecracker red, code red, forward, blazing and nuance red, really winey red, vain stain, maraschino, downtown and plumage red, and my favourite, Vampire State Building red. Not to mention prep’s cool peach or country club coral. Who knew?

Could I masquerade as a real girl if I had to? My mom used to think so. Me, I’m not so sure. I think it somehow goes deeper than just a brushcut and baggy pants. Look at my graduation photo: me in the aqua blue number, looking about as comfortable as a dog with a cone on my head so I won’t chew on my own strapless. Maybe I could grow my hair and the real girls wouldn’t notice the intruder.

But that’s the real point here, is it not? Maybe then the real girls wouldn’t notice me.

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Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote is a writer and storyteller who was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, and lives in Vancouver. Coyote is the author of ten books, has toured festivals and stages worldwide for nearly two decades, and plays the baritone saxophone. This piece will appear in Coyote’s eleventh book, Tomboy Survival Guide, due out from Arsenal Pulp Press in the fall of 2016.


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