Meeting Priscilla

“It’s funny. We all sit around mindlessly slagging off that vile stink-hole of a city. But in its own strange way, it takes care of us. I don’t know if that ugly wall of suburbia’s been put there to stop them getting in, or us getting out. Come on. Don’t let it drag you down. Let it toughen you up. I can only fight because I’ve learnt to. Being a man one day and a woman the next isn’t an easy thing to do.” ~ Bernadette, in Priscilla

My lovely mother-in-law introduced me to a brilliant film called “Priscilla” not too long ago. The film depicts a journey in the life of three transvestites and sheds light on what a day in another persons life might be like. It follows the joys of being and struggles of three individuals who are persecuted for being different. It was this film that the following tale made me think of almost immediately. Hopefully you will see why…

Transvestites aren’t a commonality in Fort Wayne, Indiana. So when a pair of great (male) legs and a short black skirt with blue sequins and pumps rushed from the door to the bathroom at Taco Bell, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. At first I thought that maybe I was seeing things. But when I saw the same pair of legs paired with a zip-up hoodie with the hood pulled up rush back out the door just as quickly, I thought maybe I was witnessing a practical joke. It seemed more likely that this occurrence was part of an elaborate ruse  than a piece of someone’s reality.

And now, the rest of the story.

My friend and I finished our dinner at Taco Bell and went to head home. This was nearly and hour and a half after this person had walked in and out of the restaurant so rapidly. I figured the individual would be long gone by now. But he… er, she, stepped out of a silver car and ever so tentatively asked for directions. She was still wrapped up in a dark zip-up hoodie, but her hood was down this time revealing short, curly, dark hair and big, dark eyes.

I must admit, I was caught off guard. The Midwestern part of me still wasn’t sure if this was a joke or game some heartless and crass person was playing. I gave her directions (though I’m ashamed to say that looking back, I could have been far more helpful… I was too outside of the moment trying to figure out the moment as opposed to being in the moment. I regret that.) and went to bid her goodbye and head on my way. But she asked another question that caught me even more off guard and I will keep to myself for now.

The final part of our short interaction came when she, even so nervously, asked her final question. With almost childlike desperation, she quickly unzipped her hoodie and opened it wide so that we could see her dress and asked, “Do I look alright?”

It was a question that I didn’t know how to answer, not because I was appalled by her lifestyle, because I really wasn’t. My hesitation was, quick frankly, because I had no idea what event she was going to or from! She looked as though she was heading out for a night on the town with friends, but her demeanor didn’t follow that train of thought. She sounded tired and almost scared. She clearly was lost and not from the area because the road she was attempting to find was a major highway that anyone in northeast Indiana would know. The more I pondered this individual, the more questions I had.

I answered her inquiry with a, “Yes, you look great!” then I started once again toward my car but just as she turned to get into her car and I turned to walk toward mine, I saw something that changed the entire experience for me: she had a black eye. The lighting in the dark parking lot had hidden it before, but there it was, plain as day: a dark purple circle around her left eye.

By the time my brain had registered this reality, she was already in her car and I had already turned to mine.

I was disappointed in myself. I should have handled the entire situation with much more grace. I should have been “in the moment” instead of attempting to figure out if it was an elaborate joke. I sat in my car and thought about this grave error for 10 minutes. Why hadn’t I turned immediately to ask if she was OK? Was I too wrapped up in me to think about her? Was I too scared of the whole thing being a prank and making me look like a fool? Was I making too much of the situation because of her lifestyle?

These thoughts and more whirled around my head until I realized that this is a problem for me in general. I have a hard time being “in the moment” with people and it took meeting Priscilla to see how much of a struggle this can be for me.

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