A couple weeks ago I’d had a busy day at work, and then had walked around downtown until my work out app said I’d done more than a mile, which is when I headed to the bus stop. The sun had been bright when I first left the office, so I was wearing my broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. I was checking the bus app on my phone to see how soon my bus would arrive, then checked messages.
I man walked past—then stopped a few feet away and turned in my direction. Since my head was down and I had the hat on, all I could see was his legs and feet. It’s a busy sidewalk and busier bus stop, so nothing seemed odd. I was standing close enough to the kiosk that lists the routes that stop there that if I gave any thought to him at that point, I thought he was looking at the sign.
He walked back the other way, passing only a few feet past me before stopping and turned to me again. I looked up just as he started walking his original direction. But he wasn’t randomly pacing. He was staring at me as walked by. And he stopped again a short distance to my right and turned his whole body toward me.
And stare isn’t the right word: it was a glare. Such an intense glare that you would think we had been mortal enemies for years—but I didn’t recognize him at all.
His glare became a sneer, and he looked me up and down before he said, “Nice hat,” in a very contemptuous tone.
I nodded and said, as neutrally as I could, “Thanks.”
He snorted, did the look up and down thing again, then said, “No, I mean a really nice fucking hat.”
The hat isn’t just broad-brimmed, it is very broad-brimmed. It casts a shadow that completely covers my face. And it is purple (two different shades!) and grey. This guy was hardly the first strange man to make less than friendly comments on the hat. Not wanting to escalate anything, I nodded again and said quietly, “Okay.”
He snorted again. He looked me up and down again. He muttered something with a very disparaging expression, then turned away and walked about a dozen feet further down the sidewalk (presumably) to wait for his bus in another part of the crowd.
I had my headphones on listening to an audiobook, so I literally didn’t hear what his last contemptuous muttering was, but it was clearly two words, two syllables each, both starting with F.
It wasn’t until I had gotten on my bus and settled into a seat that I noticed that I also happened to be wearing a purple polo shirt. Which isn’t a surprise, because last time I counted, exactly half the shirts that I think are suitable for the office are one shade of purple or other. At least two-thirds of the t-shirts I own are purple. I own several more purple hats. During sunny weather I often wear a Hawaiian shirt (often unbuttoned over a t-shirt), and most of them have purple as a prominent color.
If you hadn’t guessed, purple is my favorite color. And if the article from which I swiped the graphic above is correct, fully 12% of all men name it as their favorite color. Even so, this guy is hardly the first person to react this way to me wearing purple. Heck, about a year ago a very progressive co-worker, while we were discussing a book about racism in America, and while making a point about how different marginalized groups experience prejudice, he made the off-hand comment that if I just took off my hat and hid it, I could pass for straight.
And the hat that was hanging on the hook that he pointed to was not my big broad-brimmed two-shades of purple one. It was a much more subdued flat cap with a short bill. It just happened to be purple.
When I have told one of my other stories about a incidents similar to the bus stop encounter, sometimes someone feels the need to advise me to either, a) just ignore the glares and comments, or b) stop wearing purple.
To the first suggestion I have a few responses:
- Humans are social animals, and most of us are hardwired to pay attention to other people around us, particularly their facial expressions and tone of voice. Difficult to ignore.
- As a person who has been both verbally and physically assaulted by homophobes, I can’t help being vigilant. There is a part of my brain that is constantly looking for warning signs.
- Given that queer people still get attacked and murdered by homophobes in this country, it would be very unwise to suppress that urge to keep an eye on my surroundings.
As to deciding not to wear purple. Really? So it is my responsibility to try to guess what might set off a random bigot? Your solution is to take away something that I love, something that makes me feel good, something that doesn’t hurt anyone else, just so a bigot feels comfortable pretending that gay people don’t exist? If you think that suggestion is a reasonable one, I have to ask: why would you want to make a bigot feel comfortable? Seriously, go look in a mirror and ask that question out loud: why would you rather a bigot feel comfortable than someone like me be happy? Think really hard about why that was your first response.
Colors don’t have gender.
And I find it particularly amusing in Seattle when some of these guys react to my purple garments. Seattle is the home of the University of Washington (among other colleges) home of the very popular Huskies football team. And the team colors are purple and gold. So you see people wearing purple sweatshirts, purple hats, or purple shorts adorned with one or more of the team logos on them all the time. They are so ubiquitous in clothing stores around here that I can’t count the times that I saw a purple garment out of the corner of my eye, only to see that it’s Huskies merchandise when I turn toward it.
And no, I’m not going to replace all of my purple clothes with Huskies merch. For one, I attended a different university altogether.
I just think it’s crazy that some people see a guy wearing purple, and their fragile masculinity gets riled up unless they also see a sports logo. It’s still the same color. And it still doesn’t have a gender.