You know what I'm getting at here. The number of times I've had some guy say I should be smiling - and it's always a guy - I can't count. To this day I have no set response to it. Usually, if I think I can get away with it, I just don't react. If I'm lucky I can brush it off and go to the next customer. I've had one or two guys get indignant when I've taken this approach and hiss at me about what poor service I'm giving. Sometimes I play dumb, like I didn't hear them and see if I can get them to feel embarrassed. Sometimes I even will myself to flash a smile, but I always feel disgusted with myself afterward.
Universally, it makes me feel gross. I was a man, and I know not every many goes around saying stuff like that, but it doesn't really make me feel great about the totality of my former gender to see how widespread it is. Or to feel how small and powerless and objectified it makes me feel. Being leered at is one thing - I'm worth looking at, and it doesn't inconvenience me too badly. But to be latched onto by men who want to "see me smile" just feels so sinister and wrong and makes me feel like they see me as "less." It's a reminder that to a lot of them I am less - a target, a prize, than a human to be engaged with.
Yesterday, when it happened, I tried my usual brushoff. I wasn't having a good day. My hair was being uncooperative, I was feeling certain physical ailments I never dealt with before being a woman, I was just annoyed at the world. So when this guy drops his change into the tip jar - a whopping 15 cents - and I don't smile and say thank you, he gives me this glare, and says, "Hey, not even a smile? What's the matter with you?"
I could have gone into a whole thing, but instead I gave him the fake smile, and said, "Oh, thanks." He was big and bald and honestly looked like he would take a swing at me even thought I'm five-foot nothing and female. I was too scared to try anything but go along. It's one of the worst feelings that comes along with this life.
He reluctantly accepts this, muttering under his breath as he walks away with his coffee to go sit down.
So here's where it gets screwy. We have this regular - Kevin. We call him Silvertop because he's a little older, prematurely grey, handsome like Anderson Cooper. Well, more salt-and-pepper but whatever. He comes in every day, reads for an hour or so, then leaves quietly. I like him, generally.
He gets up and he goes over to the guy. "Excuse me," he says, "Did you just tell her to smile?"
"None of your business, pal," says the guy, who looks like he would wreck silvertop in a fight.
"That's just incredibly rude," Kevin goes on to say, "You can't just say shit like that to random women. It's 2019, pal."
"Step off," growls the other guy.
Kevin won't relent. "I'm just saying, you don't know her story. Who's to say she's got anything to smile about, just because some stranger threw a quarter her way? Why don't you think about other people for a change?"
Big Guy stands up like he's going to start a fight, but to his credit, he just leaves the shop, staring daggers at Kevin the whole way. I'm watching this unfold and I'm feeling... angry.
"Hey," I say sharply.
"Yeah?" Kevin answers back.
"Don't do that."
He looks at me for a while, then asks, "I was just trying to..."
"Well, I didn't want you to, okay. I don't need you to swoop in and tongue-lash every asshole who comes in here. Have you seen this city? That's how you get stabbed."
He looked like he was going to defend himself a bit more, but then he caught himself. "My mistake, I'm sorry."
Then he sits back down and goes back to his book.
I spent the rest of the day in a huff. I told Maddie about it, but she didn't see the big deal - she'd love to have some guy defending her, especially someone like Silvertop.
"It just feels like two sides of the same coin," I said, "The first guy thought I owed him a smile. The second wanted to seem like a hero for rescuing me."
"He was just being nice!" Maddie protested.
Charli got it better, which I guess befits her background. Not that she's a manhater per se but she's even more wary of them than I am.
Still, I spent the rest of the night first wondering if I was too harsh, then getting re-annoyed with myself for thinking I could be too harsh. It's been a while since I've mentioned it but my "natural speaking voice" in this body is like an animated kitten. Even when I work to lower my register I still sound pretty cutesy. It's annoying.
I did wonder whether I should apologize. He has always seemed like a nice enough guy, quiet, keeps to himself, his intentions were good enough. Maybe I had a valid reason but there's also a ton of baggage I bring to situations like these.
The next day when he came in, he gave his order. I gave him a smile to try to convey... an apology? The idea I might have been wrong without fully admitting it?
"I'm sorry again about yesterday" he said unprompted. "It was presumptuous of me to step in. Way out of line."
"Yeah, well" I said steeling myself to give a rare apology, "I shouldn't have jumped down your throat. I was really just... misplaced anger and stuff. Really, it was a decent gesture."
"Well, I was chastened," he said, "And you spoke your mind. I respect the hell out of that, even if I'm on the other end of it."
I appreciated him saying that.
I have to admit, the unwanted attention this body beings frustrates the hell out of me, because I can't seem to turn it off. It's one thing to doll up and draw attention to yourself, but when you don't feel comfortsble standing around looking plain and average because guys think you should be happy and perky and perfectly groomed at all times, it wears on you, makes you resent life. Ironically, it doesn't make me want to go back to being a man - it makes me want to be a better woman.