So I’m ditty-bopping along, minding my own business in search of a copying machine, when all of a sudden I hear this:

“That girl looks like she has a dick.”

(Cue the laughter of bitchy girls and the guys that pant after them.)

What prompted this startling piece of information? I can only assume that it had something to do with either my dress (blue slacks and a band T-shirt- hardly penis prognosticating material) or my haircut (growing out from a complete shave-off due to chemo, an inch long if I’m lucky). I did not speak to them. At all. In any way, shape, form, or fashion. They based their opinion simply and entirely upon their available information (i.e., my lack of make-up, “girl length” hair, or shoes that cost over $50 dollars [like I’m gonna fucking wear stilettos in a ceramics lab with slick concrete floors]).

Which, yeah, it was hardly flattering, but that wasn’t what bothered me. I started growing out my hair because in second grade because I could not convince some peers that I was female. I shop for things that are comfy, not necessarily “pretty” or fashionable. My most expensive item of clothing I EVER BOUGHT is a black velvet cloak for $89 (I was young and romantic. So sue me.) Most of my makeup collection is actually for Halloween. I am not a model of modern female beauty. I know it, they know it, it is common knowledge.

What pissed me the fuck off was that I was supposed to hear it. I was supposed to be suitably cowed by their opinion and scuttle off, vindicating them and their place in the world. In the interest of getting the paper photocopied and not going to jail, I pretended that I didn’t, but oh how I wished.

I wished to walk up to them, calmly pull my shirt collar down to show my lovely biopsy scar, and ask politely if any of them had lost someone to cancer.

I wished to grab them by their spiffy hairsprayed updos and grind their faces into the graves of people who killed themselves because they were teased about being gay. (The vilification of non-mainstream sexualities is A. Whole. “Nother. Fucking. RANT.)

I wished to scream at them that I didn’t have a choice to lose my hair, that I didn’t really have a choice to be this shape either, and that they could have all the lovely fucking side effects with my blessings.

I wished I could curl up in a corner and hide, or put my beanie back on. This was the first day I had not worn one in public in several months… because I felt ugly. Because I had lost the one identifiable and superior female trait I had- long, wavy, red-gold hair- to something I could not prevent or predict. Because here was confirmation that I was ugly from complete strangers.

It was like they had ripped me apart, picked off all the meager confidence I had scraped up, and took a big healthy shit all over everything. All for the sake of a moment’s amusement. And the truly disgusting part?

If I had told them that I had cancer, they might have regretted what they said, but not because they truly thought what they said was wrong. Because I would be worthy of their pity and self restraint. Because having cancer  is more important than my self esteem. Because I could fucking justify the way I look to people I don’t know and don’t care to know. Because I look so bad that I need a justification as big as cancer to cover my sin.

Since I have little faith in them, I bring this to you. You the reader, you the follower, you the random internet stranger. There is a moral to the story; a couple, in fact. But the one I really really want you to take away from all this is relatively simple- Do not judge aloud with superficial evidence. If you do, don’t be surprised when the object of your judgement gets pissed or sad or unhappy. Don’t have the fucking brass balls to say it was all a joke, or all a misunderstanding. It may be a joke to you, but to the other person it is serious. Serious enough that they could not brush it off or let it go. You hurt them. They don’t have to accept your judgement or your command that they be unoffended by it. You hurt them. What you do about their hurt is between you and them, but it is there. It is real. AND IT HURTS.

If you have to say something, something that you know would hurt, something that you cannot say to their face, wait until they pass. Let them go by. Tell your fat jokes to people that will laugh, not in front of the woman who has struggled with her self-image for her entire life. Regale your friends with hilarious anecdotes about gays and lesbos somewhere else than beside the Rainbow Pride booth. To do otherwise is to invite war, whether you “mean it” or not. Have the decency to make it non-personal or non-confrontational. Because hiding there, inside the object of your derision, your scorn, your vilification- is a person. Just a person. Not a monster, not a clown.

Just a person.

Just like you.