(james benedict brown) on the road

But I’m a lady

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 13 March, 2007

Have you ever had that feeling after walking into a bar that everyone (and I mean everyone) has turned round to look you? Picture the scene: Sheffield (modern, large, post-industrial northern English city) last Friday night at around seven o’clock; in the Sanctuary bar in the city centre, where about two hundred hard working Sheffield residents are relaxing after a week at work. Most people have been here since they finished work, others are just arriving for the start of a big night out. The sound of conversations, laughter and clinking glasses is somehow deafening.

I walk in at this point. And everyone’s looking at me. Strange expressions, smirks and other murmured remarks surround me. I engage my lightning fast logic to assume that this must be due to one of the following reasons:

a) I’m a man
b) I’m wearing a dress
c) I’m wearing a corset
d) I’m wearing a black wig and a bonnet
e) I’m wearing snow boots
f) I’m carrying a wicker basket with seven garden gnomes in it
g) …all of the above

Luckily I am in the company of a real lady, who leads me through the intimidating crowds to a quiet corner at the back of the bar where I descend into a mild panic attack. Surely cross-dressing should be a liberating experience? I don’t imagine that these occasions will occur many times in my life, but I’m quite prepared to admit that I don’t handle them well. We have an interesting and animated ‘discussion’ about which venue was designated by the University of Sheffield Architecture Society as the pre-bar for the annual SUAS Ball (this year’s theme: myths, magic, legends and fairytales). I nervously avoid any eye contact with every other person in the room, not prepared for even the smallest smirk or elevation of an eyebrow.

This continues for about fifteen minutes, until I spot a man who has just entered the bar and who looks remarkably like me. Well, I say he looks remarkably like me, even though he’s wearing the bright yellow team kit of the Los Angeles Lakers and an entire body’s worth of oh-so-incorrect black body make-up. He looks like me because of the same vision of absolute terror in his white eyes. We make eye contact; my Snow White has found her match (presumably Lew Alcindor, although I never got round to asking). The evening begins, and one by one, the braver and less punctual architecture students of the University of Sheffield arrive.

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