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“It’s about freedom, isn’t it, when you get down to it? Imagine the courage it took her to say, ‘I can’t do this anymore.”
In my Coming out of Indiana in 1984, I was in pursuit of a life that truly reflected who I was. I had spent more than twenty years trying to wedge myself into a mold that didn’t fit. Abandoning that mold altogether didn’t seem a possibility. But I wanted to leave behind the perfect boy expectations for a true and authentic Eddie. Washington DC gave me hope – a major city far away from the shame, disappointment and heartache that I had created.
I vividly remember the morning ‘Destiny’ walked into our salon. With the gleaming chrome and mirrors, her reflection seemed to take-over the entire room. I was keeping my back to her so I could watch from the safety of the floor to ceiling workstation mirror. There are many uses for a mirror in a hair salon. Vanity plays but a small part. For all hairdressers it makes for an excellent cutting tool. Most haircuts are actually done with painstaking precision from the mirror’s reflection. And for someone like me- Direct eye contact is not only at times too personal but also painful. Looking at someone directly in the eye without any cover distraction was like being naked for me. I found a sense of control in having a conversation through the refection in my mirror. That mirror became part of my armor.
Destiny wasn’t young, though it was difficult to determine what her age category might actually be. Dressed in a white off the shoulder peasant blouse, short denim skirt, suntanned hose, Destiny was also wearing the biggest white tennis shoes I’d ever seen. Everything about Destiny was large. Not just her feet but hands, her shoulders, her back. She was taller than me and I’m over 6 feet. There was no mistaking Destiny was a man.
From the safety of the mirror’s reflection, I watched Destiny being shampooed and my eyes silently followed Marlene setting her hair in rollers then putting her under the dryer. An inexplicable anger seemed to encircle me. My inner voice was telling me who Destiny really was – did she honestly believe anyone is fooled by this charade? I was used to ‘Drag Queens’ but that was camp and theatre. My first encounter in a gay bar back home at the ‘Swinging Door’ had been with Tank and LaLa. I adored them, but this was different.
Or was it? Thinking back I couldn’t recall ever asking them about their lives outside the shadows of the gay bar. As soon as Destiny left I marched up to the receptionist desk and informed our manager Lenny that under no circumstances was she ever to be put on my book. I simply wouldn’t stand for it. When Lenny pushed back – questioning my obvious irritation and why I would feel so strongly towards a salon client I’d never even met – I couldn’t give him an answer. I didn’t have one.
As the months past Destiny continued to come in every Saturday for her standing appointment. She laughed and talked to staff and customers with complete ease. From my mirror I watched as Miss Anne brought out the silver tray with the white linen napkins and fresh tea and coffee. “Would you like lemon with your tea, Love?” Miss Anne asked Destiny. It appeared I seemed to be the only one taking issue with Destiny’s presence. Finally the inevitable happened. As I slipped my client under the empty dryer Destiny raised hers. “Eddie… when you have a second can I ask you a question?”
She knew my name. For the first time we locked eyes, and without my armor I felt my anger begin to slip away. Destiny wondered if it was okay, could I choose a red lipstick that would work with her skin and hair color? I found myself smiling and brought back a tester – blue red to enhance her silver hair. Waving the tester away she smiled saying whatever I selected would no doubt be perfect. From that encounter on, Destiny never was without her blue red lipstick when she came in for her Saturday standings. And when she asked me weeks later for blush, I told her she would need to sit in my chair and we’d try a few. After teaching her to feather her blush with a light hand, I stepped back behind my chair and we locked eyes in my mirror.
It’s been over 30 years since I came out of Indiana. Washington DC provided much more than an escape from my former self. I quickly discovered the person I most wanted to run from was right there inside me. As much as I craved diversity, I was still unprepared for what walking into the unknown might actually be like. Breaking the mold wasn’t reserved for just certain people who looked, acted, or believed like me. Learning to give people, like myself, time to learn, process and adjust takes time. Being authentic, embracing who we are and born to be is essential for inner peace, growth and happiness. Even I had to learn about acceptance from both sides of the mirror.
Sometimes we simply have no other choice than to come out from behind the armor.
Today whenever I visit my favorite makeup counter to buy a few ‘I think I can’t live without beauty products’ I look for the adorable young boy who has helped me over the past 7 years. Sometimes I forget because it’s still kind of new – He’s now a She. And as she rushes over smiling asking how I’ve been, we lock eyes, no armor needed. I can’t help but think about Destiny and smile…