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Donna Allegra

For a while I'd been keeping Darrin in limbo. I miss him. But I almost got caught one time too many. If the guys on the job knew about Darrin, it'd be all over for me. They'd never stop talking about us.

I can be the girl at work. I don't have to be a boy, the strong one who has it together. Most men really are bigger and stronger and think they have to be permanent boy. At times I like it that I can be the girl on the job.

With Darrin, it's a whole other world. There's a reason why I'm the man with him.

Other women like Darrin too. Sure he's handsome, considerate, gentle, but more than that, he'll listen to what a woman has to say. I get enormous pleasure in how he'll let a woman be herself without intruding at every opportunity to turn the attention on himself or run a game on her.

A lot of men like Darrin too. I don't mean the gay men, but straight guys who can appreciate intelligence and manners in a man's man. Darrin gives a good example of another way that a man can handle himself and still get the girl. He lets guys know it's okay to be human, that they don't have to hunt women down like prey.

I could feel the need for Darrin coming on me and in a matter of minutes, I'd decided to take him out tonight. Not much chance of running into construction workers in the Village during the work week. The guys I work with live out on the Island or in Jersey.

The more modern the men's room, the easier it is to do Darrin. I had this plastic funnel I'd fabricated so that I could pee standing up behind a closed-door stall if I had to. Before I started doing Darrin, I was never sure men could pee while sitting down.

As I pushed the door into this bathroom, I worried that the biker guy would follow me into the john to see if his wee wee was bigger than mine. The look on his face showed he wanted to get back at me bad. He'd hated that I wouldn't join him in laughing at his woman.

She'd been surprised too. There I was, a stranger as we all stood on the line to give the counterwoman our food orders. I detected a glimmer of anger on her own behalf when I didn't respond to her boyfriend's comment in the usual way. They were already into some kind of bickering when he said, "Baby, if you were good for anything standing up ..." He let the phrase trail off and turned to me with a wink. "Right bro?"

I felt afraid, but I made Darrin speak, "I don't like hearing women talked about like that, buddy." His face showed surprise and uncertainty. To her I said, "You deserve better than this, lady."

The guy tried to cover-up by saying, "It's a joke, Okay? Right baby?" But it wasn't a friendly jest any more than his belly pushing out from his Harley Davidson tee-shirt. The pork of him insisted on showing through.

She wasn't having it either and she rolled her eyes and popped her chewing gum. Darrin had given her some fire for the sparks she would have smothered then and probably smouldered under later.

I was glad Darrin is such a good-looking guy for her sake. She beamed and her pretty stood up from the slouch she'd been in. I had plenty of times in my life when someone treated me like a dog and I didn't fight back. I'd wanted to beat the shit out of them for making me look small. I'd wish with all my might that I could make them feel helpless. But no matter what I said back, I always felt like the loser.

As a man I don't get questioned and evaluated for my opinions so much. The possibility that I'm not shining and wonderful doesn't come up in the ways it does when I'm a woman who's being noticed. A woman gets laughed at just because she's outnumbered. Men back each other up and get close by shutting females out. How many times can I remember when I anguished over being the way I was as a woman, wishing I could be powerful like in my fantasies with music fueling me.

I've seen some women who can really handle the guys. No man would dare fuck with them. It has to do with using sex appeal. The men think they have a chance to get some, so they act what they think is half-way decent and civilized towards her.

All three of us wanted to get away from with each other as we moved along the cafeteria line to get our food. The cafeteria chrome reflected me looking as unruffled as someone in a deodorant commercial, but my underarms drenched my shirt. What did me in was the hot wet air that flew out of my ass. I'd relaxed when I saw the biker guy had just shut up and wasn't going to challenge me. I scented my fart just as the counter person took the his order. "Two burgers with mayo, tomatoes and lettuce; fries."

The shame started as a dull, warm sensation around my eyes, then rapidly flared over my face. The embarassment carried on its tail all the times from childhood the kids had gone "Pee-Yew!" and pointed to me as the one who laid the egg.

I quickly ordered tea and a felafel and took my food to a table. I headed for the bathroom, hoping it was a single-person set-up, but it was a multi-person accomodation. Only one man was inside, standing at the middle urinal like he had all the time in the world. I figured he'd be gone soon so that I could fart and empty my bowels to my heart's content.

Nothing was happening when I sat on the seat, though, just that one fart that snuck out of me before I knew it was coming. The embarassment had tasted like old tin foil against my teeth. Darrin hadn't crumbled in shame though. I acted like it was the biker guy's bad smell, and maybe his shit did stink bigger than mine.

I can't really explain to anyone why I pretend to be male. I don't just wear men's clothes, I want people to think I'm a man and to treat me like one. It's not just the men's clothes -- I wear them on the job anyway. For everyday wear, there's not such a difference between men's and women's styles. I allow people to call me "sir."

I first started doing Darrin by mistake. It began on a day when I felt a last straw tickling my hump after the guys on the job had given me a hard way to go. I'd gone to a remote part of the hospital to get away from my work partners and to wash up at the end of the day. I know I must've put a look on my face that was hard enough to sink a thousand ships when I headed for the bathroom.

A guard who I figured should be able to tell, yelled out excitedly to me, "Sir, Sir, that's the women's bathroom. The men's is around the corner." I turned around, about to tear into her that I'm a woman just like she is.

How many times in my life have I had to conjure up the force of righteous indignation at someone who's mistaken me for the wrong sex? All the while, I felt embarassed and ashamed, like I was the one who was wrong even though someone else had made the mistake.

I never see it happen the other way around. "Lady, miss, yoo hoo! Hold up. That's the men's room. You don't want to go in there." No one ever mistakes a man for a woman unless he's a drag queen trying for the effect, and even then, you know.

But let a woman show a fraction of the confidence and freedom that a man has for taking up space, let her not be decked out in the cuteness, let her stand without any apology or unsureness that people expect from females, and the whole world instantly assumes this has got to be a male.

My work clothes that day weren't that different from street clothes -- just dustier from plaster. The boots -- well, construction worker boots are part of everyday fashion nowadays. The guard sitting behind the king-sized bed of a circular desk actually looked in my face and pointed, "Just go around the corner, sir."

I was filled with a kind of wonder. This woman looked pretty butch herself, a white woman whose short brown hair sported a lighter brown sheen on top of the darker mass. No make up, square build and didn't try to make femme curves in her appearance by tightening the waist or cinching her clothes to emphasize her hips, the way some women who wear men's uniforms do.

I was sure she had grown up with the question that had taunted my childhood, "What are you? A girl or a boy?" It'd usually be delivered with a sneer. The person saying this knew me to be a girl, but in their opinion I was acting too boyish. They'd throw out the question to shove me back to a place that wasn't so far out of line, according to their beliefs about boys and girls.

It still cowed me to the defensive. "I'm a girl and you know it," I'd throw back, feeling already defeated. Then, came the inevitable, "Oh yeah? Well if you're a girl, prove it. Pull down your panties and show me."

I didn't know for a long time that I didn't have to answer to that. Mama Bea had taught me to obey anyone in authority. I had to respond to any challenge thrown my way. I believed that anyone accusing me of being a boy in disguise surely had the right to. Besides, no one called out to other girls, "Hey boy. Boyee. You're a boy, right? If you're such a boy, how come you dress like a girl? How come you play with the girls, boyee? You're not a boy, you're a girl!" was the triumphant other side of the coin that'd be tossed at me with someone's joyous derision.

I couldn't win either way.

"I feel like kicking your ass right now, you know that boy? You better be able to fight like a man and not throw like a girl, boy. C'mere and lemme beat your black ass all over the street."

In 5th grade when I couldn't understand why the girls would watch the boys play ball and why was I supposed to watch the boys when I could play as well as they could. I couldn't figure out why no other girls had to defend themselves against these taunting interrogations. I wasn't the only tomboy in the neighborhood.

When the guard at the hospital kept directing me around the corner, she was respectful, restrained. Her tone wasn't at all angry, like when I was mistaken for male inside a woman's bathroom. She looked as butch as a basketball team and I just said, "Oh. Yeah, sure," kept my frown on and went into the men's room.

I didn't stay there any longer than I had to. When I came out a short while later, Darrin was with me.

I feel so much more acceptance and respect out in the world when I am a young man. No one knows me, but I always get the benefit of the doubt. I watch women defer. Men don't question my opinion. I start to believe I'm entitled to more and better.

When you work so much with men like I do, you pick up their ways, or at least can see the manly stance in finer detail. I decided the best approach for me to take was the silent type. Most people don't bother an unsmiling man. They figure he has serious things on his mind. On a job, they assume that he knows that he's doing, and that it is important.

I sometimes wonder if I could get arrested for passing myself off the way I do. I could get beaten up and maybe raped if certain kinds of guys realized what I was doing. It'd be worse if I got caught after breaking rank and embarassing a guy by taking a woman's side and sticking up for her. The biker guy would feel he had every right to take me out.

But it was worth the risk. I watched as the kinds of females who frowned over me as Darcella smile upon Darrin. Girls giggled and older women beamed. Last week in Key Food I wasn't sure what the information on a laundry detergent was saying. As I frowned over the item, a young woman stepped up and took it upon herself to help me out, all the while anxious to please.

I even got more daring for Darcella's sake behind all the womanly approval I got as Darrin. When I was growing up, Mama Bea forever let me know what a thorn in her side I was, on account of my nature. She fretted loud and long about me.

I could never for a moment forget I was not the kind of daughter she'd wanted, something dainty and delicate. An obedient child, she'd allow grudging, but too big and unruly. According to Mama Bea, I didn't even want anything that was right and proper.

"You too old to still be acting like a tomboy. There's a word for them that don't grow up into ladies and I'm too much of a lady to say it."

Not long after I adopted Darrin, I found out I wasn't the only woman be with a secret man in her life. It shocked me too, that moment when I realized that one of the men washing up in the restroom was actually female. I wondered if she could tell about me, but she acted like an eye connection was a faggot come on. Another time that it happened we were like two faggots in straight man's land. The woman smiled at me, winked, then reverted to bored, stupid maleness.

She was good. I could tell, though. The meatiness around her legs gave it away, but she was doing it as a fat man. The heavier and older men get, the less they are distinguishable from women.

I'd been a pretty long time on this toilet and pushed the plunger to flush and go back to my felafel and tea. As an afterthought, I lifted up the toilet seat. Maybe it'd teach a lesson to the next guy.

When I came out from the stall, eager to eat, the guy still stood at the urinal holding his dick. So he was waiting for me. I thought about it -- a hand job. But he'd want to touch mine. Things could get nasty. And then, on the heels of that thought, I remembered that I was Darrin, not Darcella. I didn't have to do sex just because a man wanted to.

I headed for the exit without looking back. Someone else pushed in the door and I felt relief. We'd have been caught, maybe Darrin exposed. Maybe this new man in the bathroom will give the first one what he wants -- a dick to get a handle on.

I'd planned to eat inside the cafe, but I didn't want to hang around for more possible conflict. I was also hankering to get to Washington Square Park and be in that scene.

I sat on a bench near the statue of Garibaldi drawing out a sword in a manly fashion and bit into my felaffel. This has been a perfect gem of a day -- the sky shifting colors to get to this turquoise color, cured by a garnet setting sun. I could already see the moon extending an ivory tusk.

As I ate the last of my pita bread, a woman sauntering by looked back at me, her face fat with beauty. After she passed, a spruced-looking man winked and came over to sit at my side on the bench, giggling in the way men do when a woman has shown some interest. He acted as if we both had something on her.

He looked at me with appraising approval and said, "Well, you a young man still, you don't have to worry yet. Women just loves a young, pretty Black man. The white ones too, you know. And the faggots. Everybody in the world wants a sexy piece of Black man. That's what the white men can't stand more than anything."

I nodded, to keep him talking, not because I agreed. If I'd had a father, he would be around this man's age. I wanted to hear this dapper brother in a beret and turtle sweater talk to me like a son. Darrin didn't have to worry about what was behind an older man giving advice the way Darcella would.

"But when you start to be getting old, here's what you do, son: Get you a woman who likes to drink or is into drugs. Then she'll do anything for you. Any little thing, you hear me? Or a woman with kids that no man in his right mind would fool with. That's a woman who'll treat you right."

"Aw, C'mon, man" I said. Now I wanted to discourage him from going any further.

"I'm serious. And for my money: a fat, Black woman. That's who you want to have at home. You don't want to be seen with no fat woman, but tons of loving; she'll take good care of you. You play your cards right, you don't have to work. Keep her at home, then you step out to play."

He was acting like a Daddy to me, telling how the world is and how I should be in it. How could I keep him still smiling and be true to myself, as Darrin, as Darcella? I wouldn't be able to have both.

"That's not being a man, that's being a parasite. You can't stand up with any kind of pride if you've got to be conniving and scheming to get money out of somebody I'm supposed to love and care for."

He shook his head. "You got to be realistic. You are young and pretty now, you can get a woman who's making good money."

"Ripping off a woman's paycheck doesn't seem a better way of being a man than having to support her yourself," I said.

"Listen, son, you're gonna get old some day, so remember like I'm telling you -- a woman with kids or into the bottle. She'll take good care of you and pay for the privilege."

"That's like being kept a little boy. I can't get with that," I told him. I got up to go.

He threw up his hands mildly and shook his head. "You're still young, the world is your oyster now. You'll learn."

I gave him my thrown-up hands and walked away from Garibaldi. They didn't have the manhood I was after.

The sky had darkened to navy when I got back to my neighborhood, thinking, that even though I could collect good feelings to store inside me from being Darrin, I also got tough nuts to crack. I got off the subway with a vague sense of dissatisfaction and murky angers I couldn't put my finger on, grab firmly to and shake sense out of. I swelled from the attention and acceptance Darrin got from the world. I loved the smiles from women's silent approval or obvious attraction. I liked feeling calm, peaceble and unafraid of criticism. But I returned to Darcella's apartment a little sad and sour.

I was mad about what stirred up in me that I couldn't grab by the throat and shake words out of. How come Darrin could get over and be okay but not Darcella? Males didn't always approve of me, the het boys could probably sense the effeminate traits that made them snarl, but that didn't bother me.

I was used to men's hostility. Regular guys hated everything and everyone and only gave grudging acceptance to their own when they had to. Even there, they had to jockey for who'd be top dog by putting another man down.

It was the women who broke my heart when I was Darcella that would mend all the damaged places with their smoothing smiles and welcoming approval for Darrin.

Darrin showed me how much I really did love women. Not that my nature had ever been a secret or something I could disguse. It's just that everybody frowned on me in one way or another. Oh, I went to lesbian happenings in Greenwich Village. Sometimes there was a Black group I could hook into, but I'm church people. The people I grew up with and went to services with acted like I was a wrong part of them. I couldn't make them understand that I was as natural as the church in the middle of the block, the liquor store on the corner, the gospel hour on the radio station, the after-hours clubs, the record store, the dog barking in the apartment next door, the baby screaming down the hall, the rusty laughter of the old smokers, the shouts of the kids on the handball court, the tone of pleading in the child begging for something from Mommy and her granite-hard refusal.

It had gotten dark. Stars poked out like goose pimples on the flesh of a cold sky. The sky reminded me of a black oyster and the moon was its flawed and beautiful pearl.

Darrin was in my nature because the world wouldn't let Darcella simply live in peace. He let me be more of myself. Darrin was everybody's pride and joy, but Darcella wasn't welcome at the table. It felt natural to step into the place set for Darrin. Even if it was only for a little while, even if I had to pretend to be something I wasn't in order to be all of who I really was.

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