Friday, September 26, 2008

Before and After

Today was interesting. The kids and I were playdating on the other side of town. After an early lunch, we took the kids to a little park close my friend's house. It was one that I'd never been to, but she and her kids frequent regularly. Her son's preschool uses the park as their outside space, and the nearby high school students find it a pleasant refuge. A group of boys were hanging out on the bench near the entrance, dishing the dirt. Another little grouping was enjoying the grass under a tree.

It was pristine. An empty cola can lay on the ground near the pergola but it looked awkward and out of place. The park was essentially empty, most kids undoubtedly home napping, but ours had decided that sleep was for the weak. So there we were. A fabulous play structure rested smack dab in the middle of newly laid sand. Bright fun toys were scattered about waiting to be investigated. The boys leapt out of the stroller. Heaven.

The lawn was freshly mown and bright green. The sky was refreshingly blue and the air was crisp. One lone tree blazed in it's autumnal glory. Somewhere off in the distance, a bagpiper played Amazing Grace. I remarked to my friend that it had a melancholy effect, like something grand was coming to an end. We trundled the babies around in the back seats of our strollers, hoping that they would fall asleep.

We stopped momentarily and noticed him at the same time. A willowy young man with thin dark hair and skin the colour of thai iced tea. He was wearing nylon athletic pants and a light jacket. Nondescript. He walked silently, seeming to glide across the grass. We were both looking at him and he turned his head and smiled at us. It was meant to be a smile at least, but it reminded me of The Gentlemen from Buffy's Hush. My hackles raised. We kept walking the babies in a circle.

The young man walked to the far corner of the park and began to undress. Not undress, redress. He was changing into women's clothes. We half-watched in amazement, not sure where to look. Then he started walking around. No, gliding around, like a geisha practicing her walk. Unsure. He did this for a while.

We tensed, waiting to see what would happen, but nothing did. We questioned the kids in the park to see if they came there often, and whether they had seen him before. They did, but they had not. We were prepared to protect the kids if necessary. The boys on the bench valiantly offered to take him to task if he came after them. But all he did was quietly put his masculine clothing back on, and slink away in the direction from which he came. He didn't take the women's clothes with him. Upon investigation, it seems he had a box for them stowed amongst the trees.

The kids played on, oblivious. My friend and I wondered what, if anything, we should do. He didn't do anything. As far as we know, all he wanted was an audience for his actions. And he wanted an audience. He may have been furtive, but he did nothing to hide his actions. Not even the transformation from before to after. We have no indication that he would harm anyone. But the potential is there.

Four years ago, I would have found this incident merely interesting, possibly humourous. Part of the reason that I love the city, and want to stay here, is that I want my children to grow up with a wide array of cultural experiences. I want them to be safe, but not sheltered. I want them to learn that all people, no matter what race, gender or sexual orientation are worthy of the same consideration. I think living in a big city is a good way to do this.

Today, I am a little ashamed that upon seeing someone who for all I know is completely harmless, my first thought is of the potential danger to my kids. It's a survival instinct, but that doesn't necessarily make it right.

It's a fine line between protection and exposure. This parenting thing is hard.

17 comments:

Kyla said...

You know, the guy raised your hackles even before the public clothes changing began, so it is no surprise that your protective instincts kicked in. Those instincts are a force to be reckoned with, you usually can't tolerantly reason them away once they've been called upon.

katie said...

Parenting is damn hard, and I would have reacted the same (both before and after kids). And can I say that you created a DAMN creepy image by referencing The Gentlemen from Hush (ummm... hello - the stuff nightmares are made of).

crazymumma said...

This is interesting as I have struggled with similar issues myself. Because one wants to remain open minded to difference, yet, when we have chidren we sometimes wonder how to explain what could be danger, what cold not be danger.

His behaviour, though different, was not threatening, but the explaining is hard. In a away, he was the one putting himsef at incredible risk I think.

argh. tuff city questions.

Lisa b said...

glad crazymumma beat me here
years ago I ran into a similar situation where a young man in a dress stopped in front of me and theatrically allowed his dress to blow as the subway rolled in. It was hilarious.
I think though, in all these situations you have to go with your gut. If you think he was dangerous alert the police.

Tracey said...

You know, a man dressing as a woman doesn't bother me. A man changing into clothing in public view and parading around a park dressed in women's clothing does. Being a cross-dresser isn't harmful. Trying to get shock-value attention CAN be...

Beck said...

I think that there are things that make our internal danger radar set off - and the fact that he was changing IN public, in front of CHILDREN would have had me phoning the police right there.

Mac and Cheese said...

We have insticts for reason, but humans are the only species who force themselves to ignore them, which isn't always wise.

painted maypole said...

i think everyone else has said it beautifully. he may be harmless, but he is exhibiting really, really odd behavior - and definatley inappropriate. I think a little alert to the authorities is in order.

painted maypole said...

oh, and i love that the teenagers were willing to help you defend your kids (and I'm still optomistic enough to take that as they were willing to help protect the kids, and not looking for an excuse to beat up the cross dressing freak)

kittenpie said...

I was thinking much what Kyla said - that if your gut said something was off before his performance, then it's not reaction to that. I listen to those instincts, myself, because it's amazing the little things we pick up on without consciously seeing them. That, and yes, it's scary how parenting can make us scared.

womaninawindow said...

First off, let's get this out of the way, this was brilliantly written! I was on the edge the entire time wondering.

And I still am.

And I am with you, absolutely right where you are. It might just be sad - sad that he has to have a box, sad that he has to beg a strange audience, sad that he has to pack that side of him up when he's done. But there is that other side too, that side that would make any mother take out ANYONE regardless if they were in gangster garb or stilettos. You threaten the cubs, mama bear 'ill take you out!

womaninawindow said...

First off, let's get this out of the way, this was brilliantly written! I was on the edge the entire time wondering.

And I still am.

And I am with you, absolutely right where you are. It might just be sad - sad that he has to have a box, sad that he has to beg a strange audience, sad that he has to pack that side of him up when he's done. But there is that other side too, that side that would make any mother take out ANYONE regardless if they were in gangster garb or stilettos. You threaten the cubs, mama bear 'ill take you out!

Christine said...

i think kyla was right--if something bothered you from the beginning than you were right to be wary. the thing that would have bothered me was not that he wore women's clothes but that he was dressing and undressing in public. i don't care who you are are, taking your clothes off in public in front of other people, especially children, is wrong.

mamatulip said...

I agree with a lot that's been said here - you sensed something from the get-go, and in situations like that I always go with my gut. I do think crazymumma has a point, that he was perhaps the one putting himself in danger - though I would have been quite unnerved. And this was so well written.

bren j. said...

What the?!

Uh....I don't know what I would have done, I would have been so befuddled. As with some other comments though, it's the taking the clothes off in public that's particularly troubling.

Mad said...

Jeez, didn't I comment on this last week? I meant to. Anyhoo, what I was going to say was that on the very day you write this I heard a piece on CBC radio about people all over the world who enact public performance as stipulated by some group web site somewhere (clearly I need to do some follow-up). Anyway, they will set a day and time to, say, take their pants off on the subway or they will enact mobias time loop performance in coffe shops and the like. When I read this post I wondered if that is what the young man was up to.

Mad said...

Here's the site:
http://improveverywhere.com/