Hamish glanced at the bag I had set down as I entered the staff lunchroom, and reacted apparently without engaging a single critical faculty:
“That looks like a female bag”, he offered, immediately followed by a minor facial spasm, which suggested that his brain had just caught up with his inane verbiage.
Two prospective responses leapt simultaneously to my mind:
Option 1: “My bag does not have a sex, Hamish. It is just a bag. It is without hormones, chromosomes or genitals. It is an a-gender, non-binary container. It is simply my bag.”
Option 2: “I suppose you’re right.”
This was not a Monday-morning conversation that I had a strong investment in prolonging, so I selected option 2, thinking that this would put the matter to bed.
“But I suppose a man can still use it, though”, Hamish generously conceded, in a desperate bid to resurrect a facade of social proficiency.
“I suppose you’re right”, I concurred once more, hoping to convey disinterest, infused with just the faintest essence of contempt.
The bag in question is a faux-leather tote-bag (figure 1), which I’d bought the week before after weeks of hunting for just the right item to accommodate the increasing load I was transporting to and from work, since starting my new job.
I had rifled through shops of all kinds to find just the right mix of practicality and aesthetic appeal. I liked my new bag.
My previous one had become too small and I’d grown out of it (figure 2). Work-mates and acquaintances had politely referred to it as my ‘man-bag’, and I had generally refrained from delivering my ‘my bag does
not have a sex’ speech. I would have been quite happy for people to refer to my ‘handbag’, as I once did, to my office mate, Margaret. She reacted as if I had told her that I was wearing my dead mother’s underwear, so I didn’t try that again.
It seems strangely random that the word ‘hand’ should denote exclusively female usage. I regularly play hand-ball in the backyard with my nine-year-old boy and have never considered that there might be something emasculating in this. No-one has ever suggested that the game be renamed ‘man-ball’.
Actually ‘man-ball’ sounds vaguely inappropriate for a family-oriented recreational activity, so good call there, I reckon.
As a person of the homosexualist persuasion, I’m no stranger to sashaying dangerously along the boundaries of prescribed gender expression and, from time to time, stepping across the line. I have learned, as an out gay man, that there is absolutely no purpose – or indeed benefit – in dressing and acting like a complete and utter bore.
Released from the tyranny of fear that I might be labelled a sissy or a girl, I am free to express whoever I am, in whatever colours, and decorated with whatever accessories I choose.
My bag is just my bag, Hamish. It has no inherent gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity. It requires no prefix and it makes no apologies for being a tough tote with a touch of sass.