I knew when I boarded the Metro and saw them that the two women sitting near me, dressed in a fashion that is way more street-savvy than I will ever look (even on Halloween), were bad-ass lesbians. You know, do-rags, tattoos, multiple piercings. The real deal. I was immediately frightened.
Bad-ass lesbians have always scared me. So have bad-ass straight people, and bad-ass gay men (although I haven’t seen too many of them).
The fact is, anyone could beat me up. I had countless opportunities during my youth to learn to defend myself — presented repeatedly by my older brother — but I never prevailed. I’ve never been qualified to be a thug or a bully, and as a result I’ve always been intimidated by them.
But the bad-ass lesbians intrigued me. I knew that most people would see them and think, ”Those women are bad-asses,” and they’d probably try really hard to look like they were reading their newspaper, noticing nothing and striving to be absolutely unnoticeable, meanwhile clutching their purse or briefcase more tightly against their body.
I, however, saw bad-ass lesbians, emphasis on the lesbians. I was sort of entranced by them and how great it was that there are bad-ass lesbians in the world, that we really do come from all walks of life. I was really impressed that these two women were sitting on a Metro train having no qualms about showing affection for each other while they looked menacing and talked loudly about whatever they wanted, using any vulgar language that pleased them.
I had to remind myself not to stare, and to try really hard to look like I was reading my book, noticing nothing and being unnoticeable.
The bad-ass lesbians let me down when a man boarded the train as the doors were closing and somehow managed to get one foot caught in the doors. As any savvy Metro rider knows, the train doors are not elevator doors. They do not pop open when they detect something between them. Several people tried to pry the doors open while the man pulled at his shin desperately.
The bad-ass lesbians thought this was hilarious. They burst out laughing, saying how stupid the man was in the loudest voices possible, saying how Metro doors aren’t elevator doors, and using obscenities as they vocally pondered why people are so dumb. As the man struggled to free his foot, they laughed even harder, mocking him as other passengers tried to help the hapless foot-in-door victim, who could barely keep his balance.
I wanted to help the man, because I felt bad for him (even though I resent it when people treat the Metro doors like an elevator — more often than not it just inconveniences everyone else on the train). But he didn’t need my help; I’m not clever about getting doors to open or coaxing a stuck foot out of a tight space. Besides, I was afraid of the bad-ass lesbians. If I stood up to help — risking the loss of my comfy seat, mind you — the bad-ass lesbians might set their sights on me and start mocking me.
There’s plenty about me to mock; just ask the various bullies who plagued me at different times throughout my life. The bad-ass lesbians would have had no time zeroing in on something that made me uncomfortable, and they would have exploited it, tossing around profanity. And here’s what I would have done in response: I would have blushed , and I would have cried. The bad-ass lesbians would have just loved that.
Meanwhile, the man with his foot in the door would have been relieved to have the focus taken off him and, once his foot was out of the door, would have moved as far away from me as possible to make sure no one suspected that we were allies. During all of this, while the bad-ass lesbians were distracting and humiliating me, other bad-asses would have appeared and stolen my luggage. (I was traveling home from National airport when all of this happened, see.)
So there was no way I was going to stand up and help the foot-in-door man. There was no way I was going to so much as shoot those bad-ass lesbians a dirty look.
The whole thing soured my initially giddy experience of being on the train with bad-ass lesbians, though. I’d started the ride being proud that my people come in all shapes and sizes, all colors and creeds, all types of platitudes and attitudes. But in the end, I was pretty mortified on the lesbian world’s behalf, appalled at the utter lack of sensitivity being shown by these women — who should have known the sting of public disdain.
But bad-asses never care about the effects of their actions on other people. That is, by definition, what makes them bad-asses. These bad-ass lesbians were bad-asses first, lesbians second. This is where I went wrong — my moment of identifying with them. In the end, I am meek, not a bad-ass. Any thoughts I had that these lesbians looked at me and saw a fellow lesbian are laughable; they saw a meek person who wouldn’t dare challenge their attacks on a Metro-illiterate person. They saw the anti-bad-ass.
Lucky for me, I alighted the train before I did anything to draw attention to myself.
Kristina Campbell writes Alphabet Soup biweekly. She’s really nice, but don’t count on her to defend you if thugs are harassing you in public. But she’s good at making e-mail threats. If you need a virtual bodyguard, drop her a note at email@example.com.