Hard to tell … male or female? Post-chemotherapy March 2022
Gidday mate & gender uncertainty.
“Gidday mate. You OK?”. The dust-covered ATV (all-terrain vehicle) had been following our motorhome through several tight bends on the narrow, rutted east coast road. There were no safe opportunities to let the vehicle pass. Road signs said “Uneven surface”. That would be an under-statement. Huge heavy logging trucks had significantly cut up the narrow sealed road, creating very challenging driving conditions. I decided to pull over and stop to let him through … he looked like a local farmer with 4 or 5 dogs barking and balancing precariously on the back. He must have thought I had a problem; slowing down and pulling in close to my driver’s door. “Gidday mate. You OK?”
“Yes thanks … just pulling over to let you past”, I answered, “You look like this is your territory … we’re not in a hurry … just heading over to Porangihau”. For a moment he looked puzzled. This motorhome driver driver had a gender-neutral appearance but spoke with a female voice. It is more common for men to drive these more challenging roads and I guess that’s what he was expecting. “OK then mate,” he waved as he roared off along the road leaving a dust-plume behind for us to drive through.
My large physique and bald head after chemotherapy creates an uncomfortable gender uncertainty for some people. This was very evident when we explored beautiful settlements and beaches on the coast east of Wairarapa recently. The weather was glorious and far too hot to wear my wig or a head scarf. Jim and I have got used to my baldness following chemotherapy … wearing a wide-brimmed hat when out in the sun for protection, but cool and comfortable without hair any other time. I hardly notice that I am bald anymore … although the weird thing is that after 3 months I still reach for my comb after having a shower or before going out somewhere and think, “Oh hang on, I haven’t got any hair! “
Enjoying the Maraetotora Falls March 2022.
The funniest and most obvious gender-related episode came at the end of a long day. We had bailed out from 2 freedom camping spots. Horned cattle decided to lick and rub up against our motorhome at the very picturesque Mohi Scenic Reserve, and raucous youth ruffled our sense of security while we lay in bed reading at our next stop at Maraetotara Falls. We decided it was best to move on and arrived outside the locked gate at Waimarama Beach Holiday Park well after dark. I was driving the motorhome, as always, and was wearing my blue denim long-sleeved shirt. After dithering about what we should do given that it was late and the campground was locked, the lights of 4-wheeler ridden by the camp manager rapidly approached.
“Yous 2 OK?” he said, scanning my face. “You wanna come in mate? … that’s OK … yous had a long day … but I need to see your Covid Passports before I can let yous in . The Council might have sent yous out to check if I’m scanning the passports aye … you know what I mean?”.
“Oh thanks mate” he mumbled as he scanned my Passport. “Awwww … Marie … Christina … Henderson. That’s a girl’s name … I need to see your one please mate”
I responded with a female voice. “Yes that’s me … Marie Christina Henderson … I’m bald but I’m a woman”.
He looked horrified and embarrassed. “Oh I am so sorry dear. I thought yous were both men”. His body posture and tone of voice instantly changed. “Oh, OK dear … come on in … sorry about that dear. Yous can park anywhere you want on the front paddock over there and fix me up in the morning, OK dear?”.
We both thought the overnight price was pretty steep, $40.00 for parking in a shabby-looking paddock, but didn’t have an alternative. In the morning we finally tracked him down in order to pay. I made sure I was wearing my feminine wide-brimmed hat, biggest smile, and exposed my very skinny arms and legs. When I went to give him his $40.00 he was on a charm offensive.
“Oh no, no dear. Yous have had a hard time. Yeah …. hard. I couldn’t take money from you. From one human being to another sis, I can see yous had a hard time. No, nothing to pay dear. Sorry about last night dear, I thought yous were two men. Yous have a good day today”. And with that he sped off on his trusty quad bike; I imagine to go fishing given that the trailer was piled with an assortment of fishing gear and the campground was pretty much empty.
Looking more feminine in the morning. Waimarama Beach, March 2022
Just this week one of the lovely checkout operators at our local New World supermarket had an awkward moment with me. We are regular customers and often talk about how my radiotherapy is going. But this day I had my flouro yellow cycle jacket on, zipped right up, and was carrying my helmet along with groceries. “Would you like your receipt sir?” she asked. When I responded “No thanks, all good”, she suddenly realized who I was and repeated over and over, “Oh I am so sorry ma’am, I know who you are. I don’t know why I said that …. I am sooooooo sorry ma’am … I am soooo sorry”, bowing repeatedly as she tried to offer her most sincere apology. “No problem … don’t worry … I don’t mind … I appreciate you” I replied as I put on my biggest smile and exited the store.
Click on “The Gift” below to read about the gifts Marie has identified…
Gidday mate & gender uncertainty – the gifts.
Obviously a woman when I wear my wig. With my trusty eBike, March 2022
Not so obvious when I don’t. March 2022
Perhaps I should make it easy for people to see that I am a woman, by wearing my wig. But it is hot. I wore my wig out for dinner 2 nights ago to Indian Summer, our fabulous local Indian restaurant. We were celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary, so apart from going to see the lawyer, I thought this was an occasion that I should dress up for, complete with wig. The food was delicious, the staff very attentive, but my head felt like it had a cashmere beanie on, it felt so hot. I removed my wig as soon as we stepped out into the cool evening breeze and my bald head relished the relief.
I have adopted an alternative way of helping people through awkwardness concerning my gender and baldness. If I am wearing a sleeveless top, have a female top half (complete with the shaped dacron pad stuffed into the right bra cup) and my wide-brimmed straw hat, I just need to smile and speak with my normal female voice. If I am going to take my hat off I say, “I’m just going to take my hat off. Don’t worry I’m bald at the moment … it looks a bit weird. I’m on chemo.” Most people seem to relax and accept that. If someone comes and knocks on the door of our motorhome I say, “Come on in … don’t worry about my unusual appearance … I’m on chemo”, and as they come in and see I am bald they usually say something like “Oh your poor thing … you alright?” and then visibly relax.
In this sense my unusual appearance is a gift. It gives me a way in to conversation with others that I normally wouldn’t have. It is amazing how many other motor-homers, or their wives, husbands or others close to them have also had cancer and chemotherapy +/- radiotherapy. Many use the opportunity to talk about their own experiences. I am relaxed about my baldness. It allows me to be just exactly as I am without having to live up to others’ expectations. There’s something very refreshing about being authentic.
I stepped down from the motor home, heading for a laundromat in Napier recently, almost into the path of a very disheveled looking older man. “Gidday mate”. He greeted me with a huge gappy smile revealing an assortment of absent, broken and tobacco-stained teeth. His eyes shone brightly and he was obviously keen to chat. “Nice-looking bit of kit you’ve got there”, he said, sliding easily into a man-to-man conversation.
I wasn’t in a rush and was happy to wander along the pavement chatting to this man I assumed to be a homeless tramp. “What a beautiful day today”, I replied cheerfully. I could see he was a little confused by the female voice that just spoke to him. “Don’t worry about my bald head … I’m on chemo”. I gave him my biggest smile, hoping to show him that I was a woman. He quickly looked at the shape of my chest, I imagine to confirm whether there were appropriate female bumps there. His vocal tone and body language softened immediately and we had a really interesting chat about his experience of living in Napier. Such an interesting man. From the content of his conversation, he clearly was not the homeless tramp that I had so quickly and wrongly assumed him to be. And he discovered that I was not a bloke, as he had also assumed me to be. We enjoyed relaxed, easy conversation as we walked from the motorhome to the laundromat. I thought about that over the next hour as I waited for the washing and drying cycles to be completed. How quick I am to come to conclusions about people without ever engaging with them. I sure am learning about the importance of our identities and how important it is to be authentic towards and caring with those we meet. Another gift … using this cancer journey to increase my empathy and awareness of others.
The experience of being bald has been an eye-opener for me. Why do we need to identify whether a person is female or male? Why do we feel uncomfortable when it is not immediately obvious? This shouldn’t have to be a gift to me … but I am increasingly finding the courage to be authentic and caring with others who seem uncomfortable or awkward because of my appearance. I am happy to report that some fluff is starting to growing on top of my head. I have become so accustomed to being bald, it’s going to feel strange to have to manage hair again. In some ways I will miss these days of easy-care hair and short showers.
Emerging from a 3-month journey of baldness, March 2022
I have consistently said in my previous blogs that in my vulnerability I am feeling strong. I look very weird these days, bald and big-framed, but I think it is my inner-most being that matters most. Whatever surprise or gender-confusion people might experience with my physical appearance; I feel confident that I am a treasure to God who made me as I am. Psalm 139:13-18 gives me confidence in my own identity.
V.13. “For you created my innermost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
v.14. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
v.15. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
v.16. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
v.17. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them.
v.18. Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you.
What an incredible gift. It is perfectly OK to be authentically and unapologetically myself. I have the presence of God within me.