Tuesday, April 01, 2003

I am not a madame, I am a monsieur

If there’s one thing that gets on my goat and leaves me stamping up and down, seething, lobster red, spitting and cussing like a loon, it is the frequent misconception that I am a woman. Not just that, but a French one, too. Madame, they say, madame!

I present myself in the basics: Tall, capable of growing a beard, short hair, no noticeable curves, not accustomed to wearing dresses, hairs on my shoulders and a middle stump to beat the band. Why surely any fool can spot me for a monsieur? Or mister, as they say around my way.

So I say to these people “I’m a dan ong ma! Toi la un monsieur- hieu khong?” Perhaps it’s the fury, my manly wrath, but most likely it’s the incomprehensible Viet Phap-lish that sends them scuttling away like crabs under rocks. Either way I’m pleased to have see them off without blood being spilled. But it never stops.

As one lot vanish, others emerge and dangle bracelets in my face. “Madame! Madame!” they coo. How can they not notice my fine purposeful manly stride? I bite my lip and try to remain focused on my mission to get to a café without making a scene. But still they come - pulling out more ladylike wares - necklaces, scarves and fans.

Why it’s no wonder I’ve taken to the drink with a vengance. And after all the drink it’s no wonder I end up like all the other monsieurs in nightclubs. I see them stagggering around. Drunk. Legs a kimbo. Leery stares. Dribbling into shot glasses. They make quite a picture, those monsieurs.

So I step onto the dance floor and try to get in amongst it and compete for them ladies. There, for a moment, I’m back. Surrounded by eyes like badgers in the backwoods. Yes, je ne suis pas dan ba, khong phai le madame, monsieur day roi! I’m anyones! But, like a bad teenage party, suddenly the music is pulled and the show is over and I’m outside rooting through my pockets in search of the elusive bike ticket, which late at night is as precious as winning lottery numbers.

But outside, again, the horror continues. A man suddenly skulks behind me and whispers ‘Madame!’ with a mischievous air. As if he's goadng me. I shoo him off and continue my search for the ticket. By now a group of women are around me, smiling, and saying "madame, madame". What do they want? A sisterly hug? Lipstick? A girly chat in the toilets? It can’t be advice on baggy trousers. Can't they see I'm a monsiuer!

Finally after finding the ticket I burst off on my, large, macho, manly bike in disgust, hoping that that might, at the last, assert my masculinity. Maybe they’d realise their mistake. I imagine the chatter in my absence. ‘Oh, that wasn’t a madame, why it was a monsieur.’ ‘Oh really? Very hard to tell these days, no disrespect to either sex.’ ‘I’ll say.’

Back at my very own barely penetrable fortress I call home a neighbourhood moocher passes as I fumble with my keys in the dark. He spots me and as it’s two am he has only one thing to say. ‘Madame! Al-lo! Madame!

Those words, like the memory of a kick in the teeth, or a trip to the dentist, screech against my ears before I fall to sleep. Perhaps I should, as they say, beef myself up. Or then again maybe I should just try to sleep. Why every dan ong, monsieur, mister, geezer needs his beauty sleep.