They seem to be everywhere now,
women who walk like men.
With hair cropped in a paint brush,
bullets for eyes and knives for noses,
they walk long halls, hips so still
they can have no pelvis.
Then one day you meet one
and become her friend.
A week later you still wonder:
Are all the women who walk like men
locked in a hothouse,
craving the sun?
TSTmpj: What would you say to a woman who, upon reading your poem, was interested enough in you to want to be your friend, but had genuine misgivings about being stereotyped?
Donal Mahoney: I'm not certain, Michael, as to why she would be in danger of being stereotyped. I have not known that many masculine women. This poem came about because I once had a job many, many years ago where I had to work late and I would stop to eat in a diner before I went home. It was a one-person operation. The woman who ran it probably was in her 40s and I was in my 30s. At a time when most lesbians were still in the closet, this woman had a crew-cut and tattoos before either of the latter was popular among masculine lesbians. I had no problem with her nor she with me. She cooked and I ate. But over a period of time we would talk when business was slow which it often was at that time of the night. Over time, we became friends to the degree that customers and diner cooks can be become friends. It became obvious that despite her appearance that she was a woman in her personality. We never discussed our sexual orientation. It just never came up and I wouldn't have expected it to come up. I was reared by Irish immigrants in a blue-collar neighborhood; and because my father was a sober Irishman, I had a chance to get a couple of degrees in English because he saved for my education. I spent 19 consecutive years in Roman Catholic schools (without ever being tempted to be a priest) and I cannot ever recall anything negative being said about any minority group. On the contrary, just the opposite was true. Social equality was stressed. The faith may have disapproved of the intimate behaviour of homosexuals but there was no condemnation of them as persons.
TSTmpj: Mischievously subverting stereotypes is what good poets can sometimes do. Would you wish to be a friend of a man who walked like a woman?
Donal Mahoney: I go back a long way and met at parties transvestites that most straight men would not be able to "clock," as the saying goes in Chicago. I also worked as an editor with many regular gay men as they often turned up in magazine work as writers and designers. I think until they got to know me my being so straight bothered them more than their being gay bothered me. One transvestite, however, was a famous performer named Chili Pepper, originally from Cuba. Chili and I did discuss his/her lifestyle. She had minimal formal education but was smart as a whip. I must say, however, that many of her "fellow" performers I would not have been able to clock had I not met them at a mixed party of journalists who even, back then, were very open-minded. In fact, I talked briefly with her about doing a book about transvestites called "The Last Minority." I got a different job and never saw her again. But I don't think anyone has yet written that book. Transvestites, to my mind, may be the most complicated minority I have ever encountered and I have met most minorities because prior to becoming an editor, I was a caseworker fresh out of grad school and I got a quick baptism in the varieties of peoples we have in the world. But none is more interesting in my experience than the transvestites. They don't want you to feel sorry for them but often I felt that way when I wondered what they would do when age took its toll.
TSTmpj: God created the heavens, the earth, and still had time for a jacuzzi and a sauna in seven days, but is a week long enough for any man to understand any woman?
Donal Mahoney: From my point of view, women are the most beautiful of God's creations. I quit drinking and smoking at a very early age but even in dotage women are still a problem. The older I get the better they look. So I've stopped looking. I've never been an admirer of Hugh Hefner and though he is much older than I am, I would not want to emulate his behaviour simply because I still find women attractive whatever the age or size. As I've told my wife a number of times, the only women I ever exempted from my charm were nuns in full garb. I agree with that old chauvinistic joke that it is okay to be friends with a nun as long as you don't get in the habit. I've been fairly lucky in understanding women but that does not mean that I always got along with them. I may have a history of getting away with more devilment than many men but eventually women have figured me out. Some drove me nuts and others have been wonderful. The nice thing is that as I have aged I have finally been able to sort out before getting too close which women I thought I could co-exist with and which would do me in. But psychologically I think they are a lot easier to deal with than transvestites. The latter can cut through buncombe immediately.
Donal Mahoney, the son of Irish immigrants, was born in Chicago and lives in exile now in St. Louis, Missouri.