The West Village. Christopher Street.
It's a glorious Sunday afternoon and I'm wearing shorts and sneakers. The streets are thick with happy people reveling in the warm, cloudless weather. Dog walkers, joggers and young couples, gay and straight, have exploded out of their apartment prisons.
I'm heading for the Dugout, where large hairy men gather to swill beer and rub bellies. The Dugout is the east coast focal point of bear culture and on this beautiful day will be packed with unshaven gay men fiercely affecting their best blue collar postures and costumes. The place may indeed be populated by bankers and lawyers, but to the uninformed it will look like a convention of plumbers.
After two decades wherein AIDS-related wasting made anyone of a slender frame immediately suspect, heavier men began to seem healthier men, giving at least a partial impetus to the "bear" movement. And since fat is the new black, bear bars are always a popular destination.
Crossing Hudson Street, I fall into step with a young black man. He's wearing a shiny black do-rag, worn under an askew baseball cap. His clothes are hugely oversized, his pants sagging down, his boxers pulled several inches above the waistband. His gait is polished and swaggering and he's got his right hand cupped over his crotch. He ignores me and I pretend to ignore him.
In front of the PATH train station, I see four teenaged black girls. One of them has pink hair woven into her own, giving her the comical appearance of an exploded firework. The girls are animated and giggling, emitting piercing screams at each other's clever jibes. Then they see the young black man at my side, and for a moment I wonder if they think that he and I are together.
We pass the girls and are about ten feet away when one of them shouts.
"Hey, he a girl!"
I glance back to see them all looking at the young man. He stops and turns around.
"Wazzup?" he asks, hands raised in the familiar pose seen in rap videos.
I fade into the crowd outside the pizza joint and watch.
"You a girl, right?" another one of the girls asks.
I look to the young man, who nods. Only then do I detect the faintest hint of breasts, likely strapped tightly, under "his" sweatshirt.
I expect the girls to say something insulting or obscene to this young handsome drag king, but quite unexpectedly, they become coy, even coquettish. And one of them apparently finds the king quite attractive because there's a bit of schoolyard-like teasing by the other girls, as they push her towards him.
The drag king waits, confident, serene, and pardon the pun, cocky.
His admirer finally approaches, her head down, embarrassed.
"You a girl, right?" she reconfirms, examining him closely.
"Yeah baby, wassup?"
"How old you are?"
"Twenty-one," he replies, boldly putting his arm around her.
"OK, cool. Me too."
"Waz yer name, hotness?" he asks, pulling her tighter.
"Chantelle. What's yours?"
"Ripper. Cuz I fucks the ladies so hard, I rip her."
The girl lets out a peal of laughter, "Ooh! You so bad!" and she playfully hits him, but pulls away from his embrace.
The king pulls her back, "Where you goin? I can get your number?"
The girl looks back at her friends, who have lost interest in their conversation, and gives him her number, which he punches into his cellphone, and they separate.
The young girl pretending to be a man swaggers off towards the Christopher Street pier, and I head towards the Dugout, where actual men are pretending to be plumbers.