Even when in my pomp I was hardly a head-turner. As a young teacher, walking into a female dominated staffroom never ‘…made me feel like a rather small gazelle alone on the savannah.’ Being male is a whole different ball game to the world of a younger Maggie Alderson, Sadie Frost, Sally Brampton et al. But there’s much more to it. I can relate to much in what the first listed wrote about in the accompanying ‘The Many Upsides of Being an Invisible Woman’. She writes of her ‘cloak of invisibility’ now that she’s a woman in her late fifties, comparing today with then. I would say, judging from the images of her in the ether, that, although she may no longer be in her pomp, she is certainly in her prime. It’s a tad different in my case.
Teaching in a relatively small community one of the things I used to yearn for was that cloak of invisibility. Streets of my town would be filled with students, present and former; parents thereof and of course, my colleagues. I remember vividly the weekend of my first date with the beautiful woman who was soon to be the love of my life. I was greeted back at school the following Monday with copious questions of ‘Who is she?’ In small burbs nothing is secret.
Moving to Hobart on retirement removed all that and when I do return to the homelands, being pulled up on Wilson or Goldie Streets for a chat is a welcome pleasure rather than a usual event. I was never wolf-whistled from across the road, but I can still recall when former students, of dubious quality, let fly with invective against me, usually to big-note themselves in front of their yobbo mates. That was a rare occurrence, but it stung nevertheless.
But in the Elizabeth Street Mall I have no worries of that ilk. I am completely invisible – an old man of 66 who doesn’t rate a glance from those I share the space with, going about my business wholly anonymously. As with Ms Alderson, I like being able to ‘…breathe physically and emotionally.’ and even retreat into ‘…elastic waist bands and gnarly toenails…’
Yes, I like it, but I also relish being connected to the human race too – to have the cloak lifted for a short time when I am out and about on my tod in my city; in any city. I love the face to face encounters at the check-out (I abhor the automatic variety) or from behind a retail sales counter. The conversations maybe fleeting but can be surprising and in some cases, affirming. If a lovely younger female (and let’s face it, these days, taking into account my age and the nature of the labour market, then that’s the usual) offers me, at no extra charge, a gracious smile I usually compliment her on it. I am further buoyed if that results in a radiant reprise. And then, suitably uplifted, I can relapse into my cloak and am happy to revert to ‘…the older you…the real you who you’ve been hiding away for years.’ The perfect balance.