Sunday, April 08, 2007

Pink Crocs

I wear pink crocs.
My son got them originally, as part of a publicity give-away at party early June three years ago. They were too big for him. He didn’t like the color. I tried them on, just for fun -- and scarcely wore any other shoes until the next winter. The crocs were supernaturally comfortable, easy to slip on and off (excellent for those early morning dog walks); best of all, they were free.
But I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It turns out that a man wearing pink crocs transforms himself into a kind of cultural touchstone, a walking sociological laboratory for the study of gender politics and iconography. No one was neutral about my footwear that summer. Everyone weighed in: women for the most part thought they were sexy. I was ‘secure enough in my sexuality” to flaunt such a provocative wardrobe item. I had clearly “embraced” my “feminine side” and showed a refreshing indifference to ridicule. In fact, there was quite a bit of ridicule. Friends remarked lightly “You know how gay you look, right?” ; troglodytes jeered “Faggot!” at me as I walked past.
This instinctive twitch of homophobia, this tourrettes syndrome shout-out of socially approved bigotry reared up everywhere, like ant hills on a suburban lawn. A tenured professor at a major University accosted me one morning and said “Cute crocs,” in a cringe-worthy “gay” voice. “Oh yeah,” I said, deflecting the obvious intent of the remark, “They’re chick magnets. Women love them.”
“Boys, too, I bet,” he said with a little smirk.
I guess he’d figured out my dirty little secret. Good thing I’m not his teaching assistant.
The whole business is especially strange because I live on Nantucket where localized fashion embraces wearing pink pants – or ‘Nantucket Reds,” as they’re called. The pants, dyed red at the factory, soon fade to a color not unlike the tint of my crocs. This coincidence counts for nothing. Pink means gay. The blush brands anyone who wears it, and the disruptive controversy follows you like a poodle on a leash. I suppose if you actually were gay it would be a convenient marker, like the little pink triangles some lesbians sport on their pick-up trucks. So maybe people are just annoyed when you send out a confusing signal. And I soon realized that there’s no social stigma about gay-bashing; it’s a safe way to vent hostility and feel superior. A broad spectrum of society, from academics to day laborers, from Ecuadorian immigrants to New England matrons, from every race and religion, from every region and upbringing seem take gays as a suitable target. It’s politically correct; it’s Biblically approved. It’s fun for the whole family. Canny political operatives can leverage the specter of gay marriage to defeat an otherwise unassailable opponent. I knew intellectually that this prejudice was ubiquitous.
But I never felt it, until I wore the pink crocs. No gay man had ever said to me, “Walk a mile in my pink crocs … ” I did it, though, however inadvertently.
But now my situation is changing.
The first pair of crocs are wearing out. I’m going to have to buy new ones soon. Do I buy pink crocs and confirm my political position? Or do I buy ordinary grey ones and bow out? I decided to buy more pink crocs because I realized that I actually enjoy these new encounters. I relish the instant snap-shot I get when people respond in this visceral, unguarded way to the color of my sandals. It tells me more about them than they’d probably like me to know.
A tough-as-nails New York business woman can be startled into a moment of flirtation (“Now that’s a real man.”); the Professor with the AIDS ribbon on his car can turn out to be a creep.
And the tattooed carpenter in NY Giants sweatshirt can glance down with an admiring grin and say “Bold move, dude.”
The world is full of surprises when you wear pink crocs.
And that’s the best reason I can think of to keep wearing them.