It was one of those glorious wet snows. Huge flakes frosted the tree branches, carpeted the ground, plastered white-out all over the vehicles in our driveway. My husband Dave and I were headed for town that Saturday morning and I was out of the house first for once. Not enough time to make a proper snowman, not really, so I quick fashioned a dinky one, rolled up three mini-snowballs using the fluff accumulated on the rear windshield of the car. It stood all of nine inches tall. Fine twigs served for spidery fingers and a whispery nose.
While Dave puttered in the house, I played in the snow. I started with a fist-sized snowball beside the driveway. By the time I'd rolled it past the tire swing and over to the redbud tree, it was thigh-high and had left a widening trail of green grass and dry leaves. I rolled another, then another, stacked them atop each other, and packed in additional snow to hold them in place. I hurried. This was no cool young rocker dude. This was a stout middle-aged fellow in a pale white jumpsuit spotted with crinkly brown beech leaves.
My husband waited in the truck whilst I armed the snowman with two sticks and nosed both sides of his head with two more. I wanted two-faced Janus to preside over our yard. I tilted his roadside nose up to give him a spirited air. His private face I turned downward so he could admire the sizeable genitals I fashioned on that side of his body pointed away from passersby.
In less time than it takes to tell I had brought two snowmen into being. In turn they had brought me simple pleasure both in the making in their taking their place in the white world. Dave and I left for town and I thought little more about them. But they weren't finished with me. They yet had lessons to offer.
I eyed Janus when we returned. How like me, this man of snow! On his public face, an upbeat expression, arms held high as if to embrace the world; on his private side, a raging hard-on and thoughts hot enough to threaten a total melt-down. How like me, this man of snow! Creature of a season, temporal, his hold on life so tenuous, of such short duration. How like me, this man of snow! His pale skin flecked with blotches of dried leaves, one arm larger than the other, cracked in the head. Imperfect but with his own quirky sense of humor and sense of self.
On Sunday afternoon I winced to see he had toppled face-forward, smashed his penis into the ground. The mini-snowman atop my car fared better and on Monday morning made the trip into work intact.
There, I learned I had violated a law I hadn’t even known about: men shall not make cute little snowmen and put them atop their cars. If they do, they certainly shall not leave them perched there for the others to see. This message came at me in various ways. Several of my coworkers made a point of alluding to the little passenger. One asked, "Did you get attacked by Frosty on the way into work?" My supervisor was surprised to learn I myself had made the snowman. "I thought one of the guys put it up there on your car," she said.
I then understood she'd seen it as probable harassment. She wasn't the only one. That night a gay friend phoned me. "The guys at work giving you a hard time?" he asked. "I drove by there today and saw somebody had put a little snowman on top your car."
Dang. And here I thought he was cute.
The message to me—and to how many others—is endlessly enforced: Thou Shalt Conform to Gender Roles. You are a man, therefore you will like what men are supposed to like. You will act as we expect you to act. Cross the line and you set into motion a whole lumbering societal machinery; it's aim: crush individuality, maintain order and control, minimize resistance.
A landmark study published this fall reports that 41 percent of transgender persons surveyed have attempted suicide (compared to 1.6 percent of the general population). What does this say about our society? Some of us, more than others, pay a high price to live as individuals, lead lives of courage, say yes to the heart's deepest leadings.
Courageous or not, conformist or quirky, our lives are soon over. We all of us are made of snow. Already we are melting. My advice: Play. Create. Laugh. Love.
This essay appeared in The Community Letter, December 2010