I'm at least as odd, in my own way, as my mate ... let's call him Bill.

But unlike him, I've never been spat at, threatened or verbally abused as I go about my business in Whanganui's CBD.

Bill is a blokey sort of bloke in some ways. He fixes engines and builds things and lives on a farm. He's also been described as "an icon of Whanganui" for his choice of clothing; I've never seen Bill not wearing a skirt.

Once upon a time, women wearing trousers were bullied and vilified too. Marlene Dietrich was the epitome of elegance in trousers, but she was considered an early adopter — in the 1940s.

Advertisement

Vestiges of judgment about appropriate dress linger. Helen Clark was mocked by British media for wearing trousers to meet the Queen during her state visit in 2002 and Hilary Clinton's trademark pants suit was a continual target for cheap jibes during electoral campaigns.

Bill's lived in the district for a long time now, likes a quiet life and prefers keeping to himself on his land in the country to being in town.

His is a fascinating life. I learned more about him during a recent road trip, but he's intensely private and doesn't want me sharing any of it.

Let's just say he has many qualities I highly value. He's thoughtful, self-educated, hard working and deeply kind.

I can only speculate what's goading men to jeer. What assumptions are they leaping to? Do they think they are looking at a gay man? Tellingly, his partner says Bill is less likely to be hassled when she is with him.

Or are they incensed by such flagrant transgressions of gender norms? Neither of these are a reason for abuse. There's no reason for abuse.

What's "normal" in terms of gender presentation is such a social construct of time and place and culture. Bill is a man. Bill wears a skirt. Therefore, a skirt is an item of men's clothing ... as is a piupiu or a lavalava, when a man wears it, or a Scotsman's kilt.

Myself, I'd much prefer to share Whanganui with lesbians, gay men, transgendered people, cross-dressers, the gender fluid — and Bill — than sexist, racist, abusive bigots. Especially given the latter air their opinions with such depressing monotony and evangelical fervour.

Advertisement

All of the above have the right to go about their day without being hassled or threatened — at home, at work, at school, on the street. Haters have that right too, but they need to realise it's universal.

Yelling abuse at some kind and quiet man running his errands says a great deal about the abuser and nothing at all about who they're yelling at. It speaks of ignorance and insecurity, marks a person as a bully.

Don't be like this. Don't bring your kids up with this sort of example. Don't stand by and say nothing when it's your mate being an a***hole.

We have an epidemic of violence in this country, most of it perpetuated by men against the women and children they live with. Violence and coercion blights lives. The effects never leave a person.

My mate being hassled on the street is not disconnected from angry men threatening their partners or parents harming their kids.

At the heart of this behaviour is a need to control others: do what I want. Don't do what I don't like. My needs, preferences, desires, beliefs are more important than anyone else's. Do it now.

A sense of entitlement is a dreadful thing.

You, angry man, know this. You are very important. Just like everyone else.

Learn to live with not getting your own way. Open your eyes: the world is a fast-changing, diverse place.

If you are old enough to have lived through the 1950s — hell, even the '70s — Aotearoa will never look so homogenous again. Figure out how to make peace with this.

Consider that your judgment is driven by your fear and anxiety. What are you afraid of? Why are you so uncomfortable? Why can't you live with someone making different choices to you?

Instead of trying to forcefully change the external world to fit your blinkered perceptions, you could gently investigate your internal world.

It's an interesting place, if you're brave enough.

*Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter.
More from Rachel Rose:
Rachel Rose: The gym that made me think twice about boxing
Rachel Rose: Global climate change campaigner's message to be heard in Whanganui
Prison for dogs: Behind the scenes at Whanganui's pound