Know what I've grown to kind of dislike? Weird News. Or Strange News, Odd News, Oddball News, Funny News, Very Strange News, Bizarre News, Water-Cooler News or whatever you want to call those brief, fleeting stories of human deviation that decorate our wondrous World Wide Web like tinsel on a dying tree.
Take this example: On Sunday, April 13, a cross-dressing man was arrested for intentionally and repeatedly plowing his 1994 Geo Tracker into the wall of a risqué lingerie shop in Commerce Township, Mich.
News to all of suburban Detroit, sure, but The Associated Press? All the major networks and blogs? China's Xinhua News Agency? Really?
Apparently, cross-dressers don't have it a whole lot easier now than Glen did in 1953. I'm speaking, of course, of B-film director Ed Wood's angora-fancying alter-ego hero in his masterpiece of courage and startling incompetence, Glen or Glenda. Like Glen and the universal Glenda for which he stood, Jeremy Paul McIntosh, the man in jail in Michigan, is a laughingstock.
That's why in many of the hundreds of Odd News reports of the incident, McIntosh is defined not as a self-identifying cross-dresser, but as an “admitted” cross-dresser—as if being a cross-dresser is something shameful that you wouldn't want to admit to, like having voted for Bush in 2004.
How can McIntosh be anything more than a joke when the hook of the story is that he committed his pathetic crime in unconventional garb? Had he rammed the lingerie shop dressed as a douchebag in a backwards baseball cap, he probably wouldn't have made the last 10 seconds of the 6 o'clock news in Detroit.
Fortunately for the water-cooler crowd, though, Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe thoughtfully provided the bemused Michigan media with a full report of the transgression in detailed specificity: Jeremy was wearing “facial makeup, lipstick, blue Capri pants, red ‘flip-flops,' a flowery blouse and a matching flowery women's bra.” It's comforting that there's a cop out there who knows a pair of Capris when he apprehends a perp in 'em.
The rest of the AP story of McIntosh's unhinging—repeated verbatim and ad infinitum from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu—is a surface-level summary of events that can only suggest the complex life and the sublimated history of the man.
First, according to the police report, McIntosh, who had no prior criminal record, attacked the lingerie shop, Intimate Ideas on Union Lake Road, because he had applied for a job there in January and had been turned down. This part of the story reminds me of a phenomenon I observed in Bangkok: Cross-dressers there seem to face less employment discrimination than in the U.S. In department stores, malls and kiosks in Thailand, I saw cross-dressing retail workers alongside other employees and being treated by shoppers without so much as a raised eyebrow. Imagine the reactions of the Fascist Valley contingent if they saw a guy selling dresses at bebe while wearing one.
I don't know if McIntosh was denied employment at Intimate Ideas because he is a cross-dresser, but it probably didn't help. Odd News stories don't have to answer all the questions; they don't even have to try. They just have to be odd. Since they're disposable stories about disposable people, they raise questions and then leave blanks for the cruelty and ignorance of the common blog commenter to fill in. There is rarely a follow-up to an Odd News story.
Second, we are told that before his big crash, McIntosh came into the store and told a 20-year-old woman working there that he was going to ram his Geo Tracker into the building because he was angry about not being hired.
So, even though he was mad, McIntosh had the presence of mind to calmly inform the employee inside what he was going to do and why he was going to do it. We never learn whether the employee felt endangered, but we do learn that McIntosh's ramming his car into the side of the building caused “merchandise to fall off the shelves” (picture dildos if you're visualizing the scene; that's what I did) and $3,000 worth of damage. No one, including McIntosh, was injured. The severity of the act is not self-evident from the story, but, again, it's the lipstick and matching flip-flops that are the point.
Third, we learn that “when a witness walked up to McIntosh's vehicle after he hit the building, McIntosh said his vehicle was totaled and that the building was really tough.” Who is this brave witness? Apparently someone who felt threatened neither by McIntosh's appearance nor his behavior. And note again the calm resolve of McIntosh. He knows what he's doing. He's determined to make his point. Maybe his point was this:
Being a cross-dresser is who I am. You may not think it's pretty, but I think I'm pretty—or at least I'm trying to be pretty.
Whom exactly does it harm that I pluck my eyebrows and prefer vivid outfits?
Why have I been treated as a pariah, mocked and denied a job for expressing this essential aspect of myself? This store discriminated against me, and now it will stand as a symbol of discrimination.
Of course, we don't know what he really thought. Odd News leaves it almost entirely to the imagination.
One final detail crammed into a single sentence that suggests all of the pathos and depth expunged from the one-note, sideshow, Odd News formula: McIntosh also told police he was homeless and wanted to go to jail because he had nowhere else to go and was sick of freezing in his car at night.
Homeless, alone, scorned, shivering in his car against the bitter-cold Michigan nights, Jeremy finally chooses jail. But before he goes, he makes his last act, his surrender, a reckless subversion that symbolizes the suffering of all of the world's oddballs—and maybe even the suffering of anyone who, in these desperate times, longs to express him or herself in full, living color.