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How (Not) to Hold a Handbag

"Hold this for a second" are the five words that never fail to send terror into the hearts of men across the world. But how bad can it really get? Timmy Mowafi finds out...

I was walking down the postcard-esque beach of Ras Sudr in the early afternoon, admiring the beautiful vanilla, paisley skyline which made for a scenic backdrop for the only other people in the vicinity; two lithe lovelies melting into their sun beds ahead of me. My brainbox ponderings were peaceful, as I was thankful to be out of the poisonous hustle and bustle and social Big Brother of Cairo, where thoughts are usually come from the outside-in, rather than the more assured opposite. This was not the North Coast, I did not need formet el Sahel to make my way to the top of the Shab-ionship of booze, bitches and tables. Nor was it Nueiba or Ras Shatan where formet el Sinai takes precedence with the sun shining brighter on those that know a few chords on an acoustic guitar and who have a confidence gained from the time they read a book on Sufism/Shamanism/Nihilism/Kosomakism.

Generally speaking, Ras Sudr is a comfortable, easy-going place where even the most anxious, self-obsessed of people would have a hard time not finding a chill pill buried in the sand. Now, that’s all well and good until the dreaded moment, the epitome of neuroticism in heterosexuality; when a woman hands you her handbag to hold.

Earlier in the day I was gifted a little treat from Cupid, which I’ve decided is the new nickname for my baby niece, who suckled her thumb, cooed and aaahhed adorably in my arms, as I happened to pass the two ladies who were the object of my attention. They cooed and aaahhed right back as I gave them the edgy-but-caring-and-responsible-single-daddy-but-not-actually-my-baby-I’ll-see-you-later-sans-baby-look that I’ve honed since this little bag of beautiful flesh came into my life. Now that I was sans-baby, it was the perfect time to go have a chat with them. I may not have bulging biceps or the ability to recite Rumi, but I’ve got my wit, and it’s never really failed me, regardless of geography. I start to walk lazily toward their sun beds. I smile at them, they smile back then turn to lay back down onto their beds, when I’m stopped in my tracks.

“Hold this for a second,” my sister-in-law says as she grabs my shoulder from behind and runs off to the bathroom.

“Hold this for a second.” Five words no man ever wants to hear, no matter how trivial the item is. It was her handbag. Her pink and turquoise, metallic leather studded handbag. And it was now rested way too naturally on my shoulder, with my sister-in-law nowhere in sight. It happened so quickly that it didn’t register at first, and I continued to stand there with the bag, smiling at the girls. They look back up at me for the first time since my transition, they giggle and then I realise... In their eyes I’ve gone from rugged yet sensitive hero to Filipino nanny.

Now, there really isn’t much a man can do when asked to hold a handbag. Trust me I’ve experimented. I tried saying no once, which ended up in a one week ‘break’ from an ex. “No, I don’t hold bags,” sounded suave, manly and self-aware in my head, but it actually comes off as rude and a bit homophobic. I would rather hold a handbag than be a douchebag. The other obvious option being to call out to onlookers “It’s not mine, I swear!” with a big, wiry smile that suggests your blatant insecurity. So what do you do? You fidget and grapple with the bag like a wasp that won’t be swatted, trying to find a position for it that lies somewhere between ‘I’m not gay’ and  ‘I’m not insecure’. I tried between dangling it down with an extended arm or holding it with two hands behind my back but to no avail. I even tried it on my head like a Bedouin women with a terracotta pot. I’m sure at this point it looked, from a distance, like I was doing some sort of strange tribal dance to get their attention; exactly what I didn’t want.

I give up, sit down and rest the handbag on my lap, Mrs.Doubtfire style. In that moment, I realise that I have an irrational, conditioned fear of looking into women’s handbags. I don't know who came up with "You should never look in a women’s handbag," but I bet that girl was a cheating harlot. "Don't look in my handbag, darling. There's a bunch of used condoms and divorce documents in there.”

A tampon, at the end of the day, is just a piece of cotton and I thought it as good a time as any to fight my fear and have a rustle inside. Alas, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Just some cigarettes, speakers and a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s ode to Single-White-Female-ism in a spiritual age: Eat,Pray,Love. I assume that during my perusing, the girls thought the nanny was stealing.

My sister-in-law finally returns a little too late, “Hey that bag suits you!” She jokes. It’s not funny.

Fast forward to sunset and I’m lounging on the beach, watching the sea crash and swirl, feeling at peace once again. In the distance, I see a lissome figure approaching. It’s one of the girls from before and she’s walking straight towards me. Perfect, another chance to not act like an apprehensive weirdo. As she playfully lurked closer, I see she has something in her hand. She hands me a book.

It’s Eat,Pray,Love.

“I think you dropped your book.”

“It’s not mine, I swear!”