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Shouldering the Burdens of the Purse-Toting Man

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Last week my purse strings heartstrings were yanked by reports that a 13-year-old boy in Kansas was suspended from school for carrying a Vera Bradley purse.

I have been sporting a purse (or "bag," as I tend to refer to it) since adolescence -- I'm 31 now -- ever since I had places to go and things to carry. I never understood why, as a male, I only had two options: either stuff my pockets full of crap, which, given standard pocket capacity, would require the severe aesthetic consequence of having to wear a garment with cargo pockets, or do without the crap and endure discomfort, whether in the form of dry lips (I always have Aquaphor on me) or stank breath.

2013-11-14-mattsiegelpursepersonal.JPGMy first bag was a thrift-store find: an olive-green, Army-style satchel with brass buckles. Later I advanced to a cherry-red LeSportsac, and for years now I've carried my beloved Diesel bag. It's soft, black, distressed leather with one outside pocket and two interior pockets, one of which zips. Most importantly, it's the perfect size: 7 inches by 8 inches, with a mushroom head. (Ew, just kidding about the mushroom head.) It can be dressed up or down, and it doesn't have any hideous logo emblazoned on it. Over time, seams have busted, but I keep having it repaired.

I don't need a messenger bag, the most acceptable of purses for men. I don't schlep my laptop or classified files around with me. I just need what is essentially a large pocket that I don't have to wear. Maybe "pocketbook" would be the best term. I usually just call it a bag, but people like to call it a purse to see how I'll react. "Is that your purse? Purse? Purse?" I don't react. Other smart alecs refer to it as a "murse" or a "man bag." I don't react.

Now, as a male, the way you wear your bag or your purse carries nuances that you might not think imaginable. Similar to how, in the early '90s, one pierced right ear indicated your status as a homosexual, if one wears a purse strewn across his front, with the obstructive strap pressing down on his lungs and other vital internal organs, that is read as more masculine than if one wears it the way I do, dangling off my shoulder. Like a lady. The way my mom does. It's not a statement; it's about comfort and accessibility, two words I don't associate with the average, red-blooded American male.

When I was working at MTV, I had a boss who forced me to plan and attend her bridal shower. We played a game where we dumped out our purses and received points for each item that corresponded with the ones on the host's list. Well, I was fresh out of o.b.'s, and my mascara had just dried out, so I lost.

Today, when I dump out my purse at my own one-man bridal showers, out spills gum, pens, a spare car key, my wallet, receipts, loose change, and, of course, Aquaphor. My iPhone is encased in one of those ultra-protective OtterBoxes, which makes it the size and weight of a brick. What pocket do you know of that will accommodate that? Should I have to risk mucking up my phone? Should I be forced to wear weighted-down cargo shorts? Nobody should be forced to wear cargo shorts, or cargo pants in chillier climates, for that matter. Nobody.

I find that as I get older, carrying my bag, my purse, is more off-putting to people. When I was adolescent and androgynous-looking, perhaps it was more palatable to the masses. This past June I was walking out of the Safeway in my small northern California town when I passed two teenage girls sitting at a table. "Nice purse," one of them half-yelled once I was about 20 feet away. She and her friend laughed. My adrenaline surged as I pivoted back, walked toward them, and, in a decidedly staid manner, said, "You better not be making fun of gay people, because there are a lot of things I could say about you that would make you cry." She had wonky teeth. "I am the ill gay bitch," I continued in full Julia-Sugarbaker-rant mode. "OK?" She nodded in agreement as -- in my fantasy, at least -- urine trickled down her leg.

I need to feel safe in a world where 14-year-olds show no reluctance to harass a visibly gay adult like me. Carrying my purse makes me feel a little more in control; I like having my accoutrement on me at all times. Oh, and I often pee sitting down. Comfort. Accessibility.

And if the PR people at Hermès have half a brain, they will send this sweetheart in Kansas a Birkin to replace that Vera Bradley number.