Sasha’s skirt is symbolic of their gender identity within The 57 Bus. As an agender person, Sasha does not identify as either male or female. Instead, Sasha is deeply conflicted about their gender and views their identity as genderqueer. For Sasha, being genderqueer means that there is some element of “questioning” involved in their gender identity, and their skirt is an outward expression of that questioning. Sasha’s skirt is not a statement of femininity, and they don’t wear it because they are trying to dress like a girl; Sasha wants others to be “confused” about their gender, just like they themselves are. They don’t want people to think that they are a boy in a skirt; rather, they want to be viewed as simply a person in a skirt. Sasha’s skirt works against them aboard the 57 bus of the book’s title, and it is the reason Richard starts the fire that leaves Sasha with devastating third-degree burns. Richard doesn’t understand Sasha, or their skirt, and his own bias reflects that of Oakland’s broader society, even though Oakland is so diverse. Richard assumes Sasha is gay, and in his opinion, their skirt is “too much.” Richard thinks Sasha is some kind of “crossdresser,” and they become the target of his senseless prank (he lights Sasha’s skirt on fire while Sasha is sleeping, thinking it will only smolder a little, but the fire erupts into massive flames). Sasha is frequently misunderstood within The 57 Bus, and people constantly get their pronouns wrong, but their skirt remains proof of their efforts to be visible, and for their nonbinary gender to be taken seriously.
Sasha’s Skirt Quotes in The 57 Bus
“That boy was on fire, wasn’t he?” a man remarks as Sasha pushes through the back doors to the sidewalk. Behind him, Sasha’s mustached rescuer paces the aisle. “Call an ambulance,” he croaks. He goes to the door of the bus and calls to Sasha, who roams the sidewalk with a cell phone, charred legs. “You need to call an ambulance, man.”
“A passenger on an Oakland, Calif., public bus received burns to his legs after his kilt was set on fire,” UPI wrote. The word kilt seemed to have gotten lodged in the minds of reporters. It was in every report, as if Sasha had been on the way home from bagpipe practice. The Daily Mail, in the United Kingdom, even illustrated the report with a photo of a kilt, explaining a kilt is “the national dress of Scotland.”
“What I want is for people to be confused about what gender I am,” Sasha explained later. That didn’t happen too often—people tended to see Sasha as male. So it was a nice change to be seen as female.