I just finished reading a great, long article, on BuzzFeed of all places, “Inconspicuous Consumption“, about tuberculosis. The highbrow side of me feels like I should write something about the importance of public health measures in combating diseases, or something other thing of that ilk. I have a couple of pages about the low rate of vaccination in France open in a couple of browser tags. However, that, ahem, not so highbrow side of me couldn’t resist some of the click bait more typical of BuzzFeed, so, instead of following up the article with my original thought of tracking down that article I read a couple of weeks ago saying that the difference between the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the SARS outbreak in Asia a decade ago had to do with the effectiveness of the government response, I found myself reading “70 Thoughts You Have When You Realize You’re a Stereotypical Lesbian.” It reminded me of why I am not a lesbian.
Many, many moons ago, when I was just an adorable little wisp of a thing, a little artsy-fartsy barely twenty-something trying to survive in New York City on crummy low-level, hourly wage, no benefits, no vacation jobs, I landed a steady job at a call center. The company had goals that no caller should wait longer than a certain length of time, perhaps one or two minutes. This policy meant that the floor was well staffed and there was, for periods during the day, plenty of time to converse with the other employees between calls. I found myself regularly sitting down next a slightly younger man recently arrived in New York City to live out his dream of writing the great American novel. We rapidly bonded over what I thought was a shared love of literature.
One day, as usual, I sat down next to him. He was on a call. I plugged in my headset, logged into the computer system and settled in for the morning shift.
He finished his call, then spun around in his chair to face me. “Admit it, you’re a dyke.”
“Come on. Why do you even bother trying to hide it?”
“I’m not trying to hide anything. I’m not a dyke.”
“Look, I’m gay. You can tell me.”
“Why are you insisting? What makes you think I’m a lesbian?”
“All of my female friends are lesbians. In fact, all of my closest friends are lesbians. Actually, I kind of wish I got along with gay men better. Maybe I’d get a date. Anyway, you and I get along far, far too well. I’ve never gotten along with a straight person as well. ‘Fess up! Have you ever slept with a woman.”
“See! I knew it! I’m never wrong.”
“Your ‘gaydar’….” I said, sarcastically rolling my eyes. “Well, my only real girlfriend always claimed to have perfect gaydar and she was certain I was straight.”
“Aha! Girlfriend! So this was more than a passing experiment.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better you can say I’m bisexual.”
“Bisexuals don’t exist!” He said. My ex girlfriend had said the same thing to me. “It’s just a stage on the way to admitting you’re gay.” At least that was a more open-minded response than my ex girlfriend had. Traitor. Nympho. Wolf in sheep’s clothing.
I had read some of his autobiographical short stories based on his youthful experimentation with other boys. I tried to explain to him that dykes weren’t like fags. They weren’t distinguished mainly by their sexual desire for women. I described to him the radical lesbian feminist separatists I knew in college.
“You,” he said authoritatively, “need to meet some lipstick lesbians.”
Actually, I wouldn’t hear that term in the media for at least another year or two. Today, with the internet, a term like that wouldn’t linger in a subculture quite as long before becoming mainstream. However, this really marked a major change in lesbian culture in the U.S. The women he introduced me to were only a few years younger than I was, but they were growing up in a different world. Many of them were still in college, most of them at NYU. I felt slightly awkward, like an adult among a group of teenagers, which I essentially was. There was a pretty blond girl at a party in Brooklyn who I thought was flirting with me. At one point in the evening, we wound up lounging in a corner on a cluster of cushions on the floor. She said she was seventeen and still in high school. Suddenly, I felt really weird. If she had been a heterosexual boy who was certain he wanted to sleep with me, I would have had no qualms about taking him home with me. She said she wasn’t certain if she was gay or straight, but she wanted to try sleeping with a woman. If we had been peers, I would have had no qualms about it, either. I’ve never quite understand why it didn’t feel right, but it didn’t, and I left the party alone. I would go to a few more of those parties, but I always felt a bit on the outside, even though few were as young as that girl and none were younger. I looked young for my age, at the time. Teenagers were always walking up to me thinking I was one of them. So, the fact that I felt out-of-place was probably me. Maybe working, rather than being in school, puts you in a different place in your life. In terms of how they dressed, the music they listened to, what they did in their free time, they were far more like me than the lesbians I had known in school.
Mostly, though, while I’ve gotten along with individual lesbians, I’ve rarely ever gotten along with a group. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m fighting or arguing, just that I’m not interested in the things they’re interested in and I wind up drifting away.
So, when I saw the admittedly silly BuzzFeed list, I felt slightly irked. Not rage filled, or even mildly angry at being excluded. More like resigned, and I thought to myself, eh, yeah, I guess that’s why I’m not a dyke.
I don’t own a single flannel shirt. I suppose I could date a woman who owned one, provided she didn’t wear it often. I don’t get the fascination with softball. Why softball? Actually, I don’t like sports. I liked horseback riding when I was younger, but isn’t that a classic straight girl obsession. I wasn’t even obsessed by it. Hiking’s nice. Actually, long walks outdoors are nice. I call it hiking to make myself sound sportier. Honestly, I was the artsy type, you know, the kind who’s coordinated enough to dance, but not to play sports.
I didn’t go to a women’s college. My older sister, who is very straight did. She probably has had more lesbian friends that I have.
I’ve had my hair short more than I’ve had it long, on the other hand, until I took up the keyboard recently, I had very long nails. Men were always asking me to scratch their backs.
As far as wearing men’s clothes goes, I like a lot of men’s clothes, but I don’t really have the body for them. Too much ass. (Hey, maybe I should say “too little waist!”) The list also mentioned something called “snapbacks.” I’m not really sure what that is.
Anyway, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I know it was a stupid list, but I just read it and felt like “groan, groan, groan.” At least gay men have a multiple stereotypes, although that might not be much of a consolation. My writer buddy at work never really did fit in to any of them.
It might be counterintuitive, but ultimately I found the straight world, or at least a world in which straight people were a majority, to be far more welcoming than women oriented social milieus.