I was nine years old when a babysitter I loved bought me a Good Charlotte CD with that song that goes like, Girls don’t like boys, girls like cars and money / Boys will laugh at girls when they’re not funny. At the time, my queerness was still just an otherness I hid from myself, and i hadn’t even bristled yet at how there were no girl faces on the American presidents placemat that I ate my cereal on every morning. Jumping around in my Limited Too turquoise top, I sang those lyrics without empathy, like a tiny sociopath, not aware of how good and scary it would feel to become; how new my skin would look when I finally made myself whole, in a phallocentric world of binaries and boxes and fragile masculinity. He was a boy, she was a girl. Can I make it more heteronormative, I wish I squeaked when that same babysitter gave me an Avril Lavigne CD for Christmas. But I learned before I could unlearn that one day I would like-like boys, and then I would kiss one. We would live happily ever after, me changing our baby’s diapers, and everyone I knew would love me for this and that would be it.
The other day, I was thinking about how women-dominated my love and aliveness and pain and home has always been while swiping through tinder in a new, cold city that already feels small. Suddenly, a man I recognized appeared on my screen. He is 6 miles away. Evan, a boy I danced with six years ago, thousands of miles away, my hair flat, my queerness moot. The past is not history, Tinder glowed. The past is not even past. I sifted through my laptop until I found a prom photo. My hair hung so gracefully. I held myself in, back. Everyone told me how good I looked.
I sat in a workshop this winter called “Butch/Femme Fishbowl” in which an older femme assured us that no man ever assumed she was straight just because she was femme. “It is a way I carry myself through this world,” she explained. “Men can see it — the way I do not orient myself around their desire. They can tell I do not want them. It is hard for them to believe, that anyone could not want them, but I make it clear and they know I’m not straight, how could they not know.”
At Smith, I mostly did not have to orient myself around men and their desires. It is an adjustment, especially in this new city. Men keep being shocked by my queerness when I finally tell them, and I wonder if this is cowardly of me, to play straight. But I think it’s that I want something from them. I flirt to keep something I’m not ready to give up. I trick them for my own good, but I worry that we become the people we pretend to be.
One of my best friends texted me the other day:
I’ve been thinking about this.
Did she pay for the chocolate? Do we always pay for what we win when we play the game, with our consent and without it? Am I losing myself when I let men think I want them?
I’m going on a hike with Evan tomorrow, he’s bringing the food. He has probably changed too since we knew each other, I’m curious to see what I see, what he sees. I’ll try to orient myself around something broader than desire, and we’ll talk about how everything has changed, except what hasn’t.