playing straight: the haunting of the heteropatriarchy

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.

prom 9
Junior Prom, 2010

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:

IMG_1707

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.

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