About 20 years ago, I found myself in a gay bar.
I know how that sounds. “You had a personal revelation about your true self while making out with a girl?” No.
“Oh, what, did someone get you drunk, drag you into a gay bar and you woke up making out with a girl?”
No, no. I was with my boyfriend and a female friend and another guy friend. We went there because my boyfriend, the local guy, had been there a million times…under the old management.
We walked in, got drinks and sat down before we realized that the posters on the walls were not of airbrushed, silicone-enhanced women in bikinis holding beers, but tanned, ripped guys in bathing suits holding beers. And none of the guys in the bar seemed to be hitting on the girls. In fact, the guys were hanging with the guys and the gals stuck together too. After a few seconds of determining what was “off” in our environment, we silly straight people finally figured it out. And decided to stay anyway.
I had never been in a gay bar before. I wasn’t nervous; actually, I was intrigued by the “insider’s look” into gay culture. My boyfriend, still naive and homophobic at 30 years old, was a bit uncomfortable. However, he was also a great dancer and noticed right away that they were playing the best dance music ever.
At one point, my friend Pam and I got up to walk to the bathroom together. We had to cross the dance floor and the rest of the bar to get to the restrooms in the back. And as we walked – she in her heels and floral print dress and me in my jeans, t-shirt, motorcycle jacket and black boots – I very clearly realized, “Holy shit. I’m butch.”
Then I returned to the dance floor and ground it out with my man.
And then, for years afterwards, I had a fun story to tell. But the thought that I might be perceived as gay anywhere or any time else in my life didn’t stick. But recently, after portraying a Rasha, a Lebanese lesbian (say it three times fast) in the quietly popular web series, The Real Girls Guide To Everything Else, I find myself in a variety of circumstances where I think someone is probably trying to determine whether or not I’m gay. Probably not in my every gay – uh, day – life, but every interview or event or festival that is related to The Real Girls, I just assume this is happening.
Put me and those same folks in Trader Joe’s and – if they notice me at all – they probably won’t wonder about my sexual orientation while I’m picking out avocados. Nor will I be thinking about who’s looking at me – unless there’s only one ripe avocado left and I’m determining if I have to fight for it.
Put me in the middle of the Upper West Side with a lesbian interviewer from Gay E Magazine and she’ll tell me that even though she knows I’m straight, she wasn’t sure at first because my outgoing message is gay.
My outgoing message is gay? Can an outgoing message begay? Can it wear Doc Martens and I just don’t know it?
Apparently my lower range voice makes it gay…to an interviewer for a gay magazine… who is probably trying to determine my sexual orientation.
Tho’ I doubt any of my copywriting clients have ever thought about my sexual orientation when they call me to write their website copy.
But last weekend I was at an LGBTQ Web Series Festival in NYC representing The Real Girls and one clearly (in my perspective) butch gal, who didn’t know I was in the festival, assumed I was there for Pride Weekend.
Of course I walked into that festival assuming 1) everyone there was probably gay and 2) everyone there would assume I was too.
But also last weekend, I was in a diner in midtown and the Greek waiter flirted with me.
The math appears to be perception + circumstance = categorization. For instance, put that straight Greek waiter at the festival too, and he’d probably make the same assumption as the gal did (…and, therefore, be even more inclined to flirt with me).
So…I’ve been reminded lately just how compelled humans are to put each other in boxes so we’re easily identified. Gay. Straight. Bisexual. Everybody in your corner so I can see you better and figure out who I want to hang out with. (Of course, this doesn’t take into account the Kinsey scale that suggests sexual orientation is really a fluid continuum, but one thing at a time.)
I’m not saying I’m immune to this behavior. In fact, even my categorization of myself has changed. Now instead of thinking of myself as a Straight Woman, I think of myself as a Straight-Woman-Who-Could-Be-Mistaken-For-A-Lesbian-Given-The-Right-Circumstances.
I don’t necessarily like that we do this; but I understand we can’t help it. Our animal brains are separating our friends from our foes and have been ever since we started crawling around on this earth battling to survive.
Maybe it’s just nice to know how flexible that friend bin can be. That I can still end up in it regardless of where I am, what I’m wearing or what my outgoing message sounds like.