cruising past the line

Years ago, I went to a gay and lesbian singles night. There were a good thirty or forty people at the event, and the organizers had put together all sorts of very fun get-to-know-you games. It was a mixed-gender affair. I knew a few people there, but not many. And it wasn’t so much that I was keen to meet the love of my life while on a scavenger hunt, I just thought it’d be a fun way to get to know the community and happened to be single at the time.

One person there really caught my eye. He was a tall, soft-spoken gay guy, and I really liked his vibe. Um. A lot. He was smart and funny and engaging. As the night progressed I kept on thinking to myself that I should really keep my attraction to him concealed – not because I was in any way ashamed of my bisexuality, far from it. I just felt like flirting with a gay guy, as a woman, was somehow disrespectful of his orientation. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel like even fellow queers couldn’t be trusted to actually take his orientation seriously. I mean, we’ve all heard the message from heteronormative society: “You’re not really gay/lesbian. All you need is to meet the right woman/man.” “It’s just a phase.” “You’ll get over it.” We certainly don’t need to get more of that from our own! Not to mention, for all that a lot of gay men love their fag hags, sometimes it’s clear that fag-haggery is about women wanting what they can’t have (romance) rather than appreciating what they do have (friendship), and I don’t want to be one of those women who loves gay men but just doesn’t get the message.

So I left it alone. But he came to me at the end of the night and asked for my phone number. And we went out for dinner the next week. And then we started having dinner once a week, walking hand-in-hand, talking about sex and books and the meaning of life, telling each other how gorgeous we found one another. I started to notice that people on the street would look at us wistfully, the way you look at people who are newly in love. We shared dessert. We laughed. We made snow angels.

I still left it alone. The topic of “us” didn’t come up. I just couldn’t be the one to mention it, I was too afraid I’d freak him out or hurt his feelings. All my instincts were screaming “Yes it is happening! Fuck the labels!” but I just wanted so badly to be respectful.

The months went by. One day I heard about a bisexual discussion group in town, and I brought it up to him. We talked about going together. The next meeting came along, and we attended. Everyone there was part of a male/female couple, mostly made up of straight guys and bi women. Everyone there assumed that’s exactly what we were too, and treated us as such. It was really uncomfortable. Like, not just a little. It was awful. I thought I’d be going to a place where we might be understood, where we might find kindred spirits – fellow outlaws who couldn’t quite figure out how to navigate the clashes of identity and attraction. But we were put in a box even there. Apparently “bisexual” meant this one thing, and it’s not what either of us were – a faggot and a dyke, starry-eyed for each other but not sure what to do next, and no place to fit in.

The next time we met for dinner, he arrived earlier than I did. When I got to the restaurant there was a single long-stemmed yellow rose on my plate – yellow, the colour of friendship. He said nothing about it, and I didn’t ask. We chatted about everything under the sun, but not about what was between us, never that. The conversation settled on something totally banal – some work situation or something – and he said to me, perfectly in context of that conversation, “I’m just not ready.” But he held my gaze and I understood that this was not about work and it was not banal. I got the message.

Our dinner dates went from weekly to bi-weekly and then to monthly. He met a guy. I met a gal. We kept in touch. Months turned to years. We still keep in touch, and run into each other on occasion. We’ve still never talked about it. For all I know he might read this blog post and know I’m talking about him, and he might have a totally different take on the whole experience – I don’t pretend to know what he was thinking that whole time. I just know what I heard, saw, noticed, felt. And it felt like identity got in the way of something that could have been… well, who knows what it could have been. Something more than it was.

I’m still not sure I did the right thing. I’m not sure I’ve done the right thing in other instances since then, either. The sweet little leatherman who kissed me one night in San Francisco after I beat him up for a while and the energy was high, but who moved back when his buddy noticed and gasped in shock. My friend’s former roommate, a tall, dark and handsome lad who said to me on more than one occasion, “If I weren’t gay, I’d totally be all over you,” and who in fact was all over me, but stopped short of kissing me every time. The older gay gentleman who became very attentive with me one night after we had a conversation about strap-ons and I explained that for me, my strap-on is a cock, no more and no less, and that yes, indeed, I am attracted to men. The gay man who came to a workshop I gave and asked a lot of detailed questions about female anatomy but who insisted – three or four times – “I’m gay, of course, you understand, I’m just curious.” The hot leatherman who told me, just recently, that he’d like to remove my stay-up stockings with his teeth and then find out whether or not he was still any good at orally pleasuring women, because he used to be way back when – but who then stepped away and coughed and said, “But I’m gay.”

I have no desire to “turn” anyone straight. I certainly don’t plan to become straight anytime soon, no matter how much I enjoy men, so I would resent anyone making such an attempt with me. But then, I’m not shy about identifying myself as a bisexual sort of queer – as in, not simply a queer who likes Foucault and wants to explode the gender binary, but also a queer who likes to play with male-bodied male-identified people as a queer, and with a strong preference for those men to be queer as all get-out too.

I don’t get some sort of fucked-up thrill out of messing with people’s identities, and there’s no ego trip in here for me about somehow being such a singularly exceptional woman that I can “even” get the fags interested. Really, all I’m after is the excitement and energy of an erotic connection with someone I find hot. And it just so happens that “hot,” for me, is deeply queer, and the versions of masculinity that get me hard and wet are the ones that tend to come packaged in the bodies of butch women, trans guys, bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and gay dudes. And for all of the above, all the better if they’re wrapped in leather. Which means that at least some of the time, I don’t find my own attractions problematic at all, but for the other people involved in the equation, their attraction to me, when present, might pose a bit of a dilemma. Our communities often pay lip service to including bisexuals and queers, as though bisexuals and queers were those folks over there whom we should welcome into our space. They’re not nearly as kind when it’s one of their own who’s stepping outside the magic circle to see what it’s like in the grey area.

I guess the question is, for a faggot-cruising dyke, what’s the most respectful thing to do when cruised back? Is it best to follow through on a flirt that challenges someone’s self-conception, or leave it hanging despite all the desire in the air, in favour of paying attention to the label? When there’s an open door and an enticing aroma, do you say “fuck it” and walk past the “do not enter” sign, or do you leave your curiosity unsatisfied in order to toe the line? When someone’s body language says one thing and their words say another, which one do you listen to?

I genuinely don’t know. All I know is that sometimes there are two hard dicks in the room, mine and his, and I’m a little bit tired of thinking with the head that’s on my shoulders.

12 Responses

  1. Hi, I’m a new reader of your blog, and wanted to comment on this. Hope that’s ok.

    I was reading this when I’d just got up this morning (over here on UK time) and was nodding along: this woman *gets* it. As a queer man, I’ve been there with being attracted to someone of the “wrong” sex or sexuality, and your account of falling for each other was very moving.

    And then I this sentence – “the versions of masculinity that get me hard and wet are the ones that tend to come packaged in the bodies of butch women, trans guys, bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and gay dudes” – and I felt like I’d been punched in the face.

    I’m a transsexual man, you see. And while I’m queer, my queerness comes from my sexuality, and not from my medical status. Being trans doesn’t make me inherently any queerer than being cis makes another man. “The bodies of trans men” are hugely varied, and they _don’t make our masculinity any different to that of cis men_ (for those of us who are masculine).

    This made me really sad, Andrea, and kinda angry, though I’m not really awake enough yet on this Saturday morning to fully process that. Just that I was following your words whole-heartedly, and thinking of people I needed to link to your post, and then I hit that. Another person projecting their expectations about our lives and selves and bodies onto us – while writing a post about people doing just that to her.

    In your own words: It was really uncomfortable. Like, not just a little. It was awful.

  2. I’d say the choice about whether or not someone does something that effectively redefines their identity always has to be theirs; for me personally the only right thing to do would be to make it clear that I get that this is a big deal for them, but I think they’re hot and I’ll be right there with them if that grey area is something they want to explore. Past that, it’s got to be down to them to take that step. And you do have to face the fact that if their friends and “community” (I use the speechmarks since I’m skeptical about the value of communities that police identity too hard) aren’t supportive, then it’s a rare person who’s got the courage to try. That’s one reason I think education about bi and queer headspaces is so important – the more individuals know, the less communities are afraid to try.

  3. Great post. I love the implication that the important thing about sex and attraction and all of that is the people involved, and not the labels. I put a lot of weight in people’s right to self-identify however they want, but (as a male-identified and cisgendered person) at the end of the day if a woman who identifies as a lesbian starts hitting on me, I’m going to respond in kind until she tells me she isn’t interested.

    I guess the one thing that caught me the wrong way, though, was this line:

    When someone’s body language says one thing and their words say another, which one do you listen to?

    Taken completely out of the context of this post, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? Now put it back in context… and I’m not sure the answer changes. “Actions speak louder than words” may apply if you’re talking about a label that someone chooses for themselves, but “No” speaks pretty loudly no matter what the actions are that go along with it.

  4. sometimes it’s worth it to say fuck it, and then to fuck them. (says the queer girl who loves and is loved back by a queer boy).

  5. Jack – Thanks for your comment. Let me make it totally clear: in no way do I associate trans men (or other trans people) with queerness in any cause-and-effect way, nor do I expect all trans men to be queer by any stretch. I know many who are not. I also don’t associate all trans men, or all cis-men, with standard-issue masculinity – I’ve got many an FTM friend who revel in being femme (as well as more than one MTF friend who happily ID as butch).

    And, though you didn’t mention it, I also don’t think queerness is a necessary counterpart to butchness in women; there are plenty of women out there who might read as butch to an urban dyke but who might read as (and be) perfectly heterosexual to, say, a rural dweller. Nor do I think masculinity, or femininity for that matter, are necessary counterparts to gayness in men. And I also didn’t identify gay men as necessarily being cis-men – I’ve got many a trannyfag in my social circles.

    As I stated in my post, what I’m attracted to (among other things) is the combination of queerness and masculinity. Either one alone stands a much smaller chance of getting me hot – whether that’s a straight-identified trans guy, cis guy or butch woman, or a queer-identified femme (though the chance is not nil in any of those cases). I am not sure why my statement would come off as a punch in the face or as a projection of expectations. I just gave a summary of what tends to turn my crank, and in no way did that include a set of assumptions about the appearance or gender presentation or bodies or sexual orientations of all FTM guys, or anyone else either.

    For the record, though you also didn’t mention this, I further don’t fetishize trans guys or their bodies – that’s another thing I’ve heard some folks get all up in arms about lately without evidence. Fetishizing is icky and really not my bag. Trans-ness itself is not the draw for me when I get involved with trans people.

    Jack, I know that in a lot of cases people do make the assumptions you’re accusing me of, so perhaps you’ve been burned in the past. Lord knows there are enough people out there with fucked-up ideas about gender and sexuality and trans people. And I’m all for being challenged when I actually do say something not cool, which has been known to happen; I am not immune to fucking up.

    But in this case, it really feels like you’re reading things into what I’ve posted that just aren’t there. And I gotta say, it makes me pretty sad to feel like it’s somehow not cool to write about my attractions without including a long disclaimer about what I *don’t* mean just in case someone happens to read it and make a bunch of their own assumptions about where I’m coming from without checking those assumptions against what I’ve actually written.

    But now I’ve done it. Disclaimer, check. Hope it helps.

    Tom – “For me personally the only right thing to do would be to make it clear that I get that this is a big deal for them, but I think they’re hot and I’ll be right there with them if that grey area is something they want to explore.”

    Nicely said. That seems to be the current approach for me too. No more pussyfooting around – just a direct statement or invitation, and a step back to leave it in their hands.

    Red and Black – In regard to the sentence in question – “When someone’s body language says one thing and their words say another, which one do you listen to?” – If the words were “no” or “don’t touch” then yes, absolutely. I’m with ya. A “no” is pretty much sacred to me, and something I respect without question. I think it’s just that “I’m gay” is not the same thing as “no” – it’s a much more ambiguous statement, and paired with, say, a tongue in my mouth or a hard cock against my thigh, it’s a little hard to disentangle what exactly it means. I only wish they were always so clear as to just say “no.” (Or “yes.”)

    In the meantime, as I mentioned to Tom just above, my current strategy is to put things on the table myself when they’re not being made explicit by the dude in question, so that I can get the “no” and get it over with – or at times, get the “yes!” and get on with the fun! :) So far, so good…

  6. Hey Andrea,

    I don’t want to pile on here but, in defense of Jack, the phrase “the versions of masculinity that get me hard and wet are the ones that tend to come packaged in the bodies of … trans guys,” does pretty strongly imply that there are specific versions of masculinity that are associated with transness, and that these versions are different from the masculinity expressed by cis guys by dint of being packaged in trans guys’ bodies.

    I know you didn’t mean it that way, but if I didn’t know you I would have read it the same way Jack did.

    OTOH, Jack, in defense of Andrea, I can’t think of a better way to phrase it that doesn’t involve a really long disclaimer, which does get tiresome.

    I think this sort of misunderstanding is a basic property of the blog model. I sort of see blogs as occupying this slightly difficult space. On the one hand, it’s your blog, and sort of like your house. You can say whatever you want, you can choose to invite people into the comments section or ban them from it, and you tend to get friends and allies hanging around. So it feels like your space and you can let your guard down and take shortcuts in how you say things, so that everyone who matters to you knows exactly what you mean, and you don’t have to waste energy with disclaimers. But on the other hand, there it is in public for all to see, and occasionally (or very often, depending on how popular the blog is) someone who doesn’t already know how you feel about issue X will see you say something that, absent the context of knowing you, means something very different from what you intended.

    I hope that was coherent and sorry if I’m rambling. I’m hitting that point where I’m having these weird flashes of believing that my whole body is small enough to walk around inside this comment box, which is my brain’s way of telling me that it’s *bedtime* dammit.

    Good night!

  7. It’s not about disclaimers, and you need to stop and listen to what’s being said rather than being defensive.

    You wrote that you are attracted to “butch women, trans guys, bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and gay dudes”. To many trans people, this is how that is going to read: “(cis) butch women, trans guys, (cis) bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and (cis) gay dudes”. It singles out trans guys as being attractive in and of themselves, while cis guys get more specific categories.

    As for a better way to phrase it, what’s wrong with “butch women, bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and gay dudes” and including a line somewhere of whether cis or trans? That’s what you meant if you indeed didn’t mean to single trans men out for their transness.

    I know that you know better, and that you didn’t mean it that what, etc, whatever, but this is really not about what you know or what you meant. Get over yourself.

    As for your disclaimer, you make a point about how you didn’t specify the status of the other categories. That’s fine, but you did specifically single out trans men without other qualifications attached to that singling out. So if you’re not saying that trans guys are attractive for their transness, why are they listed when cis guys are not?

    On another note, and I’m sure the people in question use the term as self-identification, but I have to raise the point that it is a major point of contention within the trans community as to whether or not it is possible to reclaim the word ‘tranny’, and especially whether or not men can reclaim the word. As a cis person you definitely cannot reclaim the word, and I would ask you to not use it, especially in this context. There was no reason to do so.

  8. Andrea, thanks for your reply. I’m a little mystified, to be honest, as to why you included “trans guys” separately from “bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and gay dudes”. If it’s the combination of masculinity and queerness, and a straight trans guy wouldn’t attract you – why separate us out like that?

  9. Jack and sqrrel – I used the term “trans guy” as such because when non-trans people don’t name trans people, they are left out of the equation. Because I was “raised,” so to speak, in my trans politics, by trans people who have fought really hard for the “T” to be included with the “LGB,” even though I’m also totally aware that many trans people have no interest in being lumped in with or identified as queer. Because a lot of the trans people in my communities don’t feel welcome, or assume they are not welcome, if it’s not clearly indicated in some way that they are. Because the people whom I’ve been privileged to learn from are very much of the school of thought that trans folks do have concerns that are different from those of non-trans people, and are deserving of having those concerns addressed, and you can’t address them without naming the people in question. Because most of the trans people in my circles are people who strongly and proudly identify as trans, not as “we’re just like everybody else” men and women – even though some of them identify as women or men first, and trans second or not in every context. Because if I just say “I’m attracted to a combination of queerness and masculinity” without acknowledging that many of the people I’ve dated and played with and fallen in love with are trans, I feel like I’m dismissing or, worse, closeting that fact, and I am not ashamed of being with trans people and will not make them invisible by default. Because many people still won’t accept trans people in the communities I move in, and I feel it’s really important as an ally to make it absolutely clear that I’m not one of those people – that I’m a person who does listen to and consider and welcome trans folks into my community and into my circles of friendship.

    There are certainly other ways I could have phrased my sentence to make my meaning crystal clear rather than relying on context and/or on reader knowledge of my politics. As the readership on this blog skyrockets waaay past anything I ever expected it to, and all the more so since this NaBloPoMo thing, I suppose I need the reminder every once in a while (thank you, Jake) that you’re not all personal friends of mine… though that might be nice. :)

    In any case, I will make sure to watch my phrasing in the future as best I can. The use of “cis” could have helped, but that too is a problematic term – I know many folks who consider it elitist, because it’s only commonly used in small circles of privileged “in the know” activists and scholars, and is very unfamiliar – and not particularly clear – to the general public, or to trans people and allies who aren’t involved in university-level politics. So I really don’t think there’s a perfect solution. I will just try my best. “Non-trans” is helpful, I think, in many of these cases, and possibly could have been here. If you have any further ideas, I’d love to hear them.

    Sqrrel – I used the term “trannyfag” because that’s what the people in question use. I would feel really weird, and disrespectful, if I were to apply a term to them that they do not apply to themselves – “gay trans man” might work for some, but not for the ones I was thinking of when I wrote my comment. I don’t randomly use the term “tranny” – though I did many years ago when all the trans people around me used it unproblematically and I hadn’t yet encountered any inkling that it was also used in a derogatory way. I have learned since then, and mainly from being exposed to trans communities in different geographical areas – there does seem to be geographical variance in this particular case (though not only geographical of course). But I’m not going to name people by a term they don’t choose in order to be “respectful.” That feels really backwards to me and possibly even judgmental. It’s not my place to vet people’s names for themselves.

    People have the same conversation about reclaiming the word “dyke” vs using it as an insult, and as a result I’ve had numerous people apply the word “lesbian” to me because they want to be PC, when in fact it makes them inaccurate and borderline offensive as it obliterates a good chunk of who I am (not to mention my trans and non-trans male partners). I am not a lesbian. I am a dyke and a queer.

    The current best solution I can think of is to use the term “self-identified” if I am going to use a term like “tranny” or “trannyfag” in specific context in the future. Would that, do you think, make for a reasonable solution? I know everyone has a different take on it, but it’s always good to hear a variety of viewpoints.

  10. Thanks for this post; I’m here via Cal, by the way, and I’m having fun getting familiar with your blog.

    I was just writing today that The Leather Daddy and the Femme is probably my all-time favorite erotic book, and many of the reasons for that are touched on in this post. Identity can be such a slippery thing, and the pressure to claim one and stick to it can be enormous, particularly within already-marginalized groups. I too have what I think of as a rather perverse attraction to gay leather men, and feel particularly comfortable, accepted and sexy in the company of bears. But I also feel like the most shameless fag hag – my high school days of being in love with my gay best friend come back to me with a vengeance.

    That said, I’m lucky enough to be dating a bisexual man who has all the qualities of a gay leather daddy, and to be very close with a trans guy who daily explodes notions of gender, and to myself be a bisexual woman who goes beyond dating heterosexual men without a terrific amount of drama.

    Thanks for your moving story.

  11. An important part of the gay leatherman’s identity is a straightforward, unapologetic approach to what gets his dick hard. If he’s being true to himself, he doesn’t care what other people think and he’s comfortable with his sexuality.

    If a leatherman is flirting with you, he’s interested. He’s also intimidated – past dealings with politically correct lesbian separatists have given him the fear that if he does or says something wrong, he will wind up on the wrong end of a roll of duct tape with his balls in a pair of pliers – and not in a good way.

    If you’re interested, you need to make the first move – direct and unambiguous. Try something like, “Do you want to go back to my place and fuck?” Leathermen are used to applying and receiving the direct approach. We know what it’s like to be turned down and we know what it’s like to have someone who won’t take no for an answer – you’ll get a clear, unambiguous answer: “No, thank you”, “Not tonight, but let’s set something up later” or “Let’s go!”

    Afterwards, he’s going to go back to the bar and say, “Tried something new last night – this hot leather dyke took me back to her place. The play was great and the fucking was outstanding – five different sizes of dick plus one that glows in the dark.”

    His friends are going to be envious – and some of them will ask for your number.

  12. As a bi-male who rarely goes for straight women, sees his m/f encounters as just as queer as his m/m ones, and who has had more than a bit of history with women who identify or have identified as lesbians, this post really struck a chord with me. My approach in such situations is to make my attraction clear, usually directly and verbally, but also make it clear that should nothing come of it I’ll be just as happy.

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