Tales of a wandering lesbian

Category — Ask a Gay

Hearts and Minds Remix

A few years ago a local paper asked me to write a piece discussing the status of Domestic Partnership legislation in Oregon.  I was super excited by the opportunity.

I’d been working in the field of GLBT politics for a few years through some really tough times.  And I felt like I had a voice – something interesting to say.  I’d been writing on the topic for a political blog, discussing the ins and outs of what was going on with the legislature, the electorate, and the community.  And I’d been asking questions.

Ah, the questions.

It seems that people don’t always like it when you ask questions.  But I’m rather inquisitive.  And sometimes sarcastic.  In truth, I think the paper wanted me to write a piece, because I’d stirred up some stuff with my questions about the importance of language.

What they got instead was a discussion about the importance of humanity.

GLBT people have great love and compassion in our lives, regardless of how you label it. We would have to in order to keep our relationships intact through things like constitutional amendments and second-class citizenship. When we share that love we truly touch the hearts of others, because we share with them something fundamental—our humanity.

So here’s my question:  How do we move forward, in a context where the lives of GLBTQ people are considered political and language around those lives is measured, weighed and analyzed to such a great extent?  Is it more important that we consider our words carefully, or that we share our lives fully?  Or can we do both and remain authentic?

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May 3, 2010   3 Comments

Do you view men as competition for the women in your life?

Reason I ask….no matter how much I try to be nice, I just view other women as enemies that must be dominated, belittled and outdone in all circumstances.  And I never put anything past other women when it comes to my husband.  Do gay women have to deal with competition from men?  So curious if this is even an issue, or if by definition gay women are completely immune to their charms.

With most questions about gay relationships, I find myself answering that the experience is much the same as straight relationships.  Yes, we bicker about money.  Yes, we like to hold each other and watch tv.  Yes, we get nervous when we meet the in-laws.  But this question has had me thinking for a couple of weeks about how different the experience of being a woman dating women is.

NOTE: As always, I’m answering this question from my personal perspective.  I’m not speaking for all of the gays – just one of the gays.  And this is something I’ve had experience with lately.

Dating. First of all, it seems to be a common issue for women who are dating women to be unclear whether and who they are actually dating.  Is a coffee date a date date, or just coffee? If you’re not kissing, but want to be, is that a date?  What if you haven’t communicated that desire to the other person?  Date?  For two single women to go out to coffee, or even dinner and a movie, isn’t necessarily a date.  For two single lesbians, however, it can be unclear.  Seriously unclear.

Maybe it’s the same for straight people, I’m not sure.  But I’m learning that, in order to make sure everyone is on the same page, it’s a good idea to be very clear up front about whether you are on a date, or hanging out as friends.

Men. As for men as competition, the women that I date or am interested in dating are lesbians.  Which means that, by and large, they aren’t attracted to men.  So, when it comes to seeing men as competition, no, I don’t see them that way.

However…

Competition. And this is where it gets interesting – I can see a lesbian as either a potential date, or as potential competition.  The same woman.  Which brings me back to the issue of knowing whether you are dating someone.  Because, if you are interacting with a woman based on an assumption that she’s a potential date, and it turns out she’s actually competition, it can seriously change the dynamic.  A woman can be one moment someone I might be on a date with, and the next moment someone who is dating someone I’d like to be dating.  It’s even possible that she can be both – at the same time.  Which makes my head and heart explode a little.

For example:  Recently, I found myself in separate, undefined dating-type situations with a couple of fantastic women.  We’d meet for coffee, or bike to pie, or just hang out and watch tv.  A couple of times a week.  I liked them both, found them attractive, and enjoyed spending time with each of them.  They knew that I was spending time with other women, and I knew the same about them.  I saw each of them as potential dates, and interacted with them as though I might like to date them.  But, as we started to define what it was we were doing (whether it was actually dating), we discovered that the three of us were, in fact, dating each other.  Yikes.  Unexpected.  Very quickly, I found that my interactions and feelings about these lovely women shifted and twisted.  I saw one of them as a date and one of them as competition.

And yes, I realize that seeing women as either quarry or competition is seriously limiting, but I think it’s something interesting to consider, nonetheless.  Especially given my reaction.  Yes, it’s time for me to examine the way I view women.  But it also illustrates a dynamic that I hadn’t noticed before.

And I think it’s very different from straight relationships.

So the short answer is, no, I don’t see men as competition.  I kind of think that would be easier.  Right now I feel like every coffee is a scene out of James Bond where I’m trying to figure out whether the beautiful woman across the table from me is a foreign agent about to trade my secrets for a chance at a new life.

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May 1, 2010   1 Comment

Should we really define our friends by gender or even accept those that do?

The questions surrounding gender identity and gender expression are fascinating, and ever-shifting.  I am by no means an expert on the subject, but it’s something I consider on a regular basis.  Usually when I get called “sir.”

I’m going to take the question as it’s presented.  There are other issues that come up when we’re looking for a partner – a mate.  Gender identification and roles can prove helpful for some of us in those situations.

So, should we define our friends in terms of gender?  I think it depends.

I define myself as a woman.  It’s an important part of my experience and the story line that is my life.  But whether I have a penis or breasts or both isn’t the essence of who I am.  It does, however serve as a short-hand, signaling to other women that, without a word, we have a shared language.  A shared set of experiences.  We both probably know what it’s like to buy tampons, for example.  In a world where resonation, community and commonality are important, I think there is value in using gender as a way to acknowledge similarities.  That said, using any one factor as a singular definition of a person is dangerous.  And limiting.

I’ve played softball with a number of trans folks, both those transitioning from male to female and from female to male.  There have been times when I haven’t been sure how someone identifies.  So I ask.  I’ve found it incredibly humbling for me, and empowering for them, to ask the simple question, “what pronoun do you prefer?”  (I didn’t come up with that on my own.  I learned the question at a training somewhere.)  Just asking puts me in a vulnerable place, where I show my desire to define.  But it also shows my respect in allowing the other person to define for themselves how they will be seen in the world.

So, I think the answer is that self-identification is incredibly important.  Self-identification.

If someone wants to identify themselves as a man, a woman, neither or both, the best I can do is to allow room for that, acknowledge it, and accept the story-line they express for their life’s experience, whether that’s their gender, sexual orientation, race, culture, religion, or reality TV affiliation.

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April 30, 2010   No Comments

Why do lesbians like softball so much?

Ah, softball.  The great lesbian cliché, stereotype, and cultural experience.

Not all lesbians play softball.  Not all lesbians like softball.  But most lesbians have either played, watched from the stands, or been enticed to keep score for their girlfriend’s team.  Whether it’s cliché or not, softball is where a lot of lesbians find community.  It’s where I looked when I was feeling isolated, and where I’ve found an amazing family and support system.

Portland has a gay league.  55 teams of queers playing their hearts out every weekend for girls in bikinis and bears with travel trailers.  But even outside the gay leagues, softball plays an important part in lesbian culture.

It’s true that softball isn’t the only sport out there.  But it (aside from maybe rugby) holds the top spot as sports associated with lesbians.  Why is that?

Here’s what I think.  Boys like baseball.  It’s the great American pastime, after all.  They play it growing up, they watch it after they’re too old to play it.  It’s part of their psyche.  It’s part of the American psyche.  Until pretty recently, girls weren’t included in that culture.  The first opportunity we had to play something that looked like baseball was in Junior High or High School, when we signed up in droves for the softball team, eschewing the gender norms that pigeonholed many of us as “freaks” and “she-men,” to put on socks and stirrups like the boys.  No briefs like volleyball, or skirts like field hockey.

When you line up the traditional Title 9 sports, softball and baseball are the most similar team sports for men and women.  Through college, softball allows women to compete in a sport that is as understood and important to our society as baseball.   And it’s empowering to know that you can compete physically with top athletes of any gender.

Outside of the women’s studies, gender role stuff, in the recreational arena, softball is fun, and it’s inclusive.

While it requires a certain level of hand-eye coordination, and certainly rewards those who are physically fit, softball accommodates all sizes and shapes of players.  Whether you’re a super-fit sporty dyke, or a fluffier lady, there’s a place for you on the field.  There aren’t a lot of sports that have room for 250 pound women as starting athletes.

Softball is a team sport.  It’s a place where people can come together to play, to compete, and to socialize.  Unlike say basketball or volleyball, a lot of socializing happens DURING the game of softball.  Most of the team is in the dugout together for extended periods of time each inning while the team is batting.  That provides for great camaraderie around the game, as well as time to chat about what people did over the weekend, and how cute the shortstop on the other team is.

So there you have it.  Softball allows us to participate, to compete, and to socialize meaningfully in the context of athletics.  It allows for exhibitionists to perform for their ladies and for voyeurs to watch women of all physicalities giving their best.

And it allows us to dress up in uniforms.  Uniforms.  Let’s be honest.  That’s what it’s really all about.

FOR THE GAYS

Softball is so much a part of lesbian culture, that “softball lesbian” is a known shorthand for a certain type of lesbian.  It describes much more than the fact that she plays softball.  Are you an aspiring softball lesbian?  Here are some things to consider:

Dating team members – If you are going to play softball in order to find a girlfriend, think carefully.  I have a rule that I don’t play on the same team as someone I’m dating.  That also means I don’t date someone on my team.  I learned that the hard way after dating a teammate on my rugby team.  When we broke up I lost my girlfriend, and my team.

Softball girlfriend – If your girlfriend isn’t a softball player, she may or may not be interested in watching your games.  Find out up front.  If she doesn’t know the difference between practice and scrimmage, it’s likely she’s not going to understand why you want her to come to your games.  It’s best to manage your expectations early, or it’s going to be a rough season.

Drama free team – Many softball teams will advertise themselves as “drama free.”  Don’t’ be fooled!  This is the first clue that there have been many drama-filled incidents occurring on the team.  Likely, half of the team has dated each other and the other half is new players (read: “fresh meat”).  If the team has a new coach, and last year’s coach is now just a player on the team, or a player on another team, the team is not drama free.

Tokens – Not all softball players are gay.  Even in the gay leagues, we have straight players sprinkled in.  Whether they’re looking for a cultural experience, or playing with their lesbian sister, it’s important not to assume that they’re lesbians.  Because things that would indicate lesbianism in the outside world (like ass grabbing) don’t necessarily work the same on the field, it’s always safest to ask.

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April 29, 2010   No Comments

Why is it that every lesbian I know has at least one gay boyfriend? And, since a gay man and a lesbian make up a “one man- one woman” relationship, should they just get married and start a whole new brand of gay marriage?

Thanks for the question Heather!

There is a simple answer:  fashion.  And safety.  Perhaps you ‘ve noticed the lack of fashion savvy many of my lesbian sisters possess.  It’s like the lesbian gene is completely lacking fashion sense.  As though we collectively donated it to our homosexual brothers, and kept the homerun derby genes for ourselves.

Why do we have gay boyfriends?  We have to keep our gayboys close to us so that we’re not gunned down in the street for our poor fashion choices.  It’s really that simple.

Why don’t we get married?  Believe me, honey, I’ve thought about this.  I LOVE my gayboy Jeffrey.  I could probably live the rest of my life with him.  Except that I don’t want to do the nasty with him.  Not even a teenly little bit.  (Jeffrey, I’m not saying you have a teeny little bit, so don’t come flying at me with that queeny rage of yours.)  I want to go shopping with him and talk horrible trash about people when I know I shouldn’t.  I don’t want to go to sleep next to him and wake up in his arms.

So, if I should ever be in the hospital and need someone to make a decision, or hold my hand as I go into surgery, I want it to be my partner – the woman I do sleep next to every night, and wake up with.  And I want the government, and my community, to acknowledge that my relationship with the woman I choose to spend my life with is every bit as valid, important, and worthy of protection, as anybody else’s.

Fabulous question, darling.

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April 28, 2010   No Comments