So yesterday I was out and about in the city. I had a little spring in my step, I was feeling almost as if life might be winnable in the long run. It is not a common feeling for me to have, that sense of ‘heck, Detroit, it might just all work out ok.’ I am meant to accept such a low level of success, somehow the base line of my child being ok in the end is taken as pretty much enough long term winnability for me. Is it wrong to admit that in fact I don’t just want, but I need a somewhat more gentle version of the future for myself too?
However the world was not feeling particularly gentle yesterday. San Francisco is full of paid-by-the-signature petition collectors. They hang out on corners, outside stores, anywhere there is a lot of people and hassle passers by for their signatures for everything from permitting gambling to yimby building more expensive housing bullshit masquerading as social justice. I try and ignore them. I can research and support my own causes, thanks. I politely walked by a group of signature collectors yesterday and was immediately called ‘my man’, followed by a ‘bruh’.
I have embraced my own butchness. I cut my hair off short, and it keeps getting shorter every time I pull out the scissors. I only ever wear jeans and teeshirts, and my denim jacket with my cute pins studding the breast pockets. I like my vans and my sensible backpack. I never wear make up other than black eyeliner. I have a hankering after a pair of yellow lensed aviators like Hunter S Thompson used to rock. I have got over trying to pass as straight, or please other people. I live my life for myself as I want to live it, and that means dressing like ‘me’. I am still undeniably female. I might not conform to society’s expectations of what it means to be a woman, but I am no less woman for it. I am simply my own woman.
As I brought those scissors up to my head, and started to chop off my long dark hair I felt a sense of panic. Now, it is a strange psychological quirk of mine that if I am distressed I cut my hair. It starts off as a trim. I start to think things like ‘you know what, cutting my hair might make me feel different’; I begin to suspect that making myself look different will make it ALL look different. Unfortunately this is always a disaster. I chop away carelessly and enjoy watching the strands fall. I am still me, and nothing has changed. I am just me with a bad haircut.
The pandemic had hit hard, I was still living outside with the Boy. Showers had been shut down, outside bathrooms had been closed. I had been bathing in a big blue bucket of tepid water, in a corner of the van for months. My hair was just impossible to deal with. Sometimes I would stand outside in the forest, with a saucepan and a bottle of shampoo and let the soapy water run off guiltily into the trees, I was desperate to be clean. Grime had started to build up. I had to find a solution. Not only that, but I also was desperately unhappy. No camping, no bathrooms, no showers, my world as I had lived it for five and a half years was falling to pieces because of a disease, because of something I could not feel, nor see nor touch, yet it was desperation to be easier to clean up, rather than some knot in my psyche that caused me to take drastic action.
I stood in front of the large mirror we had put up in the van and in one hack, with blunt kitchen scissors, I took off all my hair to chin length, then got to work. I held my head forwards and asked my friend to get the back with clippers. The buzzing noise reached fever pitch in my ears as I made the change and took my hair off to a number 3 at the back. A few more snips and I was more Joan of Arc than Mia Farrow, but after the initial feeling of what the fuck have I gone and done now, and then realizing just how white my hair was underneath the woman in the mirror stared back and smiled.
I had had very short cropped hair as a young lesbian before I had put myself back in the closet firmly with the door closed, unable to take society’s hostility and figuring I had better try to make myself fit in as unremarkable in order to survive. I would go to a barbers and tell him to give me a standard short back and sides. It said something about me. Something that I didn’t want people to know: it said that really though I forced myself to fuck men, I absolutely hated it. I felt more than nothing, I felt disgust, horror, shame. It said I was gay. It said I was a gender non conforming lesbian and encouraged men that I worked with at the time to ask me and my girlfriend what we liked to do in bed together. “Toys?” this one dude asked, leering alarmingly at me and my beautiful tall dark haired female lover. I knew going to a straight bar together was going to be a bad idea. To my shame to this day, I nodded my head, tried to crack a smile and a joke, and then walked away and cried in the bathroom. I dumped the gloriously gorgeous CC and started to grow my hair out. I went and bought a long skirt, some make up, and forced myself into one night stands with men. I pushed the disgust and the fear to one side, and buried my desire for other women so deep down that I almost believed I was straight. Almost.
You see it didn’t work. I would go to lesbian bars and start to be able to breathe. Lipstick lesbian. Femme. I am not femme, and I am not a sub. It was not me, but it felt at least enough like me that I finally felt some pleasure, and then promptly would go back to torturing myself with men. It was a disaster for me. So when I looked in the mirror and saw an older, bolder, less give a fuck version of myself stare back, I started to wonder if I could bring myself to ditch the pretty, ditch the girly disguise, ditch the constructed me that had kept myself safe all these years. I wondered if I could possibly sort my head out regarding my sexuality and come out.
These last two years have been a bit of a journey for me. Cutting one’s hair off in a fit of grubby piqué does not maketh the lesbian. Once alone and in the shelter, I started to let myself actually be more natural. I would hold myself accountable to me. I would let myself admit when I found another woman attractive, and told myself it was ok not to want to be with men sexually. It has taken so much out of me. I had trained myself to hide so effectively, I had made myself hide from myself. To find where I was hiding deep, and coax my true self out from that closet that I had been shoved into as a young woman with no support, and unable to withstand the misogynistic and lesbophobic world around me.
Well, two years later I am out to my son, I am out to everybody I know, and I don’t try and hide my sexuality and whilst it mostly isn’t comfortable for me, and I have had a lot of other women and men try and define my sexuality for me, including other gay women, as being bisexual because I struggled and fucked dudes for a while, I finally have enough inner strength to insist that I am not dismissed or pushed back in the closet, and boy do people try.
I am gay. I am a lesbian. I am so out at this point that with my boldness, comes the abuse from strangers. I have been called a ‘boy’ and been threatened with being pushed into the road. I have been misgendered as male, which I consider a horrible slur upon me considering everything men have done to me. I am a woman. I don’t conform, I don’t toe the patriarchal line, I don’t try and make myself acceptable to those around me, or more pleasing to look at for straight men. So when that man sniggered and decided to slur me by calling me ‘my man’, it hurt. I would like to say, my friends, that I held my head up and came up with some Dorothy Parker-esque witty one liner. I would like to say it didn’t hurt. I would like to say he didn’t win, but that would not be entirely true.
Instead I stumbled off, stared back over my shoulder intently to remember what he looked like, and almost got run over because I was too distracted to cross the road safely. I felt exposed. I felt looked at. I felt vulnerable. I felt as if he was wondering what I liked to do for kicks, just like my boss all those years ago in that stupid boring bar. All those slurs that have been used against me in the past ran through my head. I started to hate myself once again. Carpet muncher. The D-word that has become so politicized I don’t use it any more but has been used against me, muff diver, Man. Boy. Lezzer.
The shame burned in my cheeks. All those times I fell for my straight friends, and got rebuffed and turned away and cut out of the friendship group. All the times men jeered and leered. All the time I lost out on being a happy lesbian woman and spent being invaded by men; then something quite magical happened. I stopped a second and looked back at the stupid little boy across the road and his little band of homophobes and laughed. They really were quite ridiculous. As I walked down the street I thought to myself, well yes, there will always be those Chaddy boys who are equal parts intrigued and hostile, who think that their dick is just the most precious thing in the world and that every woman should be forced to adore it, but I really don’t have to play their stupid games and then I smiled. I am a lesbian. I am a gender non conforming woman who has really struggled with my sexuality and just for once I am going to give myself a break and be ok with myself.
Everyone is so hung up on outward appearances, on being conforming to your sex in order to be recognized and celebrated as a woman or a man. We have slipped and slid our way into girls liking pink and glitter and boys liking trucks and blue. Short hair and 501s, no make up and a cool band tee does not make me a man. Liking guitars and motorcycles and girls does not make me a dude. Wanting to dress like Lou Reed and considering a bleach blonde french crop doesn’t make me a man. I am a woman who loves other women, and yes, in THAT way, and whilst that makes for some fraught female friendships, and some abuse from men, that is perfectly me, and you know what, I am ok really. I am not a lesbian because men have abused me. I have been a lesbian forever. I knew I was gay when I looked at my gym teacher and really really wanted to play netball for the coach. I knew I was gay when I desperately wanted to kiss Juliet as she hugged me when I was 16 and she was 17, and when she told me she loved me and when we did kiss for the first time it felt as if the entire world had melted away around us. I have always been gay. Just don’t call me a man.
Happy Pride Week!