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Lesbian, the Label
Labels are for filing. Labels are for clothing. Labels are not for people. Martina Navratilova
You dress to the nines and enjoy an occasional manicure and pedicure. Wear flannels and tapered jeans everyday? No way. Sure, you find women hot. . . but doesn't everybody?
You don't look gay. You don't own any power tools. Guys check you out. Nobody would ever guess you've fantasized about your friends. . . or even fallen in love with them. Sure, you've had feelings for guys. Yet, you wonder what it would feel like to kiss a woman.
We've been there.
For years, we stood by our gold Prada stilettos, Citizen blue jeans, little black dresses, and pink Polo shirts. . . in the closet. We'll be the first to tell you, there's a hell of a lot more room in your closet once you come out of it. Being gay comes from within. It's not the stereotypical cropped haircut that makes someone gay. Just because we enjoy a weekly blowout and rocking little miniskirts doesn't mean we crave men. Our Prince Charming is, rather, a Cinderella.
In our pre-introspective teen years, we would have cringed if you told us we were gay. Us, gay? Hardly. Lesbians? No way, no how. Something about that label made it sound like we'd contracted some horrible disease. Sure, at the tender age of fifteen, we fell in love with our camp counselors. . . but, what girl hasn't fallen for her camp counselor? Women flirt with women. Girls develop girl crushes. It's only natural.
Yet, as we grew older, these lezzie crushes were more intense, and more frequent. Neither of us ever had super-serious boyfriends, but we have had sex with men. We've slept with men and women for the same reasons: because of desire, because we wanted to try it. And don't get us wrong, we enjoyed sex with men. But not like we do with women. Take it from lesbian comedian Lea Delaria: "It's not that I don't like penises, I just don't like them on men!"
Society leads us to believe that all women fall into one of three boxes: straight, bisexual, or gay. Yet, no one talks about the fact that many of the girls who say they fall into the straight box have chowed box. Just look at Marissa's bi-curious experimentation on The O.C. Or turn on MTV and watch any season of The Real World. Girls who experiment with their sexuality are all over the place, it's natural and it's normal. Girls kissing girls is no longer taboo. It's hot.
Research has shown, time and again, that women's sexuality is remarkably fluid. And there is a gray area, where many women choose to live and love. You may not look as "dykey" as, say, Chastity Bono or k.d. lang, but that doesn't mean you love women any less than they do. Some of your friends may have never been with men, some have never fantasized about women, and plenty are probably right in between.
Nowadays, people are even coming out of the closet as "asexual." Oftentimes, they first associate as gay, or at least people think they are gay for their lack of getting any. Soon enough, however, asexuals throw their hands up and admit that they are happy alone and don't crave physical intimacy with either men or women.
Despite our general aversion to labels, when push comes to shove, labels can actually be a good thing. It's nice to be able to identify and socialize with others whose desires are similar to your own. If labels didn't exist, there would be no "gay pride." In the end, labels are just a matter of preference. Our friend Sloane prefers to be called "queer." She feels the word queer implies that there is some discrepancy in her desires. She's not straight, but she's not gay, either. She's just a little "off," and thus identifies as queer.
Entering a gay bar can make you feel as though you need a dictionary to weed through all the diverse labels. You'll hear terms like "boi," "lug," or "dink" tossed around carelessly. When we were both rookies on the lesbo scene, we had no idea what any of these words meant. So here's a quick primer:
A boi is a girl who looks like a boy. She may even look so much like a boy, you'd mistake this boi for an actual boy. . . and that is exactly her intention.
Lugs, on the other hand, are a rare breed found mostly in small women's colleges in the Northeast. These girls are "Lesbians Until Graduation," who take advantage of the spirit of experimentation and self-discovery that four years of higher education affords.
Dinks are a breed of homosexuals who are "Dual Income, No Kids." Dinks can be men or women and are usually rather wealthy. With no kids to support, they have money to spend on things like real estate and, say, Marc Jacobs.
Whichever way you chose to live your life, be sure that your happiness is the first priority. The rest will just fall into place.
I am a proud femme lesbian and a JAP-WASP mixed breed. Like most girls, I dress in a way that makes me feel comfortable and attractive. In my case, I just so happen to dress like a lot of the straight girls I work with.
Shopping has always been one of my favorite hobbies. When I receive my paycheck, I have to try hard not spend it all on shoes. I fit in with the rest of the young NYC man-hungry women on the prowl, except that while those women search for a rich Jewish husband, I search for a nice Jewish wife.
At first glance, I am not what I appear to be. The discrepancy became more apparent than ever my first day on the job at a fashionable women's magazine. The moment I set foot in the Condé Nast cafeteria, I heard the shuffle of Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos. As foreign as the cafeteria was, at least I was familiar with the clickety-clack of expensive heels. Come on, now, I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. I know my shoes.
I felt nervous in the enormous cafeteria. In fact, nervous is an understatement. I was petrified. I looked like all of the women I had seen walking in and out of the Condé Nast building, but there was something different about me. I felt intimidated, scared, and painfully gay.
The buzz of "Omigod" and "You look sooo cute" filled the perfume-laced air. Blondes of all shades and brunettes alike swarmed the fresh fruit display, home to healthy low-fat yogurt and granola. My eyes widened and wandered as I got lost in this sea of Theory pants and YSL shirts. Each woman, more beautiful than the next, walked by me. They shot dirty looks at other women who either weren't dressed to par or looked better than them. The cafeteria literally reeked of criticism, jealousy, and the latest designer fragrances.
I walked through the cafeteria in a daze, as eye candy raced by me. Damn, these women were beautiful. But, as gorgeous as these fashionistas were, not one really appealed to me. What was lacking in most cases was depth. I don't like petty women. As my thoughts turned romantic, I alerted myself that, hello, these women are all straight! There were the obvious straight girls who sported gigantic engagement rings, and then there were the girls I assumed were straight because of how they dressed. These girls literally woke up at four a.m. just to straighten their hair more perfectly than Frederic Fekkai could do himself.
However, as I stared at a particular blond bombshell, I realized I was making the same assumptions that I don't like people to make about me. Maybe not every woman who works for Condé Nast is straight. I sure as hell am not, even though I look it.
The majority of the women at work never even thought to question my sexuality. Boys like me, so therefore I like boys. They figure everyone is straight unless they don't look straight. Thankfully, I can offer these people some enlightenment. I hope women can look at me and see that it's okay to like women and be in touch with your sexuality. It's okay to take care of yourself and want to look fabulous. Sexuality dictates whom you love, not how you look.
When I went to college, I was straight. Well, as straight as any eighteen-year-old, open-minded, sexually charged female could be. I attended the University of Vermont, and my freshman year was miserable. I smoked too much pot and involved myself with way too many lame eighteen-year-old boys who didn't appreciate who I was. They wanted more than I was willing to give and, in general, were one big snooze fest. Before my first spring break, I began looking for a new place to call my own.
Growing up, I'd kissed girls. Mostly for the pleasure of sixteen-year-old boys, who got hard at the mere sight of two legs and a skirt. I was the go-to girl for girls who'd never kissed girls. There was a night in my parents' basement when three cliques of girls were hanging out. A couple of the girls had never kissed another girl before. I was nominated to initiate them in to the girl-kissing world, and I was fine with that. I loved kissing, for God's sake! And other than passing thoughts, I'd only had one sex dream, about a girl I hardly spoke to in high school. But, it was a really hot dream. To this day, thinking about it makes me blush. I had no inkling that I'd ever date or fall in love with a woman. I dated baseball and football players!
Anyway, I left Vermont for a small women's college in northern California. This school was the answer to my prayers. Mills was a liberal haven, with a small campus and no boys to annoy me, for at least another three years. I was free! I started playing basketball almost right away. I played on a team with seven other women for one season. We didn't score a lot of baskets, but we had a good time, and it was a great way for me to meet people. Interestingly enough, the basketball season included a few different couplings. First, the forward was dating the point guard. They'd been dating since high school and came to Mills together. They broke up, and the forward found solace with the shooting guard. Six years later, the forward and the shooting guard are still girlfriends, living together in Portland, Oregon. Fittingly, I was a swing player.
About three weeks into the season there was a dance, the Fetish Ball. A woman named Flynn invited me to go with her.
She came up to me in a tea shop, sat down, and said, "Do you want to go to the Fetish Ball with me?"
I looked perplexed. "What about your girlfriend?"
"She's out of town," Flynn said.
I assured Flynn I was flattered, but straight. I was also completely put off by Flynn's response about her girlfriend being out of town. "What a bitch," I thought. "Her girlfriend goes out of town and she's out here hitting on the first straight girl she sees."
We were in classes together; we talked. It turned out Flynn was cool. She was fun, smart, and, for a butch dyke, quite attractive. I learned that she and her girlfriend were in a "polyamorous" relationship, a relationship where they were each other's primary partners but still dated and slept with other people. This was the first time I'd heard of this as a formal "type" of relationship. It allowed me to see Flynn as less of an asshole, and just as a lesbian who was attracted to me.
Flynn started taking stats for the basketball team. She hung around me quite a bit. One day, about two months into her role as statistician, we got pizza after a game. Everyone left the restaurant, but Flynn and I were just getting into the politics of the impending war in Afghanistan, so we stuck around. She made me smile. I soon became aware of why she was really doing stats for our crappy basketball team.
From that conversation, we decided to organize students to resist the war and Bush. We worked together, organizing for six months. One night, the co-op I lived in threw a party. Midway through the night, I saw Flynn leaving. I ran after her, and from about twenty feet away called out, "Be sure to come back!" I had fallen for her. I didn't even know I could fall for a woman.
Flynn came back to the party, and we ended up talking about what it would mean for me to date her. Then we kissed, and the chemistry was almost unbearably overwhelming. It went on like that. We dated, had some of the most incredible sex of my life, and had an incredible amount of fun. We dealt with her polyamorous relationship, which ended about six months into our being together, due to the fact that she and I spent "too much" time together. That was probably true.
I was deeply attracted to Flynn's intense masculinity. She made me feel like a woman. I started wearing skirts, heels, and jewelry. Her masculinity complemented my femininity in a very pronounced way. I'd never been that girly before, and haven't been since. When I played basketball, I wore bows in my hair because I knew it turned her on. Turning Flynn on turned me on to no end. I'd give anything, today, for the chemistry she and I had back then.
The whole time, I knew I wasn't gay. I didn't know what I was, but I knew that I wasn't strictly attracted to women. Partially, because Flynn wasn't exactly a woman. She had one of the most intense male energies I'd ever been around. She was a perfect balance of masculine and feminine traits. Flynn was protective, thoughtful, loving, caring, strong, stable, and sensitive. She was also intent on pleasing me, with just the right amount of machismo. She was, and remains, in a word, hot.
A couple weeks into dating me, Flynn recommended a few books for me to read, since I wasn't fitting in to the standard "bi" definition. I wanted to know what the hell was up with me. She lent me Stone Butch Blues and The Ethical Slut. But the one I read and identified with most was Pomosexuals, edited by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel. These people spoke my language.
Pomosexuals contained stories of people and couples who were simply not defined, or who defined themselves outside the "normal" structure of sexuality we've carried on and developed through time. I didn't fit into the structure I'd been bequeathed: lesbian, bisexual, straight, gay man trapped in a femme's body. None of it described me. I am a postmodern sexual: I am sexual with the people I choose to be with for reasons independent of who I "should" be doing; and, perhaps most of all, my sexuality is not a defining characteristic of who I intrinsically am.
I'm not a lesbian. I'm not straight. I'm not bi. I'm just me; I'm a lover. Pomosexuality defines the undefined, I suppose. It's not that I don't have a type; it's just that there's not a word for someone who likes masculine people, regardless of their sex. And I don't want a label. As a favorite quote of mine states, "There is only one church, and membership is your bellybutton." We are all sexual beings; we all belong here; we are all fine and good just the way we are.
I Got Hammered and Made Out with My Friend for $30 in Front of 12 Guys. . . . Am I a Lesbian?
Maybe I had been watching too much Real World. Maybe I was bored. Perhaps I wasn't living up to the hot sorority girl image I had worked so hard to achieve. Or maybe it was the six shots of Absolut Kurant and twelve guys chanting my name in a dingy second-floor apartment above Johnny's Big Red Bar & Grille that made me do it. I don't know. I don't remember. I'm lying; I do remember thanks to the Internet photos that surfaced a few days later.
We were hanging out at Steve and JP's apartment. Being that it was winter in Ithaca, New York, we had been drinking heavily for a few months. I had reached a fashion crossroads where the only clothes that still fit me were drawstring sweatpants and hoop earrings. There was a stack of sparkly tube tops in the closet that, sadly, never saw the strobe light of the bar again. I was going out every night, vomiting alone in alleys, and waking up on stained beanbag chairs.
There were ten other guys who lived in that apartment, so most of them were hanging out, along with a few random dudes, my friend Camilla, and the girl on the couch the guys fondly called "Crack Whore." Some of the guys were tossing around options for the rest of the night; somewhere between "go to another bar" and "stay here and play quarters," someone at the table slurred, "Watch Liza and Camilla make out!"
Oh, God, I am not that kind of girl. I laughed. Camilla laughed. We weren't even paying attention. I was talking about something else as doe-eyed young men excitedly slid shots down the table. One guy was running to the fridge to get another bottle of Absolut. There was an electric buzz in the room, and dudes who hadn't even been sitting at the table emerged from doorways with concealed cameras.
The intensity was building. I was starting to feel weird. These guys knew me. They hung out with me in my sweatpants and hoop earrings all the time. They usually didn't even try to make out with me, unless they were blackout drunk. But here they were, hovering, like middle-aged women spotting the sale rack at an Ann Taylor outlet. Even Crack Whore had gotten off the couch and was sidling over. Someone must have sensed my apprehension and mistaken it for coquettish curiosity. Likely, it was the same individual who instigated the "Make Out! Make Out!" chants.
Amidst a frat-tastic sea of rowdy Internet-porn subscribers, Camilla and I locked eyes. We laughed. We were good friends; would it really be that big a deal? Of course not; if nothing else, it would be a fabulous story the next morning. She was probably thinking how her boyfriend (who was loudly chanting next to her) would think it was hot. I was picturing my next game of "I never," and how I would feel like less of a loser if I could drink to "I've never made out with a girl" along with the rest of my girlfriends. I was supposed to be doing crazy things that I could never do again. I mean, come on; doesn't everyone have a lesbian story from college?
My thoughts of college experimentation were quickly interrupted, as someone had started a betting pool. Crinkled bills littered the beer-stained tabletop. Now, in addition to becoming a momentary lesbian, I was about to become a whore. A whore! Someone who accepts money for sexual favors! I was out; no way. This was something I could never be okay with, no matter how drunk I was. I looked again. There was a sizable amount of cash on the table.
By this point, Camilla and I were looking anywhere but at each other. We were also staggering quite a bit. "Oh, fuck it," she said. "I'll do it." She laughed, took a shot, and looked at me. I couldn't back down. I looked at the cash again. No way was I taking it, even if we did make out. The guys were all screaming now, straining to get a better look. God, I wished I didn't like attention so much; this was really embarrassing.
I inched toward Camilla; if we were going to do this, I would at least try to make it look hot. We touched each other awkwardly, and the boys jeered even louder. I closed my eyes and wondered if I would like it. Our lips touched and the counting began: "one Mississippi, two Mississippi. . . "
Our tongues were touching; it was a real kiss. Would things be awkward in the morning? Would she call me? Would we IM? Would we tell anyone about this? Would we joke about it at our sorority chapter meeting? And Camilla's pretty hot does that mean I'm the butch one? Oh, my God, I'm wearing sweatpants.... Of course, I'm the butch one!
We started to touch not quite second base, but we definitely got into it. A camera flashed. I pulled away. We had made it to "ten Mississippi," and I felt like I was going to pass out. We looked at each other, at the money on the table, at the guys screaming, at the empty shot glasses, and I felt so college. I spanked Camilla's ass. It was cool.
We ran into Steve's room and plotted how to best conceal the sordid events of the past four minutes.
"I can't believe we did that!" she said.
"Was I good?" I asked.
"Yeah, you were," Camilla assured me.
Surprisingly, that meant a lot to me. She was a notorious bitch, and I knew she wouldn't lie. I wanted it in writing: Although Liza is only moderately sexually active, has zero relationship experience and no cool stories about doing it in crazy places, she is, in fact, a very good kisser. She also makes out with chicks. Well, I didn't get it in writing. But I did get a naughty picture on the Internet, and the satisfaction of knowing I was "sexually experimental."
One More Thing. . .
Whether you are queer, straight, bi, questioning, or have the libido of a leaf, remember that you don't have to label yourself to appreciate the tales of women who do. And, by all means, you don't have to justify yourself or your desires to anyone. Just be you.
Text copyright © 2006 by Lauren Blitzer and Lauren Levin