Some months ago, I received an email from one of my readers. She was a lesbian lady who had come across one of my posts on Gaysi and wanted to tell me that she appreciated my support for the gay community. I wrote back thanking her and telling her how some of my close friends were gay and that it had given me a chance to see the difficulties they faced because of discrimination.
At the end of that conversation, she asked to meet me, adding ‘if you don’t mind having coffee sometime with a dyke’. Of course I didn’t I told her, wouldn’t that be silly after all I had said? Later, she invited me to a party, telling me that there would be mostly gay people at the party. I didn’t manage to make it to that party after all.
We’ve had a few conversations since then, about general topics, the kind that I write about – life, love, friendship, people etc. In the recent past, she had popped up a number of times on my radar, in the form of her thoughts on my posts or just a chat window saying hello. She has also been inviting me to a number of different events and outings in addition to asking me when I’d like to meet for coffee.
I have to say that I haven’t managed to make it to any of the aforementioned events and neither have I made time for the promised coffee. I do have a rather busy social life and when it comes to prioritizing, I almost always place an old friend, a date or solo time over a casual conversation with a stranger.
There has however been one thing nagging at the back of my head for some time now. If it had been a straight girl, I think she would most likely have lost interest in trying to make contact with me by now. If it had been a guy at the other end of this interaction, his persistence would have made me think that he had a crush on me. This actually is the first time I’m making an online connection with a lesbian girl.
I thought back to my friend MJ. I didn’t know she was a lesbian when we first met and neither of us actively pursued the friendship. We just ended up meeting a lot of times, hanging out a lot with friends and by ourselves and had become close when I realised she was gay. By that time though, her major association in my mind was friend and being gay was just one of the many things I knew about her, like her hair colour or her last name.
In this case though, the only real definition I have of this lady is that she is lesbian. And she has been quite keen to meet me. I know that this may be more indicative of her friendliness than a romantic interest in me. And yet, the possibility exists, however remote. I also know that gay people are able to discern other gays and would logically not expect a person to change their sexuality. Then again, one of my lesbian friends did indeed date someone who had hitherto portrayed a ‘straight’ face (pun entirely unintended!), even having had a boyfriend before she met my friend. And also, I myself know that when you like someone a lot, it is quite possible to misread or even read a little too much into their actions.
The dilemma I face is a moral one, not a practical one. Should I meet her and risk sending her a wrong signal that I reciprocate? Or should I refrain and succumb to that archaic belief that gay people are just waiting to pounce on one? Furthermore, considering that we don’t have common friends or interests, am I not willing to meet her only to prove that I’m open-minded about homosexuality? There’s definitely an over-correction in favour of gay people then. After all by my own premise, equal rights means equality and vice versa.
I struggled with all of these for a number of days. Finally, I decided to just come clean and tell her what I thought. I told her that this was what I would think if a guy reader had contacted me and that I could be reading this wrong but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t sending out a wrong message.
“Oh god, don’t tell me you got the wrong message!”
and then logged off. Maybe she was offended and I am sorry about that. It was never my intention to insult anyone. But at the end of it, I think I’d rather live with that than run the risk of leading her on.
Note: I mentioned this to MJ who laughed and said, “It’s so amusing to see the hetro community more touchy about gay issues then gays themselves!”
When I was a kid, the apartment two floors above us was occupied by two ladies. They were both teachers. One of them was tall and stern-looking. The other one was short, roly-poly and generally jovial as you would expect someone of such a build to be. Both of them had short, cropped hair and they were always seen together.
I’d usually see them returning in the evening, with handbags and ubiquitous black bags, synonymous with Goan Catholics, presumably loaded either with students’ papers or with vegetables and meat for that night’s meal. I was a little scared of them, as I was of all teachers, even those who didn’t teach me or even at my school.
Many years later an older neighbor-friend whispered to me in wise big-sister hushed tones,
I haven’t seen them in years but I thought of them recently, when I started writing for Gaysi. I was about to say that I’d never known any lesbians closely but it occurred to me that perhaps I had. Or had I?
They didn’t look like lesbians, which leads me to question,
What do lesbians look like?
A friend opined that they’re generally tomboyish-looking and don’t care too much about dressing in a ladylike manner. I retorted,
That described me in my teens too and I’ve never been a lesbian!
You know what I mean, she said and rolled her eyes.
Not really, I wanted to say. Did she mean they were all butch?
I ended up having a long debate with a lesbian friend over the meaning of the word BUTCH – an argument that unfortunately was never resolved.
The dictionary tells me that
The teacher couple did have short hair but they dressed in uniformly bland, printed blouses and skirts in sombre hues. Very teacher-like. I don’t know about butch, much less lesbian.
Of the two other bonafide lesbians I know, one certainly fits the description, being completely characterised by her ‘Don’t take panga with me’ style of dressing. Not even on the same planet at girly. The other one is…well, tricky. She’s one of those ‘smart-dressing’ types. Which is to say that she never looks like she spends too much time on her appearance but looks good and tastefullly dressed anyway. I’m not sure that’s any more butch than my teacher-neighbors.
I’ve heard a few ridiculous things like ‘if you wear a single anklet on your left ankle, you’re lesbian’ which sounds suspiciously like someone tried to think up a female alternative to the ‘earring in one ear – surefire gay’ which is even more ridiculous.
Incidently I’ve worn a single anklet on whichever ankle I’ve felt like, for years. And sported every possible length of hair, with my current style alternating between casual mop and cropped chic. My wardrobe contains oversized sweaters, men’s dungarees and superbig shirts. Also skirts, leggings, frilly blouses, tank tops and other female paraphrenalia. And as an icing to the butch-cake, remember those ads for Ray-Bans years ago?
They said only men could be pilots. They said Aviators were for men.
Hah! I love the big, circle-turned-triangular dark shades and who cares if anyone thinks they’re masculine or not?
Hence I conclude that being butch has nothing to do with sexual preferences. A short haircut is just that – a statement of style, a yen for convenience perhaps but not necessarily an indication of homosexuality.
And I come back to the fundamental question of whether it is possible to figure out a woman’s sexual orientation just by looking at her. I’ve written about Gaydar but I find that only applicable to men. What do you think?
I was at a seminar with a group of people recently when one of them declared that he was gay. In the lunch break, one of my friends slipped over to me and whispered,
Of all the people, I never would have guessed that this guy was gay.
I didn’t follow my friend’s surprise. I hadn’t really had the chance to think about the guy too much since his declaration came pretty early in the day. But if I had had a chance to spend a little more time and if I’d been asked to hazard a guess, I’d have guessed him to be gay.
Why? According to my friend, he didn’t display any of the ‘classic gay mannerisms’ by which I take he meant the whole effeminate-loose-limbed thing that Bollywood portrays as ‘a mature view of homosexuality’. Obviously. This person was very ‘normal’ in his body language and expression and there was nothing effete about him.
And still I’m quite certain I’d have caught him on my gaydar. There was something, a little difficult to describe that set him apart from the straight men. A softness, a gentleness, a certain something that showed him to be very close to and cognizant of his own emotions.
I’m not saying that straight men are insensitive or stupid with their emotions (though a number of them may be). I’m saying that women and men, straight men that is, process their emotions and express them differently. What do we mean when we say that women are ‘in touch’ with their emotions? It means that our emotions are as close to our conscious, working minds as say, our clothes are to our bodies. We don’t really need to think too much about how we feel because well, it’s a film that’s constantly running, we already know. Chances are, if you ask a woman how she feels about something at a point of time, she will articulate her feelings much more precisely and vividly and accurately than the average man. I don’t think it is because women feel more or that we talk more. I think it’s just that we tend to keep our emotions closer to our consciousness and constantly some part of our brain is processing,
How do I feel about this? What is this feeling called? What else am I feeling? Do they contradict each other? Do they overlap?
I have a feeling men do this slightly differently. Obviously since I’ve never been a man, all I can do is guess but I’m thinking emotions are more like furniture in their mind. They don’t really think too much about it unless there’s a new piece to fit in, which they do as quickly and painlessly as they’re able to. Once that’s fitted into their minds, they focus on other things and don’t bother about it anymore, unless something demands their attention. Which may be when you pose the same above question to a man, his response will most likely be to look startled as if the thought of thinking about emotions (furniture?) didn’t occur to him at all. After which he pauses to think about it or look around inside him mind and perhaps he’ll catch something amiss. Wherein we go on to his taking time to analyze what’s different (or not). If it isn’t like the way he’s expecting to find it, he’ll probably be even more confused and dumbfounded over why you brought it to his notice in the first place.
Okay, so all of that is just the difference between men and women and how they handle their emotions. I’m saying gay men do this the way women do and not the way (straight) men do. It’s really subtle and after all, you can’t really tell what anyone’s thinking inside their heads. But if you pay attention, you might catch a glimpse of what goes on behind by what passes on their faces.
Our gay colleague didn’t hesitate for a minute in identifying and airing his opinions about the so-called soft issues of emotions. What’s more, his speech was liberally spiced with words like “I feel” as opposed to the more straight-guy-speak of “I think”. These two are used interchangeably in everyday speech but if you think about it, you may notice that women use “I feel” more than men do. And our gay pal did too, unlike the other men in the room. And hence quipped my internal gaydar,
Another thing to add is how men react to a woman’s physical presence. This isn’t something I could comment on in this particular case since Mr.Gay was seated across the room and most likely hadn’t seen me till then. There is a certain way men look at women in the first few moments. There’s an internal data-capture happening of all the visual aspects and as a woman, you can sense it. In streetspeak, it’s called ‘being checked out’. Sometimes it happens in a flash of a second, a full body scan in a second. All men do it to all women they meet. With the exception perhaps, of gay men.
Do you notice that gay men look at you straight in the eye while speaking and continue to keep looking right there? They’re waiting, watching for your response, seeking your validation, trying to guage what you’re feeling. Very like a woman. Straight men on the other hand, look at you, look around, occasionally look down, sometimes fixate on your bustline or waist or nose. They only look at you straight in the eye when they’re being aggressive, either threatening you or trying to intimidate you or going all out to seduce you. In all cases, a focussed, aggressive action. Straight eye contact is aggressive as far as the straight man goes. It’s connecting as far as women and gay men go.
That’s the difference. And the ability to catch that is what we call gaydar.