Monday, March 12, 2007

Story 3: Reflections On Connecting With Gays & Straights

Continued from Story 2...

I mentioned in another entry that LA Girl and I have obvious differences. And when I say that, I mean different interests, perspectives and personalities, more than anything else. But the glaring similarities are what made me e-mail her shortly after that second meeting. Honestly, when I saw her at the first meeting, I dismissed her in my mind because of how she looked. I concluded that we wouldn't have anything in common and that people like us are never friends. I probably was right. Even though I sensed we both felt at least somewhat out of place at the university and with respect to that organization--all for different reasons--other than both being some sort of queer, we seemed like very different people. And she is definitely not the kind of friend I'm used to every single way, from her very feminine looks to her...well, very feminine personality.

But now that I think about it, I don't know why I was ever worried about our differences. I have next to nothing in common with most of my close friends (not even the black ones). The only thing my closest friends and I have in common--except my male best friend, whom I can talk to about music for hours--is that we tend to view the world the same way, particularly when it comes to race. Now, there's another exception--my best friend at law school calls me a "Republican" (which I'm not) and I call her a "Liberal" (which she claims she's not) we have different views, too, but I guess I thought our views on race mattered most.

My two best friends ever (including the one at law school) both look like they could start an organiztion called the "Women of the Aryan Nations." They are pretty white, and not just in terms of looks. In fact, one of the things I like best about both of them is that they, for the most part, "act white." What's so great about that is these are everyday white women who are absolutely brilliant when it comes to the topic of race in America. So, yes, they like dumb TV shows, dumb music...most of their friends are white, and they "talk white." They like stuff no black person in his/her right mind would ever like. But they are not those annoying white people who think they have to "act black" in order to attract black people, and that's what I love. They can sit and have a conversation with the average black person about race and not once have to worry about offending that person, because they are saying every single thing the average black person thinks. And they know that black people are pissed, and they understand why and know how to handle it. They attract black people by just being natural.

With LA Girl, I think she tries too hard. It's not that she "acts black." But I do think she felt like she had to prove herself to me. I would never expect a white person to totally get race, but she just presents herself as one who does without knowing half of what my white best friends know, just based on things she has said to me in the past. It's not her lack of knowledge that is the problem so much as her insistence that she does have the knowledge and desperation to prove she does. I think she's kind of competitive that way, kind of stubborn, definitely sensitive. She shuts down and refuses to listen when you push a button with her, which is also a form of defensiveness. And she analyzed me so that she could figure out how to deal with me rather than just getting to know me. Combined with defensiveness, all of this was a problem.

And this is without even throwing my issues into the mix--among the very many are that I can be competitive, stubborn and defensive in the sense of not wanting to listen when I don't like what I hear. And I like to figure people out and judge them without even knowing them. In short, I think we're a little too much alike, despite our differences. Usually when I was dealing with her--which was basically over e-mail--looking back, it seems as if we were both in kindergarden. And, well...I know she felt as if I was in kindergarden. And I think we both like to challenge people and don't like when others think they have us figured out (and I actually wonder if her ultra-femininity isn't at least somewhat about that). In this sense, I think we both would have been better off handling each other the way we'd like to be handled, because I felt like she was always telling me who I am or that she understands who I am without really taking the time to get to know me. Obviously, I'm doing the same thing here.

Those were the similarities I think I picked up on. It would be crazy to write about all our differences, but one of the major ones is she is sensitive and I am insensitive. In the process of figuring me out, I believe she insisted that I was more sensitive than I really am. But that's the thing about e-mail: it's hard to interpret emotions. Yes, I get upset about things, and I have been told several times that I am moody. But I tend to be upset about most things for 24 hours, and I think this is one of the reasons why people do consider me moody. Either way, I get over things very easily. From my experience with her, I would say LA Girl isn't like this, or maybe just not with me.

So with my friends, I can just be in a bad mood, or be mad at them and tell myself I will ignore them. By the end of the week, I've basically forgotten all about it. And my friends are always the kind of people who are very outgoing, very positive, generally happy--they balance me out, and they are able to deal with my personality because things rarely bother them. I've gotten so used to that, that I don't know how to interact with people who are not like that. I can tease them and make fun of them and get mad at them. They don't really take it personally, and if something is wrong they'd want to talk about it and resolve it. LA Girl was like this in the beginning--we teased each other and if something I said bothered her, she'd let me know and we'd talk about it.

I liked our communications when it was like that, when we were more in the getting-to-know-you stage. Even though we were finding out how different we were from each other, we were having fun making fun of the differences, or so I thought. And if I said something problematic, she'd point it out and I could explain myself. Of course, when you're teasing people, there's always truth in the comments. I like to think I know myself pretty well, so I thought her teasing was funny because most of it was kind of true. I didn't take it as her insulting me. I think maybe she took some of my teasing as insults, though, even though I'd explained to her that I tease people when I like them. At the time, I totally didn't think she was bothered by the teasing or that she thought I meant any of it in a bad way.

What I've realized lately is that I tease people when I like them a lot. For me, it's very subconscious and reflexive, i.e. I don't even realize how much I like the person or that I have started teasing them. And, to clarify, this teasing must be to the person's has kind of a different meaning if I'm making fun of the person behind her back. But I found myself making fun of my best friend at law school quite a bit the other weekend, and I thought about it...because there isn't anyone else that I make fun of nearly as much. And I realized the only other non-relative I have ever made fun of so much is LA Girl.

When I think about my best friend at school, I always think about how perfect she is. I honestly feel as if she is the best friend I've ever had, even more so than the friends I've known longer than her. When I really need someone, and she knows it, she is always there. I would hate my school if she weren't here. She is like family away from home. She takes care of me and looks after me. She's the sweetest person I've ever met. Everyone loves her.

So with her, our friendship is obviously about more than just how we view the world, I've realized. The only other person at my school whom I tease is someone I tease significantly less. She has been a great friend to me, but she hasn't been as amazing as my best friend here is. I would seriously want to marry my best friend if it weren't for the fact that I'm not physically attracted to her...well, and her being straight, gay marriage being illegal and her basically being more like a proxy-sister/mother to me.

I love that I don't like her, though, and that I can be a gay woman and she can be a straight woman and we're best friends. But she still is nearly everything I would want in a woman. And you have no idea how much the lack of physical attraction factor almost doesn't even matter. She's just that great, and I have a feeling that it wouldn't matter, if only she were a great singer--I love women who can sing. Plus, she's the most brilliant person I've ever met, and that's right up there with that singing thing.

LA Girl has been intriguing from day one, for all the reasons mentioned before, and then some. And out of all the gay people at my school that are around to connect with--both from that first meeting for GLBT graduate students of color and in my program--she was the first one I chose to actually "come out" to, because I felt like we should understand each other. I still feel that way, even though we're different. Obviously, everyone is different, but there are relatively few people who really stand out for it. She does, and that's what I like about her.

I have always gotten a huge kick out of her, especially when I started getting to know her a little bit. She's like this incredibly sexy nerd. I mean, she's drop-dead gorgeous, the most beautiful woman I've ever seen and hotter than anybody on TV. But she works hard in her program and is passionate about research, and she dresses in skimpy red devil outfits for Halloween and in heels for a lab class. She can shift from sounding intellectual to conversational and can even outsmart her professors. She knows how to have fun more than the average student here does, is irritatingly insightful and surprisingly humorous. And she teased me just right...other people usually do it in a way that kind of pisses me off, but she knows how to tease me. ;)

She's a total package and absolutely something I've never seen before. And that was incredibly intimidating. It was weird, because I don't think I've ever been intimidated by anyone. I've been in intimidating situations before, such as thinking about making the first move on a love interest who was standing near me or the possibility of being called on in class. The love interests and the professors were not what intimidated me, though. So I don't think I realized I was intimidated by LA Girl. I mean, I was legitimately concerned about our differences, but I have also realized I was really nervous about actually meeting her. I was even kind of nervous about e-mailing her, but nothing like with the idea of meeting. And I let being intimidated and worrying about differences get in the way. I think we would have gotten along better if we had met sooner than we did. But this really amazing woman just seemed so excited about meeting me, and I really couldn't understand why or help but worry that it would change everything.

The funny thing mentioned in Story 2 was that, I think, LA Girl was picking up on her looks being an issue. And so the day when we were first supposed to meet but didn't, she asked me how do I know I got a good look at her when I first saw her. If you read the description I gave about when I first saw her, you know that I got a good look at her. But it wasn't like I could tell her that, especially since I had been working hard to keep her from thinking I liked her. I mean, I do like her--how could I not? I'm not dead--but in the way you like the celebrity you have the biggest crush on. Plus, we could barely even manage to be friends, let alone anything more, and I respect people's romantic relationships and would rather people in those relationships respect them, too. Besides, even if she were single and we actually got along, she would never be interested in me.

So what I really wanted more than anything with her was friendship, because she was a breath of fresh air compared to everyone else here. Being a lesbian was a big bonus, given that I have been getting more and more curious about picking one's brain. And I don't trust people, but I trusted her--even though I didn't always believe what she said about being too busy to meet up with me. When I revealed, what I thought was, my identity and that I'm not out to her, she said she already figured and that it was none of her business. On the one hand, it was like what I mentioned before about feeling like some gays could see right through me. On the other hand, it was like, "This is not one of those gay people who is going to try to tell me what I should do or act as if my identity is a problem."

I will just say that the issues I'm discovering as a big problem between blacks and white gays in general are the same sorts of issues that divided LA Girl and I, along with our differences. Rather than communicating with me about how she felt or her viewpoint so that we could patch things up, it was as if she completely shut down and lost interest in me because I don't view her as my equal and because I think we're different. I also think she feels I blew up at her when I expressed my opinion, but it's hard to interpret tone and how a person means a comment over the internet. I have gotten frustrated with her and blown up, though, and it was a mistake. After a while, I just felt like I was doing all the work in trying to make the friendship work, and it was irritating to me. But I could have handled things better and communicated better, and it wouldn't have been "work" if I hadn't been so hesitant.

The last thing I ever meant to do was alienate LA Girl the same way others might have or in similar ways as I feel alienated, because that's not who I am. I don't know for sure--and you know I generally don't like to draw many analogies between blacks and gays, but this is my way of making sense of something I barely know anything about. I acknowledge that there are certainly differences. But I interpret being a very feminine lesbian as something like, for example, how I feel about a lot of black women with the hair issue.

Nobody ever says anything, but I often feel like black women who prefer more "natural" and/or afrocentric hairstyles poo-poo black women who don't, even though they recognize that straight hair is actually the societal norm in the US. Yet, those of us with straight hair are in the wrong, see. They apply this very broad generalization that black women hate their hair--and, thus, themselves and/or their black features--and they are the relative few who realize this, take steps towards moving away from this self-hatred by getting these hairstyles and forego black perms. This is how we're supposed to look. And I think underneath it all is this very, very subtle version of the old "black enough" standard.

I feel like what I observe among the different lesbian labels is a similar kind of thing, and I think in both cases you have to leap over a lot of what's not being said to draw the conclusions. But I feel like the script is flipped on feminine lesbians. They are in a can't-win-for-losing situation, because they're not going to meet anybody's expectations for them. I'm always asking myself why people hardly talk about Portia de Rossi or how gorgeous she is--particularly in the GLBT community--or why people would generally prefer LA Girl's girlfriend over her. I feel like everyone thinks we're not supposed to look like them--even straight people--and that it becomes a "not gay enough" standard being applied, as if you're trying to fit in or pass.

One of the things I've heard several times about the GLBT community is the feminine lesbians have special issues to deal with...for example, invisibility. I know all about that, as a black person who is in predominantly white environments all the time while simultaneously not fitting enough black standards for the relatively few blacks in my environments. The hair thing is just one--almost none of the black women in my program wear their hair "white" like I supposedly do, and I've noticed a lot of black lesbians don't, either. I could write a separate entry just on the hair issue, but the bottom line is I feel as if I'm doing what works for me. Long hair is not right for every woman--Ellen DeGeneres looks weird with her hair longer, but short hair works well for her. But short hair is something I don't like for me. The same goes for natural and afrocentric hairstyles. None of that is me. Being feminine is what works for LA Girl and who she feels like she is.

This is one of the many examples of how I feel connected to LA Girl. It's seeing similarities where differences exist, and sometimes you just have to work harder to see what you and someone else have in common. I feel as if we're both outcasts in many ways, and somehow that has manifested itself in a similar way as it seems to in society in general--we have outcasted each other...hence something like the blacks vs gays setup. This was never what I wanted to happen, and it's painful to me to think that I might have made someone feel as if I don't accept her, especially if it's someone I really do care about and respect a great deal. I didn't want the first time I ever really tried to connect with a gay person as a friend to result in making an enemy.

I don't feel as if she and I have to be friends simply because we're both gay. But it hurts me to lose a friend, especially when I think the situation is one that can be worked out and when I feel as if I've done something wrong. You don't have to agree with someone to be friends; you just have to communicate. It's not as if we can't do that, because that's exactly what we used to do, as I mentioned before. It hurts that she won't acknowledge me or speak to me, because now I feel as if she's treating me like almost every other white person does when she claims to be a white person who knows better.

We're not validating each other's experiences in America. You don't have to know exactly what someone experiences to validate it. I'm willing to admit that, even though I'm black, she has probably been through way more than I have. But I wish that she would admit that being a lesbian doesn't erase white privilege, though it kind of puts a bit of a ding in it--that's one idea expressed in the "Gay Color Lines" article I didn't totally agree with--just like being white and from a lower socioeconomic class does. Even if we don't agree, I still like her as a person and don't feel we gave each other an adequate enough chance to really get to know each other.

Then again, maybe I didn't really do anything. Maybe she just doesn't like me. Maybe meeting really did change things. It had been months since she'd started shutting down on me before she started completely ignoring me. Maybe I did something else wrong. Whatever the problem was, I wish we would have just discussed it. I wish we could work it out.

To be continued...