He doesn’t know he’s queer, but he is. He gravitates towards men, embraces their company, worships their friendships, and stays close with his buddies. He parades his technician’s position in the Styrofoam cup factory where we both work, like a trophy. Like a label. Like proof he is a man. And in keeping with his beloved maleness, he entertains the thought that I’m an attractive young lady, but I’m not. Oh, I’m attractive enough. I’ll grant him that. But a lady? He’d have more luck finding a lady at the baths downtown.
I wonder what he sees when he looks at me. Certainly not the kind of person I think I present to the world. I know how he looks at me, when he stops by to do routine maintenance on my production line — as though I were some feminine princess just waiting for “the right man” to bring out the woman in her. And I wonder — if he knew that when he looks at me that way, I feel like a straight man changing clothes in a locker room filled with hot-sweaty-horny gay conquistadores, would he look at me any differently?
I now it makes the girls on the line nervous. They all “know about” me.
When we first met, I was certain he was gay. I’d just become a volunteer for a local political candidate, and he was the volunteer coordinator. It took three very uncomfortable weeks to inform me otherwise. Three weeks of him flitting around my line for no apparent reason, three weeks of him taking me aside to discuss intellectual things in the midst of our base and mechanical workplace, three weeks of me thinking he was thrilled to have the company of another queer in the organization (I’ve only met one other, and she works a different shift). Three whole embarrassing, mortifying weeks of his clumsy flirtations as the girls tittered and guys smirked, before I found out that he is as attracted to his own kind as I am — but that he has no clue. The rest of the factory is still waiting to see what will happen between us.
I wonder what he thinks he’s going to accomplish, coming on to me. Will he prove to all the other guys with tool belts, once and for all, that he can be desired by the impossible woman — one who, he suspects, is smoldering with untapped feminine hungers that only he can assuage? Is he trying to demonstrate to me, to himself, to the rest of the plant, how irresistible he is, and how indomitable is the physical draw between men and women? Does he have such a high stake wagered on that social fabrication? Is he so invested in proving the incontrovertibility of that male-female mythos he clings to like a self-styled crucifix, arms thrown wide to embrace the world of his self-centered suffering? Is it so vital for him to prove himself lover and conqueror and savior of the het world? Is that why he insists on calling me “dear”, yelling it over the sound of grinding gears and hissing steam?
I’m the scandal of the plant, and he’s the running joke.
He’s queer, but he doesn’t know it. He knows I sleep with women, but that doesn’t stop him from gazing at me sometimes with the look of one lost to love. When I speak, sometimes, I know he’s not hearing a word I say. It’s that glazed, absent look in his eyes that tips me off, the look of one who is thinking of something other than what I’m saying. I know that look. I have it myself, sometimes, when a woman I’m speaking with has a certain air, a certain way about her. It’s the tyranny of the root rising up, the slow swelling of desire that draws one’s intelligence away from one’s brain, down the spine, and into the nether regions, where it curls, coiled, watching, waiting for its chance to spring free. If he had the nerve, I could explain to him that what he’s feeling is closely akin to what the boys in the baths feel — the distraction, the mindless migration of consciousness below the belt, the pulse that quickens in the face of beauty that may or may not be attainable, the throb that starts at the outset of conquest and will not be soothed until the goal is reached. But he doesn’t have the nerve.
In fact, he can avoid his queerness entirely, because this boy he’s so fond of, is encased in a woman’s body. And this body is employed on the production lines of the plant, in a job only women (no men) will hold. I’m safe to desire, because he can fool himself into thinking he’s infatuated with a girl. Not once can I recall exhibiting what I’d consider “feminine” behavior around him. I don’t dance the flirty dance, I don’t reach out to touch his arm when I talk, I don’t give him any indication I’m interested in him romantically. I keep my distance and give him a hard time when I know he’s full of shit. I keep him at arm’s length and am clearly impervious to his feelings. I’ve given him no reason to come on to me, no reason to think he’ll find any measure of reciprocation from me. I’m cold and hard and solid stone. And yet he is undeterred by his own mistaken taste. Or the warnings of the other techs that I’m “that way”.
After all, I’m too convenient a target for his affections to let go. He hasn’t had a decent relationship with a woman for years, and in fixating on me and my masculine self, he can avoid the reasons why with exuberant verve. He may have wondered in the depths of his secret heart about his unenunciated curiosity about gay sex, gay games, gay life, and why he always has to roughhouse with “Mr. Beefcake”, the mechanic who’s also an amateur bodybuilder. But now that I’m around, he can forget about all that. In imagining what it would be like to be with me, he can vent his sexual self without having to strip for a like-bodied creature and raise his legs to heaven. He can chase what he wants without ever having to admit what he wants. In focusing on me, he can ignore the fact he craves the feel of a man’s ass beneath his abs, against his thighs. In falling for my masculine ways, he can overlook his yearning for a man’s skin, a man’s cock, another man’s hands on his own skin and cock. I’m a safe enough figure to allow him to embrace his queerness. And I’m probably the last person he’d associate with his craving for forbidden pleasures. Every time he calls me “Dear”, he embraces and alienates his gay soul, his cock-loving hands, his male-identified lust, his fixation with boys. I’m oh-so-very convenient, and he’s oh-so-very queer. How could he not be drawn to me?
I wonder if I’m not doing him an injustice by not rebuffing his artificially kind words. I wonder if I’m not doing myself more harm than good, by not treating him like shit and avoiding him like the plague, like any self-respecting separatist would. But I have to remember, he has a masochistic streak, and chances are, such abuse would just lead him on, it might make him think I want him. He might get the wrong idea from me, and I’d end up worse than when I started — behaving badly and feeling awful about it, and giving him unintentional encouragement.
I do my best to discourage him. But nothing works. I mention my lover frequently and repeat often, I’m a lesbian. Even within earshot of the Fundamentalist woman, one line over. I don’t think he’s listening. When he waxes long and laboriously about women he’d like to date or bed, I sometimes chime in, but I keep my voice low, since there are other women around who smile at his crass speculations, but cringe at mine. I’ve been warned about getting too “risqué” at work. My lack of tact is lost on him; he seems to think he can make me over. He already has, in the back of his mind. He seems to think that one good fuck will turn me into the woman of his dreams, that by treating me like a lady, I’ll somehow become a real woman. He’s cut from the same cloth that other men have come from — the ones who think that the right man and a house full of kids will bring out that ever-so-feminine side of me that’s buried deep within.
How can anyone’s vision and hearing be so stunted? Everyone else observes how plainly I don’t fit the feminine bill. I’m irreverent and skeptical and not at all warm and fuzzy. I’m rough-and-tumble and I don’t take shit from anyone. I can throw a ball harder and faster than most guys I know — and I have better aim. I’m coarse and gruff and I calls ’em like I sees ’em. I’m more of a man than most of the guys around me, and I’ll never be the woman the men around me think they could make me. When I started working here, I thrilled them at first with my wild ways, but when my ways didn’t change and I refused to date men, they grew frightened and tried to rein me in. They tried many ways to knock me down to size and each one — each and every one of them — failed miserably.
What were they thinking? I know what they were thinking. And I know what he’s thinking. What all of them secretly want, they secretly wish to destroy.
His body lusts after the man in me, but his mind wants the woman he thinks I could be. What he doesn’t know, is that each time someone tried to cage what they imagined was a dove, I turned into a tiger. Their cages were never large enough. Or strong enough. I always broke free and left them wondering in the dust, What went wrong? Where did we go wrong? What’s wrong with her?
What was wrong with them? I wondered, Thinking they could contain me and make me over… What were they thinking?
I know what they were thinking. I know what’s he’s thinking. That what I am, what he is drawn to, what he craves, he fears and resents — and if he can’t change it, he would love to destroy it. He thinks that the toughened side of me I present to the world is not really me, but a hardened scar-tissue shell, designed to hold life at bay. Constructed to avoid my destiny. He thinks I’m a sensitive soul, and he’s right. But he thinks that this armor of mine is artificial, and on that point, he’s wrong. He thinks I’m pretending to be a man, so I can fit in with the rough crowd and not stick out like a once-a-month-bleeding sore thumb. What he doesn’t know, is that what I present is what I am, no matter what the world may think of my shell. It’s a shell built of mended sinews when the idiots of the world, the bigots camouflaged like hungry predators along my migratory path, took me by surprise and sent me sprawling face-first into the dirt. My injuries have come not from my weakened female side, but my suppressed male, whose right to expressive life has been denied by men and women alike, as long as I can remember.
So when he pretends to see past my shields, seeks to penetrate the impossible armor I’ve welded together from scrap and cast-off iron, when he sallies forth and makes a mockery of my masculinity by assigning it femininity, he only adds to the armor, only justifies it all the more. In thinking he can lower my shields, he raises them. If only he knew this, he would see how fruitless, how pointless, how vain is his hope, how desperate his lust, how unfashioned and immature his intentions.
For I know what he avoids, and so I have the upper hand. I know all those things he so cleverly disguises in his manners and his forced etiquette. I know what seeps through that heart of his, I know what smolders and burns in his gut. I know that look on his face — the intentionally disarming mannerisms designed to bring down my guard, so he can thrust his thought-blade deep into my psyche and drive out the male beast that lives there. He would play St. George to my dragon, making the world safe from my fire. He would civilize me, teach me to behave, correct my grammar, but I have better uses for my time and my soul than imitating his half-baked concoction of a world view. I am Calaban’s son who learned from his father’s mistaken trust of the adventurer. I am the offspring of the warriors cajoled with false promises onto the Trail of Tears, who fled to the forests, who took to the trackless high mountain ranges where no white settlers with wagons could follow. I am the heir of the Anabaptists, driven from town to European town, across oceans, into corners, flayed and fried and baked alive for their dissidence, for their blind trust in human interpretations of salvation. I am the derivative of the vanquished who looks back on the record, sees the false lies, sees the glint of hunger for destruction, for domination, in the pretended hopes of exploration, who has looked into the heart that is only darkness, which pretends to embrace that which it seeks only to kill… the progeny of the destroyed, I steer clear of armed combat and hold back in the safety of my own inscrutable world. I care nothing for the comforts of civilization as we pretend it, and deflect all the while the smiling jabs of those who fake embracing while intending only to squeeze and crush.
I know he’s queer, but he pretends he isn’t. He gravitates to men, embraces their company, prizes their friendships, and stays close with his buddies. In keeping with his avowed maleness, he approaches me as he would any attractive young lady, hoping against hope to wear down my weapons. Having a woman like me would be proof that he can indeed attract a woman and deny that he has a taste for flesh and fluids like his own. The factory air is full of his desperation.
But I know his hunger, I know the way he looks at men, the way he’s drawn to them. He’s a liar and a coward, and he has no stomach for his own soul’s secrets. He turns his attention to me — I’m so obviously different, he must make me like others. He focuses his fascination on my mind, if not my body, hungering for my alteration, when he could better use his time finding a man that would do more for him than I ever would or could.
Galatea, in all her stony glory, was never so manipulated in another’s mind. He fashions me over in his imagination, when he should turn his chisel against himself and chip away his lies.