I go to the gay pride march to pick up women. This, at least, is the joke, because I require that a potential partner to be open-minded and in favor of equal rights. Anyone bigoted against lesbians is never going to be invited to Thanksgiving.
In fact, I go to the march to be somewhere other than my apartment, because Melanie let slip that she was going to go see [Miss X] in Boston and I did not want to be home, given that she originally intended to make me a rest stop, to love me before she screwed her. I know Melanie will not stop by now - I've made clear I am not going to allow myself to be used - but there is still the lingering awareness that she intended to visit. After our last meeting, I need space (and I certainly need never to know the lengths she will go to hook up).
The weekend preceding was dull, partly because I pinned my hopes on meeting up with someone for tea. However, the woman - with whom I had flirted the weekend before - was too wiped out from moving (even though, when she informed me that her two-year-old niece was also helping, I offered that I have the strength of several toddlers) and declined via text.
I glance around the parking lot where the marchers gather. I see none of my associates who had RSVPed, but I am not surprised. I wander a bit and then settle on a cement wall to collect my thoughts until the parade begins in earnest. I had expected a bigger turn out, more flamboyance than a van covered in rainbow flags, and more people to whom I could relate.
A middle-aged woman wearing insectile, while sunglasses comes over to interrupt my silence, sitting next to me and introducing herself. It is early yet and my mood has yet to spoil, so I engage her to better occupy my time.
"Who are you here with?" she asks.
"No one," I say. "I'm a free agent." I was not aware that supporting gay rights involved an affiliation. Which gang has the easiest choreography?
I chat about teaching and the pendants I wear, because she asks. She tells me that she usually comes to this event as a clown. It is only once she brings me over to a high school GLSA club and proffers me as a "fabulous gay boy" that I see her misapprehension.
"Oh no, I'm quite straight. I have gay family members, though." That still counts for queer cred, right? The woman says that I am still welcome to join them, but I get a text back from Lauren (whom I had been pestering by asking when gay turned passe) and use this as an excuse to walk away and take pictures of rainbow bedecked strangers.
Ten minutes later, I sidle up to a petite woman with short, brown hair, who is also taking pictures of the gathering belly dancers. We establish a quick, temporary friendship based on of who it is reasonable to take pictures (which is to say, not the young lady who cannot have reached her sixteenth birthday and who is rapidly losing her clothing, aside from Superman underoos, suspenders, and a wife beater). Then I think to myself, "There must be straight women here and you are flirting with a quirky lesbian? Have you learned nothing?"
I manage well through the parade proper, snapping photos of the more extreme elements, comfortable behind my lens. I cock my eyebrows at all the signs that are less "pro-gay" as "anti-straight" (e.g., "Yeah, spaghetti was straight too until it got in a hot tub", I guess since sexuality is a choice now) and the marchers shouting slogans to a town full of people who could not agree more. Once we get to the festival portion, though, there is no aperture that is going to give me distance enough. I realize that lesbian couples holding hands are now a trigger for my angst, meaning I am categorically in the wrong place. They remind me of what I have lost and why, make me annoyed with Melanie for having indirectly spoiled this for me. I am aware what I feel has little to do with the women themselves and I am projecting my own issues, so I withdraw from the festival. This is their day, they do not need my scowls.
Walking to my car, I call Jacki to cancel our dinner plans. I am in such a sour mood that I want to be away from humanity, even its redhaired poetess contingent. I want to rage in the privacy of my car, then apartment, then go to sleep in hopes of pleasant dreams. (The day before, I had a nap dream involving a shenanigans-riddled date with Jinx's sister Kestrel. This ended in a backstage kiss so intense that I awoke awash in afterglow and hope.)
Jacki pleads for me to stick around town. "I know you. You have all of your writing stuff in a bag in your car."
"Yeah..." I admit.
"So go to the Cafeteria, write until you feel better, and I'll come meet you for dinner, okay?" she says. I am condensing this, as her convincing me and lifting my mood took in the neighborhood of an hour and a half. Once I was out of the aegis of the festival, my mood began to stabilize enough that I would allow myself to be swayed. (Though not enough that I could stomach going to a swing dancing event to which I was invited later.)
As I wait in the coffeehouse, a man notices me, immediately from the march and then from having attended two Pine Bush UFOS meetings a few years ago as research for my next novel.
"Oh, hello," I say, not exactly sure how I ended up being chatted up by a gay ufologist but certain I have no one to blame but myself.
He talks of the almost embarrassing folksiness of the Pine Bush group contrasted with the no-nonsense technology of a Manhattanites that visited recently. I offer an ambivalent "People are seeing something" but refuse to be goaded into explaining why I really attended those meetings. I don't want to encourage this man - more for his UFO interest than his keenness for other men, which is simple to deflect by proclaiming "sorry, but I am exclusively fond of women, let me now rhapsodize about breasts" - but I also do not wish to be rude. He made a couple of reasonable, if erroneous, assumptions based on my attending a few events. That should hardly earn him derision.
When he comes back half an hour later and asks by name if I know a certain drag queen, I answer in the affirmative and realize how little I am helping the perception of my heterosexuality. I run in diverse circles.
"Do I really read as gay?" I ask Jacki when she arrives.
"Remember my answer when you asked? It hasn't changed." Weeks ago, she informed me that she was shocked the first time she met Emily, as she took as a given that I had a raging case of the gay.
"I'm very heterosexual, though. I adore women."
Jacki motions to a table full of bottle blonde coeds across the cafe.
"Okay, not fair. I don't even think they are my species. I can't imagine they would be attracted to me."
"Because they are not obvious bisexuals?" she teases.
"Not exactly." Using the couch cushion as my continuum, I explain. "Here," I say, touching the left side, "is utter masculinity. And, on the right, is utter femininity. I'm here, a bit left of center. I can't relate to the complete left or complete right. I need a woman about here," I continue, touching a spot as right of center as I am left, next to a coffee stain. "Which probably accounts for my appeal to bisexuals. I have sufficient and unwitting feminine traits, such that Melanie claims she suspected I was a transsexual when she first started talking to me, but I am also a decently attractive man. I like being male, I'm good at it, though I suppose I would accept being female too if that suddenly happened. I can cuddle and examine feelings, then utterly rock a girl's world in bed. But I don't see the point in being attractive to those girls. They seem boring. And that one's shirt is really ugly."
"There is a tipping point," she says. "If someone is too feminine or too masculine, they aren't attractive to the opposite sex. A man having too chiseled a jaw and too thick a neck doesn't seem like he can protect your children, he looks like he is going to ax murder them. And a woman with with too big of eyes doesn't look young, she looks like a child. Or an alien. If you..."
"Butched it up?" I offer.
"Yes, if you butched it up to be attractive to girls like them, you wouldn't be you anymore."
I shrug. "I have no need to change how I am. I like me. They wouldn't, their loss." I do acknowledge - as I did a week before when Melanie pointed it out - that I am a little more exuberant since the breakup as a defense mechanism, but I am otherwise more aware of and comfortable with who I am than I have ever been.
My father had asked me how I could in good conscience say that Melanie taught me so much. I tell Jacki that it was because Melanie provided me a situation in which I could learn and grow on my own. Things between us felt so secure and loving for years so that, even when they didn't anymore, I did not lose the momentum of my confidence in continual growth.
This transitions into my feelings and behaviors in my relationship with Emily.
Jacki says, "I couldn't understand what you were doing when you flirted when you were with Emily. On the one hand, you seemed to love her and be so proud of her. On the other--"
"It was dirty," I interrupt. "I don't know what I was doing. But I would have been horrified if anyone tried to take me up on it. I was so relieved that I did not want to flirt when I was with Melanie. Monogamy tripped the right circuits in my brain. I was never as fulfilled as when I gave myself totally to Melanie. Before her, I understood that fathers would sacrifice their lives for their children, but it seemed slightly odd. I know that I would have taken a bullet for Melanie. I grok such a powerful love that you would do anything to keep that person in the world. I wouldn't sacrifice myself now, of course. Melanie needs to take her own bullets."
"She wasn't good to you. You gave and gave. I get that she supported your writing, but you need someone who is going to take care of you as much as you take care of them."
Sitting on this ratty couch in the Cafeteria, nestled close to Jacki because the frame is broken and the cushions threaten to absorb us if we are less than vigilant, it occurs to me that she could be kissed, in theory. She is soft and warm and smells right. I do not want to kiss her - she is one of my closest friends, is involved with John, I couldn't use her that way, kissing her for the sake of comfort and oblivion, it would be for all the wrong reasons, it would not mean what my next kiss must - but this serves as the canary in the mine of my skull. Something is not right, I am too vulnerable and hungry for proper affection. I must keep vigilant. Perhaps it is nothing more than sadness, resentment, and jealousy that Melanie is off on a booty call and made sure I knew. I am grateful that we are twice interrupted, once by a developmentally disabled, semi-drag queen named Ludwig (who is practically a New Paltz mascot) and once by a confused woman who I manage to find genuinely attractive (having continued my game of rejecting New Paltz women without speaking to them). Yes, I remember all at once, there are attractive women with whom I would not ruin a friendship by kissing. Though I am male enough that I understand the desire to hook up (my fantasies, having finally released the concept of Mellie-sexuality, now fixate on the variable nudity of strangers... and I rued when women started having faces), I am man enough to wait to be monogamous with the right woman.
"You make me feel less lonely. It is like we were socialized on the same planet," Jacki says, apropos of little.
"That's because we were raised by books, not our parents," I assure her.
"I think," she says, "that we should write the manuals for the other person's future partner. Or I should at least get to interview her. I'll be very stern."
"You had better be, I cannot afford another mistake."
Soon in Xenology: Coping.