Walking through the Union Square Greenmarket the other day, I paused to look at the price list for fresh dairy. I noticed that the guy leaning against the sign was watching me looking, but I’ve been meaning to buy milk at the Greenmarket for a while, and I haven’t had a chance to get there before they leave for the day. So of course, I stood there long enough that he decided to speak to me. The conversation went something like this:
Him: Excuse me, sweetie, can I ask you a question?
Me, in my are-you-really-talking-to-me-on-the-street? tone: Sure…
Him, gesturing at my rainbow shoelaces: That means gay, right? It means you’re a lesbian?
Me: Yeah… [And right after I posted about this, too! But the rules are all different when a strange man is trying to pick you up on the street. I say I’m married if they ask that, too.]
Him: Well, let me ask you…is there one like that that means bisexual?
Me, boggling: Yeah, there is. It’s pink, purple, and blue, but people don’t use it nearly as much.
Him: ‘Cause I don’t want to disrespect you by telling you you’re beautiful, ’cause you’re not into guys, right?
Me: Well, no, but I appreciate the compliment. [Oops, I encouraged! Bad female socialization! But I could see my escape at that point…]
Him: Well, you’re beautiful.
Me: Thank you. Have a lovely day!
Then I went and bought my carrots and sweet potatoes, and went to a friend’s place to make dinner (carrot salad and coconut and sweet potato soup…mmm). The funniest part is that a few minutes later I realized he was really cute. It’s so instinctive for me to brush people off when they approach me randomly that it didn’t cross my mind not to. I’m not losing any sleep over my lost opportunity, though. I don’t like most people enough to date them; guys who approach women randomly on the street don’t, statistically, have a good chance.
I was so tickled by him asking if there’s a way people advertise that they’re bisexual, though. It’s kinda charming and adorable that he wanted to know which girls who like girls it’s okay to hit on, and that he wanted to respect lesbians’ sexual orientation by not trying to flirt with them. Pretty enlightened. It only occurred to me later that I could have told him truthfully that the rainbow is not only used by gays and lesbians but also by bisexuals, trans folks, some intersexed people and asexuals, etc. But that would have betrayed the prime directive of not letting strange men think I’m available to them. As a woman living in New York City, I have to have priorities.
Later that night, though, I had another odd but charming encounter where I got to be much more complex. There were five or six totally adorable young black gay men being the life of the party on the train as I was going home. When the girls they were chatting with got off the train one of them turned to me. I don’t remember exactly what he asked me — this is why I should write conversations down as soon as I have them! — but I responded “Actually, I like my men queer.” He went off on a whole spiel about how I should be careful dating a gay man because the next thing I knew he’d be sneaking around wearing my panties. One of the others overheard and joined in, asking if I had said I like to date gay men. “I like queer girls, I like queer boys…I just like queers,” I answered. I think most of this got lost in the noise of the train, though, because they started asking me whether I just wasn’t attracted to masculine men, pointing out several guys on the train and asking “So, you’re not into a guy like that?” I refused to rate strangers — it’s rude, and besides, that way lies the trouble of letting strange men know you might be available to them — and instead said, “I’m just not that straight guys, I like my partners to be queer. I’m a dyke!” They loved that, and all of them had to high-five me — they, apparently, hadn’t spotted the rainbow laces. For my part, I was pleased to have had a chance to make my queerness that visible. I didn’t let myself be summarized as a fag hag, and I really enjoyed making a point of being attracted men as part of being queer. “Dyke” isn’t a word I normally identify with, possibly partially due to spending six months with someone who constantly told me I wasn’t one because I’m not a lesbian (thanks! What was I doing in that relationship again?), but in this context it felt like it combined with what I’d already said to convey the complexity it’s always so difficult to get across in a brief statement. And of course I enjoyed the queer solidarity, the way I instantly became one of the gang when they realized I’m not straight either.
All in all it was an interesting day. Sometimes I love New York.