Archive for the 'conversations' Category



I’ve written a lot here about my experiences trying to come out to my father’s side of the family, particularly my paternal grandmother. Short version: she doesn’t hear me, and even if she did, she wouldn’t want to talk about it.

That context makes a conversation I had with my maternal grandmother the other night even more lovely and refreshing. I already know she got it that I’m queer — she’d asked me what my “friend” did for a living, but I figured that was good enough. Then two nights ago we were talking about the small family get-together she’s planning. One of my favorite cousins is going to be in town briefly and has a couple of hours free Sunday morning, so we’re all going to my grandmother’s house so we can see her. Yay. And while we were working out the details, out of the blue, my grandmother says to me “You know, Aviva, I don’t know if your girlfriend is in town this weekend, but of course she’s invited.”



I can’t tell you how much I lit up. The moment I got off the phone I called Girlfriend, Esquire; I couldn’t wait to tell her. That step from knowing to accepting and welcoming feels warm and fuzzy and wonderful. I wish Girlfriend, Esq. was going to be in town this weekend (thought of course if she was I’d already have called and announced my intention to bring her). I’m almost upset that we’ll be away queer camping when the family gets together for Rush Hashanah, which is finally on a weekend. But I’ll bring her to something and introduce her around eventually. And it’s lovely that she’ll be actively invited, instead of me informing them she’s coming.

And it gets cuter. My grandmother continued on to tell me that she’s joined a mailing list for discount theater tickets, and ask me if there was anything I wanted to see. She made a point of telling me about The Temperamentals, a new play about the two men who founded the Mattachine Society.”It sounded interesting,” she told me, “I thought of you.” It does sound interesting, but I’m sure it was the gay premise that made her think of me. And, um, aw. I’m not the Mattachine Society’s biggest fan, but right now I am my grandmother’s.


Happy birthday to me! (Just sayin’.)

I went to a class on Friday on diplomacy and tact in relationships, as part of a conference I was attending. And then, of course, I was too busy being at a conference to post about it (and too busy last night sleeping 14 hours and recovering). But I noticed something really odd.

Because the class was about communication within relationships, it made sense that nearly all of the people who asked questions or participated in discussion referenced a partner. But the way they did so really threw me. Everyone who spoke up talked about a partner of a different gender, which for me is always startling enough. And with one exception, all of them did so without naming their relationship. They just dove right in with the pronouns. So, for example, a woman would raise her hand and say “It really drives him nuts when he can tell from my body language that I’m exasperated but I won’t talk to him about it.” Without ever saying “my partner” or “my husband” or “my boyfriend.” It was jarring. It felt both heteronormative and like starting a conversation in the middle. And, as a friend pointed out, it positions monogamy as normative as well.

It’s possible I marked this because it’s unusual. In part, it just felt like bad writing. It’s all wrong to use a pronoun that doesn’t refer back to anything. The natural response to someone starting to speak with “She thinks…” is “she who?” Because we haven’t been told yet. So maybe this is not indicative of a larger trend, only that I was in a room full of crazy people who aren’t great with language.

But that’s part of what heteronormativity is about for me. Everyone in that room was assuming that all I needed to know was that they were talking about someone of another gender, and I’d know we were discussing their partner. (Don’t these people have different-gender friends? Is their partner the only man/woman they ever talk about?)  Whereas I would never speak of anyone I was seeing without mentioning who exactly it was. When I talk about Girlfriend, Esq. (which I do, um, way too much) I say “my girlfriend” before I start referring to her as “she.” With people who already know her or know of her I use her name, but I still let them know who I’m talking about rather than making them figure it out from context. And if I’m not talking about Girlfriend, Esq. I make it even more clear. Even if the descriptor is just “the guy I hooked up with this weekend,” I give one before moving on to the pronouns. Hell, with some people I never move on to pronouns.

A friend pointed out that it’s also a very monogamous way to speak. It assumes that there’s one serious relationship in people’s lives, and so all we need to know is that they’re talking about a partner. Then we’ll automatically know which partner and what place they hold in the speaker’s life. We won’t need to be told which partner, because people only have one, right? Which is extra weird, since even monogamous people could be in a new relationship, and established marriage, or anywhere in between. But no, apparently the gender of the person being talked about should be all I need in order to infer everything else I need to know. It should be the only context I require. I must have missed the memo on how to do that.

Come to think of it, because of where I was sitting I couldn’t always see the person who was speaking. So the “him” could have been paired with a nod of the head to the man next to the woman who was speaking, and no one else would have found the phrasing odd. But even that seems like it would come with a slight emphasis that I would have heard. I’m fairly good at picking up things like that in people’s voices. Instead I felt like everyone had started talking in the middle of their thought.

What do you think? Are these people weird? Am I crazy? Is this just the way people talk, and I’ve never noticed? Is it just the way straight people talk, and I’ve been surrounding myself with queers so long that I’ve forgotten? ‘Cause I found it really, really weird, and as far as I know I’m the only one who did.


Encounters (or: This is me ignoring Freedom to Marry Week)

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.