Sunday, June 16, 2013

Closeted Heterosexual

I've made a decision.  Well, more than that, I've already acted upon it.  As far as my neighbors are concerned, I am a woman who is very happy with her long-term girlfriend.  No, friends, I have not found a significant other.  Let me back up a bit.

I've lived in my apartment complex for 10 months and will be renewing my lease shortly.  It's a very convenient location, in my budget, and a well cared for property.  Many of the neighbors are friendly, or at least polite.  A good portion of the children are well monitored and well behaved (though there are days I want to smack either the parents or the younglings)  In that time, several men have flirted with me and/or asked me out.  More often than not, their attentions have been rude in addition to being unwanted.

Rude how?  Well, first there's the man who pulled up alongside me in his car and told me he was "digging the no-bra look" while I was out walking my dog one afternoon.  It was a rare day off last October; I had just gotten up from a nap on a beautiful warm afternoon, and hadn't bothered getting fully dressed to take my Labrador retriever out for all of 15 minutes so she could relieve herself.  I wasn't embarrassed, but definitely uncomfortable and didn't know how to respond.  What made that particular experience even tackier was the presence of two child seats and girl toddler toys in the back of the dark green explorer.  I'm sure he would want someone approaching his little girl[s] the same way.  A few times since he has honked at me when I've been out walking J.

Another car incident: the man last month who was 50 if he was a day, yelling out his window at me as I crossed the street asking if I had a boyfriend because if not, he wants to "get to know me better".  Let me add here that I'm 34, and on any average day I look anywhere from 5-8 years younger than that.  Then there are the men who, when we formally introduce ourselves and shake hands, don't want to give me my hand back.  Then I'm faced with the decision of waiting it out, asking for my hand back, or taking it back forcibly.  That has happened three times, and each time the individual in question has held onto my hand for a good minute.

A few weeks ago another neighbor flirted with me.  I flirted back a little.  I wasn't interested in him, but I'm not sure how to respond when this happens.  Reciprocating even weakly seems the polite thing to do.  Of course, that might give the impression that I'm interested, which doesn't help me any.  I'm discovering I'm not comfortable interacting with these men, but more on that later.  A few days afterwards he met me outside and gave me his phone number, asking me to call him.  He at least had the decency to say he would like to take me out.  I had the feeling he had been watching/waiting for me, because he came outside as we approached the building.  If you live on the bottom cul-du sac (consisting of 12 units with 7 apartments apiece) you know where the white lady with the large white dog lives.  We stand out, in part because I am a minority in this area.  My building also has one of the few laundry facilities, so more people are in and around my building than other parts of the campus.  It's entirely possible he WAS doing laundry, but it felt contrived.  Anyway, he figured out what unit we are in and a few days later there was a note outside my front door.  Again with his phone number, also his name this time, and him saying that he hopes to get 'that phone call' soon.

THAT creeped me out.  I actually locked the door every time I came back inside the next few days, which I NEVER do during daylight hours.  When I picked up the note, the energetic ooze hit my system like bad food.  I've imprisoned the paper in a plastic bottle (plastic has absolutely NO natural energy, and is thus majikally null. Makes it excellent for containing nastiness) until I can dispose of it safely.

Thankfully he hasn't bothered me since.  The only thing that has kept me from feeling out and out threatened during these incidents is that my dog has been with me each time.  If something escalated, I know J would have defended me.  We have started reviewing certain commands recently.  Specifically, the subtle hand signal that signals her to growl or bark depending on the level of discomfort she senses from me.

Then last night, a man I speak with frequently started being more obvious about his hints.  I didn't even think about my decision, it was already firm in my mind.  And to be honest it's been kicking around in the back of my head for awhile.  He asked if I lived with my girlfriend.  Most likely he was referring to my female roommate.  I clarified that I lived with my roommate and then proceeded to lie, saying my girlfriend lives south and I see her one to three times per week when she comes in to town for work related things.  He said, "So you don't have a boyfriend?"  I responded, "No, I don't need a boyfriend.  I have a girlfriend."

He got the hint.

To be fair, this particular neighbor has never made me uncomfortable or felt predatory.  He's around outside a lot and I don't think he has a job.  All hours, as early as 7am and as late as midnight.  Always with his shorts hanging down and always in a white, sleeveless undershirt.  I have a large dog who goes out a minimum of 3x/day with me.  Much more often when I'm home for the day and it's nice weather.  She and I both like to be outside, and if she doesn't have to hold her bladder/bowels on days I'm home, I don't like to make her.  I run into him a lot because he's home and lives in the adjacent building.  We make small talk.

But my point-- I'm pretty sure that for that particular individual, he is what might be described a scrub.  He doesn't work and has several kids, who aren't with him full time.  For those two reasons alone, he isn't date material.

I've come to the conclusion these not so classy individuals in my neighborhood think I'm an easy target.  A woman with low self-esteem happy to take whatever breadcrumbs thrown her way.  Why?  First, I'm an overweight white woman.  Say what we will about stereotyping, there is a decent group of large white women who date skinnier black men.  Also, I live in a poorer neighborhood.  Poorer women tend to have less education and opportunities in general.  Next, there are periods of time when I am home a LOT.  Breaks from school and the like.  When I'm home, I'm outside with J weather permitting.  Walking around or just sitting enjoying the weather.  Gaia has given us a lot of unseasonably warmth in Metro Saint Louis the last 8 months.

But lastly, and probably most significantly, I am very clothing casual when home.  I would wear less if doing so didn't make my roommate uncomfortable.  One of the first things I do when I get home for the day is remove shoes and bra.  I don't even don a bra on days I never leave the house.  (and by house I mean the apartment campus)  On those days I wear house clothes, which usually consists of older ratty clothes and/or pj bottoms.  Also, I often change into house clothes when I get home for the day.  That way my nicer things last longer and I can often get at least one more wear out of a top, sometimes two to three wears out of a pair of pants before laundering them.  First thing in the morning and/or last thing in the evening (non-winter weather) I will take Joanie outside in my nightgown.  Shoes?  Forget it.  I'm fully covered and really don't care that much.

So it stands to reason that when I'm outside I often look like what might be termed poor white trash.  For these reasons, I'm theorizing that I've been labeled a woman with little to no self-respect. 

Yet another reason I'm more of a country/small town girl, I can GO outside half dressed (at least in my own backyard) and barefooted if I want and no one cares, looks surprised, or automatically assumes I'm uneducated or hard-up.  Or if they do care, they ignore it and keep their mouth shut. 

I'm also realizing that my lack of clothing (especially pants) makes me feel more vulnerable when these men approach me.  And, of course, I am!  I know this logically.  One reason I am infinitely more emotionally comfortable in pants/shorts than a skirt is because it's easier to rape a woman in a skirt.  That's not paranoia but a logistical fact.  I do enjoy long skirts, truly, and have some nice skirts and dresses (most of which I can't fit into at present), but I'm selective about when I wear them.

For now, though, it is just more convenient for me to wear pants all the time.  I don't own a car so as a Metro girl I'm running around who knows where how often.  Good, flat, footwear so I can run to make a connection if I need to.  In pants I don't have to worry as much about how I'm sitting, climbing in and out of the bus (TALL steps there, folks) or bending over in general.  The fact that it might make me physically safer, and makes me more comfortable emotionally are just happy bonuses.  And I've mentioned my preference for convenience in regards to my wardrobe many times on this blog.

Circling back to my emotional discomfort-- I'm having difficulty saying I'm not interested.  Or disengaging from these men and I'm not entirely sure why.  I'm reminded of when I was abroad in Northern Spain at age 19.  Thin, curvy, attractive American blonde.  I STOOD OUT.  Partially because I obviously screamed foreign student with my clothes (cargo pants, t-shirt, light-weight canvas hiking jacket and backpack), but also because my hair was VERY blonde in those days.  And very long.  A high ponytail fell all the way to my shoulder blades.  During my three weeks in Oviedo, I saw only two other blonde women.

On several occasions when going into churches to look at the art and architecture, men standing at the doors accosted me.  The typical translation was "Hey, Blondie, wanna fuck?"  I would smile nervously and quickly walk past.  Whether or not they thought I understood wasn't the point, although they may not have been that explicit if they did.  Were that to happen now, I'd give a nasty retort.  The Spanish equivalent of 'do you kiss your mother with that mouth'?

I'm trying to figure out where this passivity has come from.  At 19 I wasn't in touch with my sexuality or power as a female in any way, shape, or form.  These days I sometimes go through periods of near a-sexuality, but meek?  ME?!  Being uncomfortable is one thing, not standing up for myself is another.

For awhile I thought maybe I was uncomfortable because most (all but one, in fact) of these men are black.  I grew up in an all white town and have had exactly one date with a black man.  The entire time I was uncomfortable, thinking people were looking at us.  Which of course they WEREN'T.  But it was so outside my previous realm of experience.  And I admit it took me awhile to feel 'normal' around a lot of black people when I moved to Metro Saint Louis.  It's not that I didn't know several, successful black adults growing up.  Our parents made sure of that.  Apparently at age 5 I thought all physicians were old, white men.  Somehow my mother scraped together money for an unnecessary eye exam with the new optometrist she had just seen.  A young, black female.  From there on, all of our medical professionals were people of color, except my teenage PCP who was a white female.  My parents didn't want us being poisoned by small mind mentality.  My grandparents have several bi-racial couples in their circle of close friends that I grew up seeing at holidays and celebrations, and my parents each have a few good friends who have been over for dinner and family activities.

I think the difference there, though, was they were family friends.  I knew them that way, and they were all working professionals like my parents/grandparents.  That made them like 'us'.  (Which of course they ARE).  I watched the Cosby show growing up, loving every minute of it, and learned that the Cosby family was just like mine.  As an adult I really appreciate the racial diversity of all the kids' friends.  So it's not that I saw black people differently, it's that my socialization was limited.  Plus the latent prejudices among some members of my home town and how much of my media access presented them as other.

When I started working with a lot of black women three years ago, I realized and knew my privilege as an educated, middle-class, white female.  I was afraid of saying the wrong thing and being offensive!  There wasn't just the cultural difference of black and white there, but urban and rural.  With time I got over it.  I haven't owned a vehicle for three years.  Mass transit, particularly in my part of town, is predominantly used by black people.  I've gotten over my fear of saying the wrong thing.

But I've figured it out.  It's not that those men (all but one) were black, it's that they are PREDATORY.  I don't know why this obvious fact took so long to surface.  An epiphany that shouldn't have needed to occur.  Let's look at the facts: my neighborhood is probably 90% black.  Not just African-American, there's a healthy amount of African immigrants here, too.  I'm fine being a minority.  Most of the people here that I interact with on a regular basis are kind, hardworking individuals.  They have jobs and families.  One gentleman always calls me young-lady (60 if he's a day) and I don't take offense.  I know it's generational and cultural for him, but I ALSO know that for him it's a sign of respect.  Young lady.  I've noticed he doesn't necessarily address several other women in my age range (or younger) that way.  Plus, young lady!  I'm at an age where I appreciate that now. 

Understanding it doesn't help me with asserting my self-worth when these asshats act inappropriately though.  Becoming a closet heterosexual might be seen as a cop-out.  It's been called to my attention by more than one friend that claiming to be a lesbian with a girlfriend might not solve the issue.  From an assertion standpoint it certainly doesn't.  If another man decides to press the issue though, asking if he can watch, or saying something about needing a real man or whatever, I have a few ready responses.

IE-- can I come, watch, et al:

"Why on earth would I even bring something like that up to her [my girlfriend]?  And why would you say that to me?! It's disrespectful.  She has no interest in dick and I CERTAINLY don't have any interest in yours."

My cousin, Cleo, who grew up in Detroit added this piece of wisdom: "If you really want to shame a black man, ask him if his grandmama knows he speaks to a lady like that". 

I'll keep that in mind.  But for now I've chosen to be a closet heterosexual in my neighborhood.  It did the trick last night.  And I'll probably put a pair of shorts on under my nightgown for awhile.  At least until I find my spine.

***side note-- I love the idea of the terminology, being a closeted heterosexual.  I got the idea from an Iowa politician many years ago.  I've tried finding his name/the speech online and can't! :(  In the 1990's a white, male state rep in Iowa gave a speech on the Iowa House floor.  In it he came out as a heterosexual.  Using that metaphor.  It was very moving and very well done, bravely holding bigots in the state of Iowa accountable for their fear and hatred.  If I can find it, I'll post a link.  Or you if find it, please sent it my way.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

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