Thoughts

The 15 Days of Being Single

I am a serial monogamist.

For a long time, I treated this label like an insult, akin to being called “loser” “clingy” “codependent.” Then, over the years, I not only began to accept it, but began to embrace it. I started to feel like maybe this wasn’t a negative boxing, but a preprogramming in my DNA that leads me to nest with someone the minute I get naked with them. On my second date with my last girlfriend, which, I feel like I should add lasted 22 hours straight and resulted in the queerest, most u-hauly sleepover ever, I cheekily outed myself while driving her back from one of the bars we’d just left. “Serial monogamist, right here,” I said, laughing nervously. “Me too. Oh well.” We smiled, and the hidden context was clear— you may now pass GO, you may now move at lightening speed to your joint bank accounts, pet coparenting and adopted Chinese babies. The relationship took off from there in no time, and within a couple of months (okay, weeks really) I was madly, totally, head-over-heels, never-felt-this-before in love with this woman, who I’ll call Lauren. Everything was perfect. And our habits of serial monogamy not only felt acceptable, but felt like a positive.

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My entire life (my entire queer life, that is) people would criticize me for leap-frogging from one relationship into another. “Take some time alone,” they’d say. “You need to be single.” These unsolicited comments from friends, family, the homeless guy down the street, or whoever felt like that had license to give me life advice, initially irritated me. I didn’t want to be single. Being single was boring. And lonely. In short, fuck that. And yet, part of me knew they weren’t wrong. But after a failed marriage that left me shaken and questioning my entire future, I welcomed love back in with open arms, relieved that I still had a shot at kids, a family, the white picket fence— the works. This last relationship represented all of that to me.

In true queer-fashion, I thought this was it. At 32, I’d left so many broken hearts in my wake that one girl even dedicated the song “Jar of Hearts” to me. I’d cheated. More than once. Way more than once, actually. And I’d managed to disregard any and all feelings that were not directly my own. In short, I’d spent the greater part of three decades being impossibly selfish. After the dissolution of my marriage, I thought I’d learned my lesson. I was crushed that I’d failed my wife— this amazing woman I’d sworn my life to— and by the time I met Lauren, I felt like I’d done all the growth I needed, and the stars were finally lining up for me.

But the stars do not work that way. It turns out, the stars are a cosmic bitch, actually. I thought I’d earned this relationship with all of the soul-searching I’d had to do after my divorce. Stars, fate, God, the universe, mother nature, Allah, spirits, whatever, didn’t give a single fuck about the work I’d done. After 7 months together, Lauren broke it off in what would turn out to be the most heartbreaking, life-altering ending of any relationship I’ve ever had. Those 7 months with her were spent with night after night in my bed, where she quickly took over at least one drawer, my entire laundry basked and part of my always-packed coat closet. We had plans. We were going to have kids. They were going to keep my name, although she would never change hers. We were going to move to the suburbs in the fall. I was happy— maybe even happier than I’ve ever been.

I’ve only really been broken up with once before. And that was five years ago, by a girl I dated for two months who really wasn’t my type and didn’t do a whole lot for me. When she left me for another girl, I was butt-hurt for about three seconds, and then promptly moved on. So breaking up with Lauren was jarring, to say the least. And why we broke up, I firmly choose to believe, comes down largely on the fact I have never been alone.

So why should any of you give a shit about my newfound aloneness? Because I know I’m not alone in this. And I hope someone out there can get something out of this without having to learn this lesson the hard way. I hope I can learn the lessons for you. I’ve spent the last 10 years in relationships. And today is my 15th day of being single.

I know that doesn’t sound like a lot to most of you. But if I really look back on it, 15 days is probably the longest I’ve ever been truly alone. There hasn’t been a time when I didn’t have a fall back after ending a relationship— usually an ex, or someone I could run back to that would fill the gap. Now, I have no one. The hearts I’ve broken have all healed and moved on to greener pastures, which, I am surprisingly happy about. Besides, I have no interest in reliving the past. Tinder, Bumble, and a bunch of other dating apps I didn’t even know existed have been downloaded to my phone, but I hardly use them. And when I do, they’re lack-luster and almost make me feel worse about being alone.

It’s only been 15 days, but they have been the 15 longest days of my life. I understand now, to a degree, what addicts go through with sobriety. I have, in fact, been a relationship addict my entire gay life. And now, I’m breaking that cycle. I’m collecting my 15 day chip.

In honor of the upcoming holiday, I will summarize it like this:

On the first day of being single, the bastard fates/universe/God/whatever gave to me a broken heart, a lot of crying, and convincing myself this couldn’t possibly be the end.

On the second day of being single, the bastard fates/universe/blah blah blah gave to me a few less tears, a little more hope, and the feeling that maybe, possibly, I might gain something from this mess.

On the ninth day of being single, all that shit above gave to me the sense that I actually do need to be alone. That I need to learn how to like myself enough without the help of others. That looking for constant validation from my relationships is wearing and exhausting, and until I am okay enough with me, I’m always going to be looking for that from someone else.

On the tenth day… a lot of anger. Like, a lot. Let’s just say I’m out one iPhone 7 which was casually tossed across the room in a fit of rage, resulting in a very expensive tempter tantrum.

On the fifteenth day of being single, this is what’s been given to me: the ability to self-care. Since I’ve been alone, I’ve purchased 4 new jackets (one of which is Burberry), a brand new iPhone X, a new tattoo, and just about anything else I felt like. My rule of thumb has been Buy Whatever Makes Me Feel Good. I have a good paying job, and if spending money is going to soothe some of my angst and provide some comfort, I figure it could be worse. I could be drowning myself in whiskey, sex, or worse. If a little credit card debt is the worst thing that comes out of this, I’ll count that as a win.

I’ve also learned something very important: I have people. I’ve reconnected with friends who I haven’t seen in ages, because I’ve been so wrapped up in my relationship. I’ve fortified new friendships. I’ve surrounded myself with people who love me, and appreciate me for who I am. And for the first time in my life, that has felt more than fulfilling.

 

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Rely on people who have been there for you, even when you haven’t been (featured: my friend and coworker Rachel at our hospital holiday party last week)

I’m not going to sit here and tell all of you serial monogamists to please stand up, end your relationship, or stop looking for one, and travel down this road of loving yourself with me. It took me a decade to be ready for this, and even now, I had to be forced. I’m also not saying it’s easy. In fact, I’d dare say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I’ve literally sliced into people’s rectums with scalpels). I struggle every day, every moment of every day really, to remind myself that I am good enough. That I don’t need to be desired or wanted or pined after to know that. And everyday it gets a little easier. I’ve learned to sit in the discomfort of being alone. The discomfort of not having that go-to person to text about your day. The silence from my cell phone (which has proven very unsettling at times). The terror of sleeping by myself. I’ve learned that Lauren breaking up with me was not because I wasn’t attractive enough, or smart enough, or interesting enough. It was because she simply couldn’t love me enough for both of us. But the hardest part has been reminding myself that, even if she did break up with me because I just wasn’t “the one,” that is not a reflection on the rest of my life.

So, if you, fellow serial monogamist queers, find yourself in this similar situation someday, know that there is good to come from it. There are lessons to be learned. The tears and the anger and the discomfort will give you the strength and the resilience to be better the next time, and, more importantly, to know there will be a next time. Even if that next time isn’t right now.

 

In Honor of Friday the 13th– 13 Things that Suck About Being Butch

(In Honor of Friday the 13th) 13 Things that Suck About Being Butch:

1. Those shoes you love? Yeah, they only come as small as a size 7.
2. Those women in the public bathroom who stare at you like they’ve just seen Whitie Bulger peeing next to them.
3. Your mother constantly adding the word “actually” to every compliment– “I ACTUALLY really like that jacket”– as if she’s shocked your diversion from gender binaries could ACTUALLY look good.
4. Any and all straight girls who ask you where all the “cute lesbians are.” (Hello, I’m standing right here, dummy).
5. Online dating. Okay, so this sucks for most people. But admit it, every time a hot girl’s profile says “I only like femmes,” a little part of you dies.
6. Shopping. You have hips. And boobs. And if a shirt fits you around those, it probably won’t anywhere else.
7. Anyone who tells you “you’d look great if you grew your hair out/put on some makeup/wore a dress.”
8. The random asshole who feels the need to comment on your attire (ie “Nice tie.” Thanks for the clever, bigoted back handed compliment, dick hole.)
9. Getting mistaken for a teenage boy. Yeah, it’s been a while since this has happened to me, but when I was student teaching in college, a faculty member at the middle school I was working at actually took me for one of his young, male students. The male part didn’t bother me as much as the adolescent part, I think. Still, I could get rich from all the times I’ve inadvertently impersonated Justin Bieber.
10. Being called “sir.” So, this one isn’t really fair. I mean, what else do we expect when we dress in men’s clothing, have short hair, etc. It bothers me less now than it used to. But sometimes it still makes me squirm.
11. Those who get butch and transgender horribly skewed. Yes, I wear men’s clothing. Yes, I have short hair. No, I do not want top surgery. No, I do not think I am a man. Please stop reminding me of such. Thanks.
12. Interviews. Fuck my life, interviews are horrible when you’re a butch. I remember interviewing for PA school, and actually waking up in a cold sweat because of this. On the one hand, the fact of the matter is some people will judge you on your clothes. And if I happened to get paired up with a conservative, homophobic interviewer, this could easily have been the end of my dreams. On the other hand… no one wants to accept or hire someone who’s clearly ragingly uncomfortable in their own skin. I went out and bought a women’s pant suit, but actually ended up wearing my favorite men’s suit from Zara, finally concluding that I didn’t want to go to a school that refused me based on my clothes. Fortunately, I was accepted to a super-liberal, homo-loving school, and I’m pretty sure my extremely well tailored men’s suit sealed the deal. Lesson? Be yourself. Still, that doesn’t help alleviate the anxiety I feel when I have to dress for a meeting/funeral/wedding/etc and don’t know my audience. In summary… SUCK.
13. But the reality is… BEING BUTCH IS AWESOME. It’s awesome because it’s who we are. And all those other 12 things are insignificant inconveniences compared to not being yourself. Besides… we could be living twenty or thirty years ago, where our lives were at risk for being out. For every size 7 shoe out there that doesn’t fit, there’s a European brand who’s making tinier versions for men and butches of smaller stature. For every hot femme who says she’s only into long haired, leggy blonds, there are at least two more who find your butch swagger and dude-button-downs ridiculously sexy. For every time your mom says you “actually” look good, I bet she also says she wouldn’t want you any other way. And for every time someone makes a snide comment about your tie, there are ten people who tell you how fucking dapper you are.

Just a reminder on this traditionally cursed day of Friday the 13th AND a full moon– keep your heads high, friends. We’re alright.

My Brush with a Terrorist- Watertown, MA One Year Later

 

My Brush with a Terrorist (and How it Changed my Life)– The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing and Watertown Terrorist Attack.

 

The day I realized I was in love with my girlfriend, Jillian, we almost died.

April 15, 2013 started out, like it did for everyone in Boston, as the perfect spring day. After a brutal winter, it felt like the sun had finally decided to show its face, and Jill and I decided to try to take in one of the first Red Sox games of the season. We sat in Fenway Park, eating hot dogs and watching Dustin Pedroia smack the ball over the Monster. The sky was clear– the weather almost ironically pristine considering the events that followed. Life didn’t get much better. We talked about the future, and the kids we both wanted, and all the things we wanted for ourselves, and for each other. And when the last ball was hit, we decided to take a walk down Boylston Street to take in a little bit of the Boston Marathon.

 

This picture was taken at the Red Sox Game right before the bombing.

This picture was taken at the Red Sox Game right before the bombing.

This was only my second Patriot’s Day (a holiday we, in Massachusetts, made up, because we decided we can do that kind of thing) in Boston, and I’d always wanted to watch these crazies who actually choose to run twenty six plus miles straight. Around 2:30pm, we settled in at mile marker 25, pushing our way through the massive swells of people to cheer on the runners. At 3:00pm, we decided to head home, beginning our trek back to the car which was parked several blocks away. Still immersed in the crowds and sounds and excitement, I didn’t think much of it when I heard a paramedic say “well we’d have to stop the whole race and turn everyone around.”
As we got closer to the car, a few scattered pedestrians were running and shouting into their cellphones. Police car after police car wailed down the streets. I told Jill it was probably a false alarm. That these kinds of things happen all the time in EMS. And then, a man on his phone ran by shouting about a bomb exploding in the Prudential building. I squinted straight ahead, the Prudential building looming in the foreground, looking for any sign of fire or smoke.There was nothing. Yeah. Probably just a false alarm
We picked up our pace, though, because I told Jill this was all “just a little too 9-11 for me.” It wasn’t until we flipped through Twitter that we found out the truth– two bombs had exploded at the finish line of the Marathon. Less than a mile from where we’d been standing.
Jill and I were lucky that day. Certainly much luckier than the hundreds of injured, and the three who lost their lives. And there are much more heroic and harrowing Marathon stories than ours. But this isn’t a story about that day.
I mention that day only because we escaped what was a horrible, life changing moment for so many, and could have been for us as well. And because I knew, that day, that I loved Jill. I’d known for a while, actually. In fact, really, I knew back in February, during the northeast’s epic three foot snow storm, where we stayed in together all weekend, made beef borigone and drank too much wine. But I hadn’t told her. Because it was insanely too soon… And also, because it could wait. On April 15, though, when we finally made it back to the safety and comfort of her Watertown home, it couldn’t wait.
Of course, I didn’t tell her. Days went by, and though the tragedy of the bombings didn’t ebb, my immediate feelings of mortality did. There was time again. Time for the perfect moment, time to make sure she felt the same… Wasn’t there time?
It was just after 11pm on Thursday the 18th. Jill and I were fast asleep already, preparing for an early work day, when several incoming text messages jarred us both awake. I tried to ignore them, but a few minutes later, she called for me, the fear immediately evident. Her friend in California had been watching the news. A shooter was at large in sleepy little Watertown. We rushed to the living room and turned on the television, while I insisted on keeping all of the lights off. If there really was a killer out there, I didn’t want him to know we were home.
Watertown is small. Very small, actually. And not the kind of place you’d ever expect to house an international terrorist. Jillian’s mother grew up there. And her parents, and their parents. The last thing anyone expected was for the Tzarnaev brothers to end their murderous rampage there.
We spent the rest of the night holed up in the bedroom, the house pitch black, listening to news reports on the static of Jill’s laptop. Over and over again we heard police warning residents not to leave their houses or answer their doors for anyone, and stay away from the windows. Meanwhile, a few streets down, word got to us that the older of the two brothers, who we’d just learned were the suspected Marathon bombers, had been shot and killed. And Zhocar Tsarnaev was still on the run… In our town… Maybe even in our back yard. It was the most terrifying night of my life. Something about hiding in a dark house, with nothing but the crackle of what sounded like an old radio telling us there was a nut job on the loose trying to kill us was more than a little unsettling.
Morning came, and with it, a little bit of reprieve from the terror that had haunted us. Tsarnaev was still out there, and the town, as well as the greater Boston area, was on a mandatory lockdown. We didn’t go outside that day, but pictures shown on the news later displayed an eerily almost post-apocalyptic Copley Plaza, with not a soul on the streets. The shelter-in-place order remained for the entire day, while we eagerly watched the events unfold on TV. Just outside Jill’s bedroom window, SWAT teams armed with enormous assault riffles had taken over the streets, and armored cars and tanks were the only vehicles on the roads. Helicopters buzzes overhead. It was a scene out of a movie. One that I really never wanted to see.
Around 5:00pm, the Governor announced a lifting of the ban, and Jill and I debated leaving the house to go to the grocery store. I was changing my clothes when she shouted to me from the living room. Several police and SWAT trucks had pulled up on our street.

The scene from outside our house.

The scene from outside our house.

“It’s probably just another false alarm,” I reassured her. But as I looked out the window, more and more officers were arriving, until both our street, and the cross street were full. In a matter of minutes, each officer left their vehicle and ran down Franklin Street, riffles pointed ahead, yelling orders we couldn’t hear. The news, which was still on in the background, reported a breaking story: “body found in Watertown back yard.”
My first, and most horrific thought, was that Tsarnaev had invaded Jill’s neighbor’s house, and killed them. And then, the news quickly revealed the body was found in the neighbor’s boat. And whoever it was, was still alive.
But we didn’t have time to hear anymore before the first round of twenty to thirty gunshots shattered the air. Even growing up in rural New Hampshire, I’d heard only a handful of gunshots in my life, and they were all hunting riffles. Jill’s upstairs apartment was tiny, with windows throughout the living room, the kitchen, the bedroom, and even the bathroom. I searched frantically for a safe place to bring us, where one of what was probably many stray bullets wouldn’t make its way into Jill’s house. Even the hallway was in the direct line of fire. So I grabbed Jill and pulled her into the only confined space I could think off– the bedroom closet (I know, the irony…). She still laughs at me today for this, but I hold to my decision. We closed the door as best we could while I held her, waiting for the noise to stop. When it finally did, we ventured out, trying to decide what to do next. Jill called her downstairs neighbors to check on them. They were in the basement.
“Can we get there from here?” I asked. We could. But we’d have to leave the apartment, and enter the downstairs unit first. We made our way as quickly as we could, managing to make it down stairs before the firestorm started again. As we huddled in the basement with her neighbors, listening to the news stream on a laptop, we waited. More explosions echoed outside the walls, and then, the news feed cut out. Family and friends who knew we were on Franklin Street were calling and texting, keeping us updated on what was happening right outside the door. It had come out that Tsarnaev was the body in the neighbor’s boat. And he was alive, and desperate. We hatched our escape plan incase the gas tank on the boat that Tsarnaev was hiding in exploded (a possibility that had seemed likely to the news at the time). I held Jill, my arms shaking violently. I’d never felt death quite so close as I did that night. I loved her. And I hadn’t told her. There wasn’t time. And now, we were going to die.
After what felt like days, the noises stopped, and our family on the outside confirmed what we’d felt was impossible. Tsarnaev was in custody, and no one else had been injured.
When it was safe, we left the confines of the basement, and took to the streets with every other resident of Watertown to watch the police cars and ambulance take away the man who had terrorized a city, a country, and now just a tiny town.
We didn’t die that day. But I did tell Jill I loved her the very next morning. What happened on April 15th was a tragedy. And what happened on April 19th was the subsequent triumphing of good over evil. I still choke up when I remember the feeling of standing next to her on what is now our front porch, watching the first responders clear our street. There were a lot of lessons to come out of such a horrible week in the great city of Boston. But the most important I took away was not to wait. Because there isn’t always going to be time. And you may not get the chance to say that thing you were too afraid to say.
A couple of months later, I moved into that same house on Franklin Street. And I will never again wait to tell her how I feel.

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On Growing up a Gay Republican

I have a confession to make– a deeply hidden, humiliating secret on par with heroine abuse, or that time in middle school you got all the way onto the bus before realizing you weren’t wearing any pants. In the 2004 presidential election between John Kerry and George W. Bush, I voted for Bush. Sure, I’m making light of it now. But truth be told, there are many times when I’ve had to live with the guilt of helping put a man in office who goes against nearly everything I stand for now. So why did I do it, then?

28 years ago, I was born into an extremely conservative Evangelical family. My father was the Minister of Music at the local Evangelical church. His parents were Evangelical. And my mother, having married into the family, more or less adopted the Evangelical church as well. When my brother and I were little, we went to church every Sunday. My father read the Bible every morning at 5am over coffee (still does, as far as I know). Christmas and Easter were absolutely about Jesus’ birth and subsequent death/resurrection. And the often unspoken values of the church were always quietly present in our house. Let me explain what I mean by that. My father is an introvert, if ever there were an introvert. He rarely lectured or spat hell-fire and damnation. He didn’t have to. His beliefs– the church’s beliefs– were always there. It was the sort of conservative pink elephant in the room that sat in the corner and listened to make sure my brother or I didn’t cuss or watch anything on MTV. The few times he did speak up usually involved his feelings on Magic Cards and Harry Potter (neither of which my brother or I were allowed to get involved with because it was “dark sourcery”) and other relatively benign things like that. We didn’t talk about sex (in fact, I don’t think my Dad’s ever talked about sex… even with himself). And when my brother started having it, he just cleared his throat in disapproval and turned the other cheek.

In many ways, what my father did was more painful than any shouting or damnation. It was his quiet disapproval (often only evident by the above throat clearing that’s become so synonymous with him among our family) that alienated me from my real self for so many years. My father is a wonderful man. He’s been hands down the best Dad to his two children. He was at every sporting event and play he could get to. He came home for dinner every night and hugged us. He’s loving and supportive and would do absolutely anything for us. I still get a message from him every year saying “you’ll always be my Valentine, Dots” (that’s what he calls me… a long standing inside joke). Truth me told, my father and I were extremely close (and, in many ways, still are). I was always a bit of a Daddy’s girl. And that’s what made coming out so incredibly difficult.

My parents divorced when I was sixteen. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. I know my mother agonized over the decision, but I still tell her every day that by making the hardest choice of her life, she saved mine. My folks remained extremely amicable, both of them wanting to remain friends due to their kids, and a lot of mutual respect. But my mother found her way back to the Episcopal church, returning to her roots as a liberal, open-minded democrat who’d spent just a little too much time confined to the judgements of the Evangelical church. I think it was probably the Evangelical minister who told her she’d go to hell for leaving my father that officially did her in. My mother branched out, but I didn’t. In fact, through much of high school, I became even more involved in the Evangelical church. I made friends there, and even went on a mission’s trip to Mexico to try make more Evangelicals. I refrained from having sex, because I knew it was a sin. I felt guilty whenever I dropped an F-bomb (which, being a teenager in a public high school, I did often). And I even got up on my Right-winged soap box a few times about things like abortion. I did it because I found comfort in that kind of blind, cult-like faith. And it bonded me to my father.

I started college a couple of years later at a very liberal state school. My secure little world was about to be cracked wide open. Now, I wasn’t a perfect Christian (like my father) by any means. I dabbled with drinking and smoking, I made out with my share of boys (yes, boys), and often swore like a Springer guest who just found out her boyfriend is cheating. I didn’t go to Campus Crusade meetings or even attend church anymore. But I occasionally read my Bible and swore to abstinence until marriage (to a man, of course). And when the 2004 election came rolling around, I took my 18 year old self down to the Town Hall and checked that ballot box next to Bush’s name. Literally every other freshman in my dorm was sporting Kerry signs on their doors. But I stood strong to my Evangelical beliefs– my father’s beliefs– and put a misogynistic, pro-life, anti-gay “Christian” in the White House.

Then, something else happened– something that has undoubtedly shaped every facet of my life as I know it today. I fell in love with my best friend… a beautiful, funny, brilliant girl named Sasha who was the light of my life back then. My coming out story isn’t really a “coming out story.” At least it wasn’t by my second year of college. My high school dance card was full of boys. I even dated the goalie for the varsity hockey team. I was rarely single. And, although I dealt with an ever-nagging sense that something was definitely missing, it never once occurred to me that I was gay. People ask me now how that’s even possible, seeing how many kids know from puberty. My only explanation is that my “beliefs,”– twenty years of “values”– were so deeply poisoning me, being a lesbian wasn’t even on my radar. In retrospect, there were definitely girl-crushes from early on (my 6th grade student teacher, my brother’s girlfriend freshman year, my high school guidance counselor). But I easily chalked them up to admiration and kinship. It wasn’t hard to suppress any kind of sexual desire for women, because I didn’t even know it was there. That is, until Sasha. After years of friendship that bordered more on dependence, I finally came to accept that the things I was feeling for her– the way I wanted her– was more than just platonic.

And we all lived happily ever after. Right? Not quite. You’d think that that little gay lightbulb that went off when I realized I wanted to kiss her more than I’d wanted to kiss any of my old boyfriends would have been enough to push me right out of the closet I didn’t know I’d been living in for so many years. But denial, and the Evangelical church, are powerful things. And, although I was away from home, and physically separated from the church and their confines, I didn’t feel it. I don’t know what I would have done had Sasha reciprocated my feelings– probably peed my pants and ran. But she didn’t. Instead, she (unintentionally) broke my heart. And I (very intentionally) went running… right back to men. That’s when I met Chris. Chris was a nice boy who liked me right away. And we stayed together for an entire year before I just couldn’t anymore. I loved Chris– as a brother, as a friend, as someone who loved me. But that old feeling that something was missing was just magnified a billion times after finally falling in love with a woman. I was up front with Chris about this– in fact, he was one of the few people I was up front with. But as we approached the one year mark, and things were supposed to be getting more serious, it was becoming harder and harder to shake my want to “try it”– you know, try being gay. The need to just so much as kiss another girl was so intense, it became all I could think about. I cultured myself with DVDs of the L Word, which only served to intensify my torture. And then, I told Chris I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to figure out what these feelings were, or I couldn’t stay with him. He was heartbroken, but understanding– and to this day, one of the most nobel men I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay with him. Because as soon as I laid eyes on my first girlfriend, who I met while I was with him, I knew. I was gay. And even twenty more years under the church’s iron fist wasn’t going to change that.

By the 2008 election, I was the most adamant democrat I knew (well, maybe just in my family). The thought of voting republican again seemed not only foreign and contradictory, but also absurd and repulsive. In a blink of an eye, I’d become a prideful, liberal homo. It would be another year before I could come out to my mother (thank God for her). And another four years before I’d reluctantly come out to my father. Actually, I can’t even fairly say I came out to him. My mother outed me. Don’t worry… I told her to. I just couldn’t find the words myself. And I couldn’t bear to hear that throat clear on the other end of the phone that said I’d disappointed the hell out of him.

To his credit, my father’s done okay. When I was married in 2010, he came to the wedding (even though it was in Provincetown and rampant with drag queens). And he’s actually getting a little better about asking how my partner is doing now (as opposed to his normal method of pretending things don’t exist). But there are times I almost wish he’d quote scripture and damn me to eternal hell fire. At least then I’d know how he felt. Instead, I’m forced to deal with the silence and assumed disapproval of what I can only guess he considers my “lifestyle choice”– no eternal damnation, just eternal throat clearing.

We often pride ourselves on being different from our parents. “I’ll never do what they did.” And parents often scold themselves for not having enough influence over their kid’s lives. But I am almost exclusively a product of the life my parents gave me (and I don’t just mean biologically). Had my mother not left my father– had she not made the difficult choice to be happy– I would never have been strong enough to accept who I was. Had my father not raised us Evangelical, I would probably not have taken twenty years to come to terms with how God Himself actually made me. And I certainly wouldn’t have voted republican in 2004. Don’t underestimate the presence our parents have in our lives… even when you think you’ve grown up and moved away. I still struggle every time my father hugs me and says “God loves you, and so do I.” That being said, is it really my father’s fault? For all his conservative and often harmful beliefs, he loved us passionately. He still does. Every few weeks we meet for lunch back home in New Hampshire. And when he hasn’t heard from me in a while, he sends me a text saying “just checking in. Love you, Emmy.” Yeah, he still calls me Emmy. And he’s the only one I won’t punch in the chest for doing so. I can’t blame my father for the church’s errors. Especially when he’s nothing like those horrors in politics or on the TV like Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, or Pat Robbinson (all of which he’d still support or vote for). My father is a kind, gentle, saint. Albeit a misguided one.

We are absolutely products of the environments we were raised in. But at some point, we grow up. And it becomes our responsibility– not our parents– to step out, and break the mold. I’ll always be my Daddy’s daughter, in spite of the fact my life, and my beliefs, don’t often align with his. I chose to be who my God made me. And I know, somewhere buried beneath all those Bible verses and sermons, my father knows that to be true too. So, thanks Dad. For forcing me to make my own way. And for loving me even when I did.

5 Things Butch Women are Sick of Hearing

1. “But I mean, you aren’t like… BUTCH butch.”

When I was in college (AND in the closet), I took this amazing course in LGBT Literature. One of my classmates (who I affectionately refer to as the Big Dyke on Campus) did this tremendous presentation on the many different “sub-brands” (so to speak) of butch. This included anything from Stone Cold to Saturday Night Butch. Now, I think it can go without argument here that gender is pretty damn fluid. So, there are all sorts of places one can fall on the “butch” spectrum. I, for one, place myself somewhere more masculine than Kiyomi McCloskey, and more feminine than Zac Efron (though only slightly). One of my coworkers has even taken to calling me “gentle butch,” which I find utterly hilarious and adorable. What bothers me, though, is the sort of connotation that being “butch butch” is negative. Because it’s pretty clear that when straight people innocently tell me I’m not THAT butch, they’re implying that those who do fall further on the masculinity spectrum than I do are unattractive, undesirable deviants, as if they’re giving me some sort of backhanded compliment. That being said… what exactly is being “BUTCH butch?” Is one required to sport a flat top and not shave their legs? Because I haven’t shaved my legs since February, and they’re looking just one hair short of “BUTCH butch” if I do say so myself…

2. “So why do you want to be a man?”

Nothing… and I mean NOTHING… makes my blood boil more than this question. And the hardest part about it is that most of the people who ask it are well-meaning friends of mine who are just fucking clueless. Why do I want to be a man? I don’t. I really, honestly don’t. If I could teach everyone on earth one thing with this, it would be that GENDER IDENTITY IS NOT NECESSARILY RELEVANT HERE! I love and support my transgender brothers/sisters. But being butch is not the same as being transgender. I have always identified as female. That’s never been a question I’ve struggled with. I know it’s confusing… but wearing a tie to dinner doesn’t make me anymore of a man than wearing a Bruins hat makes me a hockey superstar (unfortunately… or else I’d always wear a Bruins hat…). The bottom line is, they’re just clothes.  And underneath those clothes, I like my breasts (as long as they don’t get too big), and my hips (as long as they fit into my dude jeans). I cry A LOT. I’m usually the needy one in my relationships. And I love a good Nicholas Sparks movie.

As an aside… I imagine I speak for many other butches out there when I say I get extremely offended when anyone implies I have gender confusion because I like a good pair of boxer briefs.  I dated a girl once who was so jaded by her ex’s transition, she accused me of wanting to do the same nearly constantly. The offensive part was the implication that I didn’t know myself. Apparently this is not a problem exclusive to straight people.

3. “So then why do you want to look like a man?”

I don’t. Or maybe I do? I don’t know. Why do you want to be a blonde? Or like to wear heels? I like what I like. I look better with short hair. And nothing makes me feel sexier than a nice suit. Also, I’d like to remind everyone that what we consider “men’s” and “women’s” clothing is just a fabrication (no pun intended) of the fashion institute. Look at skinny jeans. You can’t tell the men’s pants from the women’s these days. Why do I want to “look like a man?” Because I want to wear what looks good on me, and what doesn’t make me feel like I’ve stepped into some episode of the Twilight Zone where pink doesn’t make me look awkward.

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4. “If I was a lesbian, I think I’d like more feminine girls.”

Well. Congratulations. Your input is crucial to the continuation of our species. But, alas, you are not a lesbian.  So I ask you… how do you know what kind of girl you’d want to sleep with if you don’t like girls? And why does it seem that SO many bisexual women EXPLICITLY state that they are only attracted to femmes (don’t believe me, just check out OkCupid)? Listen… you like what you like. But don’t throw in your two cents about something you don’t know. And certainly don’t go out of your way to use this like a disclaimer, as if touching a girl with long hair and a huge rack makes you any less gay (guess what… is doesn’t).

5. “Well… who’s the man and who’s the woman?”

My grandfather asked this sweet, albeit incredibly insensitive question, when he first found out I was gay. Now, because he was 80, I cut him all the slack in the world. But for those of you born AFTER 1930, you have no excuse. And, in case no one’s done it yet, I’m here to educate you a little. Contrary to ABC, NBC, CBS, blah blah blah, not all lesbian couples are femme-femme. Not every Caleigh Torres wants an Arizona Robbins (although who wouldn’t? Seriously). Oh, and also, that “butch spectrum” I mentioned earlier? Ellen is like… way closer to the femme end than not. So here we have all modern media representing all lesbians as femme loving femmes. And in “real life” we have just about every ignorant person alive asking who the “man” is. The answer is neither are the man. I know. I know… this is going to be a stretch. And I realize the faux hawks and lack of makeup are throwing you for a loop. But regardless, we’re both still women. ALSO…ALSO ALSO ALSO… Here’s an interesting fact many people don’t realize… Not all butches like femmes! I know. Total mind fuck right? I’m a bad example, since I’m pretty much exclusively attracted to super femmie girl-next-door-Katie Holmes pre-Tom Cruise types. But not all butches are. Many butches are attracted to other more masculine women. I dated a butch woman once (for a whopping 2 months) and it didn’t pan out.. partly because she was a child, and partly because she just wasn’t my type. And I admit, I struggled at times with the image of two masculine women being together. But then I stopped giving a fuck. Because who really cares how the world see it after all of the victories we’ve already won together? My point is, no one is the man. And don’t be so quick to assume that anyone is even more masculine than the other. Lesbian relationships: typical gender stereotypes need not apply.

 

How to Be a Butch Lesbian– According to the Internet

How to Be a Butch Lesbian– According to the Internet

What can’t you find on the internet these days? Seriously. I just found a recipe for something called “monster cookie dough dip” (yeah, it’s as perfect as it sounds). I also just learned how to sew my own tie. I learned about Putin, and I watched Andy Cohen twerk his way across the West Village. But did you know that the internet can also tell you how to be butch?!? Amazing. What’s it going to tell me next??! How to be a woman?? How to make my heart keep beating?? Oh great and powerful internet! How far is your reach!!!

But seriously. I found this article by accident, while searching for articles on (what else?) butch fashion.

How to Be a Butch Lesbian– from wikki how– in only 7 easy steps!!! I will walk you through this… Just in case you need some help.

  1. Ask yourself a few questions. Why do you want to be butch? Do you feel attractive and natural in this look? or is this just a cheap scheme to get women’s attention? Can you handle people knowing about your sexuality? How will others react?

Let’s take a moment and review, shall we?? Why do you want to be butch? That’s sort of like asking me why I want to be female. I don’t want to be, wikki. I love it, sure. But I didn’t decide to be butch. I literally came out of my Mom this way, demanding to burn my dresses and wear only my favorite red corduroy overalls and Ninja Turtle’s t-shirts. It’s not paper or plastic. It’s an identity. Do you feel attractive and natural in this look? Okay, so this one isn’t terrible, I suppose. Being butch is all about being who you are. And that means feeling sexy and comfortable. No, wikki, this isn’t a cheap scheme to get women’s attention. In fact, I dare say that many of the femme’s I’ve pursued have preferred other femmes. And if I had a dime for every straight girl I heard say “if I were a lesbian I’d want to be with someone like me…” …. Can you handle people knowing about your sexuality? You’re right, Mr How… it’s probably better to just go into hiding and dress like an escaped Amish girl so no one figures out you like boobs. But I’m glad you pointed that out.

 

           2. Develop more masculine mannerisms. Walk with more confidence and stride. Don’t slouch or sit with your legs together. Watch the way men move and move like them. Try to only copy more of the popular guys, when observing them think, is this guy cool? Does he seem attractive to girls? If yes, he is a good example since you do not want to move awkwardly.

Great idea, since we are, after all, just playing a part. Might as well find a good dude to study so we can “pass.” Or… and I’m just putting this out there… we could just walk, talk, move, “stride” and sit however we want. Nah…
            3. Get some masculine clothing. You can buy men’s clothing, or, buy women’s clothing that is boyish. Choose colors that you like in sizes that fit your body nicely. Some good things to get:

  • A few polo shirts
  • T shirts with cool designs on them. Try not to go with big logos or dorky souvenir shirts.
  • Loose-fitting jeans. Not too baggy, not too loose. You can go with men’s jeans or women’s boy-cut jeans since those are made for a female frame.
  • Dress clothes. Pants suits, shirts with ties and nice shoes are great for special occasions. Do learn to tie a tie , as clip ons are tacky.
  • Accessories. Get a few belts and a nice watch (go for a neutral color). A chain to wear around your neck can look handsome.
  • Shoes. You really only need 3 pairs: comfy shoes, dress shoes and boots.
  • Binder. Some butches dislike having large breasts and may wish to bind them down.
  • Boxers – No butch should wear girly undies. Go for comfort. Plaid, solid or simple patterns are best. For the most part, you will be the only one that sees them; keep in mind that your girlfriend will see them so they need to look good.
  • Messenger bag or backpack. Purses are to be avoided.

So, I don’t hate this part. I especially enjoy the cliche reference to “plaid patterns.” Because what kind of butch are you without plaid, dammit?!

4. Skip the make up. Concealer for blemishes and pimples is fine. Eyeliner is okay in small amounts and also make absolutely sure that your always brush your teeth.

I admit to wearing only concealer to cover up those pain-in-the-ass, sickly looking dark patches I get under my eyes in the winter, or to hide the occasional adult acne outbreak. Eyeliner? Not a chance in hell… for me. But I know plenty of butches who wear makeup (um… hello… Ellen? Rachel Maddow?? Kiyomi?? F&%^$%# Shane McCutcheon wore more makeup than Joan Rivers does!). Oh wikki, you’re so wrong. Butches can wear makeup too! Also, make sure that you always brush your teeth… Good advice for everyone, I’d venture.

                5. Get a short hair cut. Look at both women and men for inspiration. To find a look that will look good on you, ask the hair dresser what will match your face shape.

Because, obviously, butches can’t have long hair… *Because men don’t have long hair… Right??… (*read as Brad Pitt, Jared Leto, Johnny Depp, Steven Tyler…etc etc etc.)

 

                   6. Be active. Try to get into a sport or just work out. Be proud of your body and its strengths. Looking attractive and gaining muscle can also be a benefit.

I attempt to play hockey twice a week, partly because I like it, and partly because it makes me feel tough. Also, it must be because it keeps me butch, right? If I didn’t play hockey, I’d surely wake up one day a swiveling femme in lipstick and heels. If butches must care about their bodies, by this logic, femmes must not? Makes sense… Sort of? Or maybe we should all just try to get up off the couch, regardless of our gender, orientation, or where we sit on the masculinity scale. A note to Wikki, I am no less butch when I am 10 pounds too heavy and can barely walk up a flight of stairs without seeing God.

                 7. Act the part. Be confident and masculine. Be chivalrous and gentleman-like. Try your best to stay calm and in control of your emotions in public. Confidence is key, so be sure to take charge and be assertive. Most of all, be yourself.

This is my favorite. Wikki really knew how to finish strong here. They actually go right out and say “act the part.” Being butch isn’t an act. It’s not a part we’re playing. It’s an identity we haven’t chosen anymore than we’ve chosen our parents. “Be chivalrous and gentleman-like”. Okay, I can’t argue there. Butches should always be chivalrous. If not, you’re an asshole. And no one wants to be an asshole butch, right? “Stay in control of your emotions in public.” Seriously??? Seriously. Like… what?! I just… I can’t even… Excuse me, I’m getting emotional and I wouldn’t want you to think me any less butch.

Finally, “be yourself.” Oh… okay, Wikki… now that you’ve just told me exactly how to be, I’ll get right on that.

I’m sure whoever wrote this did so earnestly enough. But really? Maybe I can find one on “how to be a cat” next?

 

Sneak Peek- “Same Time Next Week”

Hey, Readers! I wanted to present you all with a little look at my next book I’m working on, Same Time Next Week. It follows a young attorney as she struggles in her marriage, and finding love with someone else. Please give it a read and let me know what you think!

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EPILOGUE
I’m a cliche, sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by dykes, reading stories from The Best Lesbian Romance, still in tattered paperback while I’m immersed in a sea of e-readers and computers. The women here are all cooler than me, each emanating their own sort of hipster vibe, complete with thick rimmed glasses and wool caps that have nothing to do with the warm spring air outside. Cooler, yes. And at almost thirty, they also seem to be about a century younger than I am as well. I haven’t been here since I broke up with Tory– also known as the most insignificant relationship in the history of the lesbian world. And not since Bella and I have been married, either.
Married. What a ridiculous concept. I didn’t feel married. No. I still felt very much the same twenty-three year old bachelor, breaking hearts left and right when I was bored, or ready to move on to the next endeavor. And yet, I’m not breaking hearts anymore. At least not yet.
What I remember most about my wedding to Bella is the heat. Ninety-five degrees on the shores of the gay-mecca of Provincetown, and the sea breeze was doing absolutely nothing to relieve the film of sweat forming under my white dress shirt. I waited with my “groomsmen,” a bunch of butches dressed in black Dockers, trying to keep my heart rate from taking off. And, as I stood in front of Bella, all of my focus went into staying conscious. Your wedding day should be about fantasy and romance and happily-ever-after. Mine was always, has always been, about happily-enough, for as long as I can stand it.
But it’s getting harder and harder to stand it. I’m getting restless, and at a rate much faster than I’d planed. When I proposed, on Christmas Day, Bella and I had only been dating for about eight months. Her mother, who loved me, was thrilled that I’d decided to settle down, and picked her daughter. Her father, a rough and tumble blue collar type, had his share of reservations. But when I broke out the tiny, half carrot ring, and she said yes, and I cried, none of that mattered. I cried big, sloppy tears. Tears that seemed to say “you’re doing the right thing, Alex.” Tears don’t mean shit.
I’m three pages deep into a story about a carpenter who seduces a single mother, when she walks in. She’s tall, with long, flowing chestnut hair that bounces against her back as she makes her way towards the table for two I’m occupying.
“Do you mind?” she asks, plainly, gesturing to the empty seat across from me. “It’s pretty full in here.”
“Of course not,” I reply, and stare at her for at least thirty awkward seconds before she eyes the cover of my open book. “I’m a lawyer,” I say, defensively, as if that should somehow excuse the pleasure reading on my table.
“I’m Michelle.”
CHAPTER ONE
When I interviewed for law school, almost seven years ago now, the Dean of the University asked me to tell him about the moment I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I gave some practiced answer about legal injustice in Syria I’d loosely based on a Dateline episode, but the truth of it was, there was no moment. Life is so rarely defined in single days or events we can pinpoint– those aha moments that are supposed to change everything. But that day… The day I met Michelle… That was one of them.
I found myself back in the town’s dyke-run coffee shop for the second time that week. It was Saturday, and I’d told my wife, Bella, I needed to get some work done on a case involving an old lady who slipped on some Red Bull in a Walmart. If I didn’t, I told her, I’d never make partner. We both knew the only partnership I’d be making anytime soon was the one I formed with the barista at the Starbucks who filled the office coffee orders for me. Besides, this place was full of loud, teenage (well, teenage to me) hipster lesbians who chatted wildly about dates and parties and feminism while they sipped mochaccinos by the pool tables. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing there again. But working on Eleanor Cohen’s Red Bull case certainly wasn’t it.
I hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the girl from earlier in the week. It was true, it definitely wasn’t the first time I’d occupied myself by thinking about the way someone else’s hips swung or lips moved. More often than I liked to admit, those were the things that got me through my marriage. But this one, Michelle, she stayed with me, offering more than just a momentary distraction from my blistering relationship.
Michelle walked in at 2:15pm, wearing a flowing purple blouse that I couldn’t help but notice fell just below the top of her breasts. A wool pencil skirt hugged her curvy hips and straight waste, and a pair of black pumps made her even taller than the last time I’d seen her. The last time I’d seen her, which was really also the first time I’d seen her. She must have caught my stare, because she offered a small smile and made her way through the crowd and towards my table for two.
“No book today?” she teased me, pulling out the mismatched red chair across from me.
“Not today,” I said with a smile, hoping to regain just a modicum of the charisma I knew I had only a few years ago. A few years ago, I could charm my way into just about anyone’s pants. I had all the right lines, the right moves. Then again, I was also a complete jackass. I guess I’d traded some of my machismo in for just a hint of chivalry. “I’m working today.”
“Working on a Saturday?” Without asking, she grabbed the manilla folder in front of me marked “confidential” and opened it.
“That’s um…”
“Confidential? Yes, I can read too.” She peaked over the folder at me, her eyes bright and confident, and something inside of me woke up.
I went back on Tuesday, biking the four blocks from the firm in the hopes of running into her again.
Michelle was later than she had been on Saturday, and I looked for her every minute after 2:15, as if her stylish, Banana Republic attire had to mean she was the kind of girl to keep a strict coffee schedule. What made me think she’d even be back? Hell, even I could count the number of times I’d been there on one hand. For all I knew about her, she was an out-of-towner, visiting a sister or cousin, accidentally stumbling on the gayest Northwood establishment in search of a decent cup of coffee. Stupid. And what would I do if she did come back, anyway? The ring on my left hand was the heavy anchor that kept me from going too far to sea. Maybe I was just lonely.
I was already halfway through my designated lunch break, chewing mindlessly at the last bite of my bagel as I stared at the door, when she finally entered. This time, she was draped in hospital scrubs, a purple stethoscope swinging from her neck.
I fought the almost visceral urge to jump out of my seat and wave like an idiot, but she was already making her way to me.
“You aren’t going to pull my chair out for me? Huh. I took you for a gentleman,” she said, sitting down next to me.
“I…uh…”
“Oh Alex. You know you’re awfully cute when you’re nervous.”
Flirting– for the last few years, I wasn’t even sure I’d have recognized it, never mind known what to do with it. But there it was. As blatant as the dumbfounded grin that took over my face when she said my name. For 28 years, I’d been Alex, or Al, or Allie Wallie (that one was Mom and her Bridge buddies), but never once had I heard my name quite like that. When Michelle used it, especially that first time, it was like hearing a new language. One reserved only for me. One that made my cheeks burn and my palms sweat.
“So, you’re a lawyer?” Okay, let’s see if the third attempt to answer her is a charm.
“Yes. Well… technically.”
“Meaning?”
“Meaning,” I started, regaining some version of the confidence that usually came readily to me, “I’m sort of a paralegal right now. I passed the bar and everything. But the job market…”
“Don’t worry about it. I have a friend who passed the bar and is selling perfume at Macy’s. You’re young. Plenty of time.”
“How young do you think I am?” I asked.
“Young enough that it’s completely acceptable you’re still doing sandwich runs for middle aged men with comb-overs.” She flashed her beautiful, white teeth at me. Bella’s teeth were always a little crooked. “But old enough to be married.” She ran her thumb across the gold wedding band on my hand. The anchor.
“Debatable,” I mumbled.
My marriage was not something I usually enjoyed discussing with complete strangers. Or at all, actually. Even if they did make a pair of scrub pants look like a patient’s wet dream.
“Oh please. You butch lesbians are all alike. Can’t commit even when there’s a ring on your finger.”
“That’s an awful big generalization to make, seeing as you hardly know me.” But there was nothing cold in my tone.
“Do you love her?” Even her tactlessness was sort of adorable.
“I married her, didn’t I?”
“That’s not an answer.”
“Bell? I’m home.” Our dreary apartment was exactly that; dreary. Three days worth of dirty dishes were stacked in and around the kitchen sink, so many you wouldn’t believe it was just the two of us there. The overhead light fixture was too dim, several of the bulbs needing to be replaced. The tiled floor had collected more than a few weeks worth of dirt and dust balls. And a clutter of unopened junk mail and empty cereal boxes took over the counter.
Jed, Bella’s Maine coone, met me at the door like he did every day, purring and rubbing his massive frame against my shins.
“Hey Big Guy.” I reached down to scratch the spot right at the base of his tail he loved so much.
“Hi.” Bella emerged from the bedroom, dressed in the same oversized UCLA sweatshirt, my UCLA sweatshirt, and yoga pants she always wore, looking very much like every day of my life. There were so many nights like this. So many evenings where I came through that same door, into that same dreary kitchen, with the same overweight cat rubbing against my shins, and the same wife, in the same UCLA sweatshirt. Three years into married-life, and everything was the same.
“Hey.” She walked casually to me and put her arms around my neck. I could smell her perfume. It was the same perfume she’d worn for the last four years. It was the same perfume that set me on fire when we first got together. I don’t remember a lot of depth or substance with Bella in the beginning. But there was a lot of heat. More than once, we had to sneak off to a bathroom or a dark corner just to get at each other. But that didn’t last long either. It became the same perfume that, a year in, comforted me, offering me solace and friendship and a rock to rest on when I couldn’t stand on my own. And It was the same perfume, now, that made me cringe, just slightly, a reminder of slowly being crushed under the weight of my own choices.
“What do you want for dinner?” I obliged her by putting my hands on her hips, but the fact was, it had been a long time since touching Bella had felt good.
“Anything.”
“I’ll put together some tacos.” I was no cook. That was for sure. All throughout college, I’d survived on the University dining hall, the late-night frozen yogurt stand down the street, and whatever girl I was dating that was somehow able, and willing, to feed me. My wife, however, was not one of those girls. Her culinary expertise fell somewhere between boxed macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs, and more often than not, we found ourselves eating whatever leftovers she brought back from the bar the night before.
Three years ago, when I slipped that chintzy wedding band on Bella’s left hand, I didn’t know what married life would look like. I knew there would be a lot to learn. What I never imagined, though, was feeling so much like a couple of kids playing house.

CHAPTER TWO
On Saturday, I biked down Lincoln, the spring thaw biting my nose. Michelle was already inside, sitting at the counter this time. A pair of black reading glasses, not altogether different from the cafe hipsters around us, rested on her nose as she typed furiously on a laptop in front of her.
“Is this seat taken?” I asked quietly, edging closer to her, but never touching.
“You’re so cheesy.” Michelle looked up from her work, her perfect cheek bones just slightly more pink than I’d seen before. She pulled out the stool next to her and I sat down.
“If you’re busy, I can…”
“No,” she said, jumping and grabbing my arm. “Stay. Please.”
I ordered a small, black coffee, and a bagel with jam from the blonde, spiky-haired girl behind the counter, and took out Eleanor’s case file.
“Still working on that Red Bull case?” Michelle asked.
“Yeah. Right now I’m going through all the slip and fall data from every Walmart in the county in the last three years. Invigorating.” I liked that she asked about my work. Bella never seemed to take much interest in what happened during my day. Of course, I guess now, that could be seen as some sort of sick advantage. “What about you? What are you working on?”
Michelle silently turned her laptop screen, revealing a beautiful image of a park with the words “Save Our Green Space” scrawled on top.
“But on Tuesday you were here in scrubs…” I said, the confusion surely evident on my face.
“This is my part time gig. I work for the county parks department, saving the world one tree at a time.”
“And your other gig?” She smiled with her full lips that wore red when she wasn’t coming from whatever her day job was.
“Nurse. I work over at Northwood Hospital. In the Emergency Room.”
“So you’re like… some kind of superhero then?” She chuckled, and I swore I saw the red rise across her smooth, white skin.
“Something like that.”
“Impressive,” I said, meaning it.
Bella was younger than me, which, I guess, in some obscure way, made it acceptable for her to be a bartender with little to no ambition to be more. For almost four years, I’d told myself this was fine. She was just figuring out what she wanted. Anyway, who was I to judge, besides a pencil pusher and latte retriever for Watson, Johnson and Smith? But as Michelle talked about her work– her passion for saving her patients, or saving the planet– it became harder to deny that these things that I once told myself didn’t matter…well, they did.
Michelle and I met like this twice a week for a month, eventually giving up the facade of just “bumping into one another.” It had become intentional. Incredibly intentional, really. At least on my end. I lay awake at night next to Bella’s ignorant snoring, imagining what Michelle’s lips would feel like against mine. I fantasized about faint lip gloss and light musky perfume and handfuls of her silky blouses in my hands. A month of over-caffeinated conversation, and I still didn’t even know if Michelle had a girlfriend. Or worse, a boyfriend, maybe? But the way she looked at me told me she probably didn’t.
These coffee dates (which I could neither reasonably nor morally call “dates”), with this girl, this stranger, were breathing life into something I didn’t know was dead. They were breathing life into me. Until I was waking up in the morning thinking about her, and going to bed counting down the days until Tuesday, or Saturday, when I would walk into the cafe and not-so-accidentally find her sitting at the counter, reading a weathered copy of JD Salinger, or a borrowed Michael Crichton novel, depending on the mood she was in. I quickly found myself, only somewhat inadvertently, memorizing her routine; Tuesdays meant scrubs from the end of an early morning shift, and an extra large Columbian roast with one Splenda. Saturdays always brought out those Coke bottle reading glasses and an earl gray tea.
Bella and I had been married for three years, and I still couldn’t tell you how she took her coffee.
“Tell me about your wife,” Michelle asked on another long Tuesday lunch break.
“My wife? But why?”
“I want to know what kind of woman it took to lock you down.” She reached out and touched my wedding band again.
I didn’t know her well. After all, how much can you know about somebody you only share a latte with twice a week? But something told me Michelle was not shy. Ambitious, warm-hearted, yes. Shy? Not a chance in hell. And when she touched me like that, offered me little tokens of affection that really couldn’t be taken as much more than that, I had to wonder if she was like this with others– if a particularly outgoing persona was often mistaken for purposeful flirtation– or if she was really interested in me. Then I’d quietly remind myself it didn’t matter how interested Michelle was. I was married. Maybe if I kept repeating it, it’d mean something.
“She’s 25. She tends bar at the Applebees down the street. She’s…” I froze. Was I that incapable of finding a few nice things to say about Bella?
“Glowing review,” Michelle teased me. “How long have you been married?”
“About three years now.”
“Three blissful years, I see?” She loved poking fun at me. I was almost certain she was getting some kind of thrill from the color draining out of my face.
“Marriage is hard,” I replied matter-of-factly.
It was hard. Much fucking harder than anyone ever tells you. When I told my parents that I was getting married, my mother’s words to me were “divorce is expensive, Alex.” Pearls of wisdom coming from the woman with four husbands. I’ll never make your mistakes, I’d grumble to myself. But I was about to marry someone for mostly the wrong reasons. I was already making her mistakes.
“Do you regret it?” She asked. I thought about staying the course of denial. But something in the candid way Michelle looked at me told me I didn’t have to.
“Sometimes.” I thought about Bella– about my wife.
I thought about how, when I was 25 myself, she was going to be enough for me. Our life was going to be enough for me. We were best friends for years before we got together. Or, rather, she was my best friend. I was the object of her undying affection.
We were introduced through my cousin without any real intent, on a weekend at the end of the summer I graduated from law school. She was young (although, so was I back then), and full of that adventurous breath that made you feel like you were absolutely missing out on something she was in on. Bella was down for anything, and never up before noon. She long boarded down Main Street in her bra and panties, with only a little help from a few Coors, still hung out with the kids who would have made fun of me in high school, and never, for a second, seemed to doubt she could do anything. I was a magna cum laude UCLA graduate, living in her parents’ attic for the summer, studying for the Bar and going to bed after Letterman. In a matter of a weekend, Bella made me feel the way 23 year olds were supposed to feel. And, by the end of the weekend, when she hurled herself at me for a dorm-room-hookup-worthy kiss, she made me feel wanted, too. Bella took no mind to the fact I was still in a year long relationship with a girl back in California. But that was college. And everything was changing, anyway.

A month of talking about the theatre, and the most recent exhibit at the city museum, and the rose garden in the park she took care of, and Michelle had morphed into everything I’d ever known I wanted in a girl, but was too afraid to ask for. She felt it too. I knew it when she’d lightly touch my arm or brush by me to get to her seat at the counter. I knew it when she started getting to the cafe early, with my bagel and jam and black coffee waiting for me. I knew it when she stopped asking about Bella.
It was just coffee, though. A little detour from the drudgery of my marriage. Somehow, it had become enough to sustain me.
CHAPTER THREE
“It’s getting late. I should head out,” I said, and sighed. It was Saturday. Spring was in full bloom in Rhode Island and everything felt a little easier. I brought my dirty plate to the buckets in the front of the cafe, and returned back to grab my coat.
“Me too.” Michelle got up from her chair, carefully wrapped a purple, silk scarf around her neck, and leaned in as if to hug me. I did the same, though much faster, bumping her forehead with mine in a freakishly middle-school snafu. “Sorry I…”
“No, that one’s on me.” We smiled shyly and walked out the door, together, into the warm afternoon.
It normally took seventeen minutes to bike home, but I took my time riding down the winding streets, reveling in the feeling of the breeze against my skin. The light rain pelted my face as I rode.
“Have you been at the coffee shop this whole time?” Bella quietly questioned as I opened the front door to our apartment and attempted to brush the wet from my denim coat. I pulled the Red Sox cap off my head, never bothering to look at her.
“Yes.”
“Doing what?”
“You know what. I was working,” I replied simply.
“The whole time?”
“Yes, Bell. The whole time.”
She came in to kiss me, and I returned the motion. “Well, I’m glad you’re home. I have to leave for the bar in an hour. I’ve missed you.”
“I’m going to order a pizza for dinner. Sound okay?”
“Sure.”
Bella ran off to shower and get ready for work, and I was alone again, relieved by the reprieve. I called in for delivery, searching my coat pockets for my credit card with the phone wedged between my chin and my shoulder. I didn’t find the credit card. But I did find a fresh piece of stiff paper tucked in next to my keys.

Michelle M Masters
Rhode Island Parks Commission
Fundraising Director- 555-2495

“Hello? Ma’am? What can I get you?”
“What?”
“Your pizza? What would you like?”
“Oh God, I’m sorry. Uh, just a pepperoni please.”

I turned the card over, the phone still crammed against my ear, not sure what I was looking for.

Six weeks of coffees, I think you owe me a phone call- M

My heart caught in my throat.

“The address?”
“The what?”
“The delivery address, ma’am. We have to have to address to bring you your pizza.”
“Oh, right. Of course you do. 132 Brooks Ave. Northwood. Thanks.”

I hung up the phone, still holding the business card in a trembling hand.
Thirty minutes later, Marco’s dropped off our pizza, and Bella and I ate in front of the TV, like we did every night. We’d never once had dinner at our dining room table, without the distraction of a Bruins game, or a Simpson’s rerun. Never once. The conversation was always easy. Surface stuff that never delved into politics or philosophy or our dreams or failures. I already felt connected to Michelle on a level I never did to Bella. And that terrified the hell out of me.
“Okay, baby, I have to take off.” Relief swam through me as Bella stood from the couch and moved to the door, leaving her empty plate and half-cup of Pepsi on the table.
“Have a good shift.” I rose, offered her a quick embrace about as heart felt as the pizza crust on her plate, and she left.
I held Michelle’s card for a long time, rubbing it between my thumb and index fingers so long some of the ink began to smudge. My knee bounced up and down, and I stared worthlessly at my cell phone sitting in front of me. Jed, who was perched on the arm of the sofa, looked up at me from his tenth nap that day and glared.
“What? It’s just a phone call!” In disbelief, Jed blinked his eyes, and went back to sleep.
I picked up the phone, slowly and deliberately punching in each of Michelle’s numbers until I reached the last one. I hit the final digit like I was crossing over a land mine that threatened to blow me to tiny pieces at any sign of adultery.
It was ringing.
“Took you longer than I thought.” Her smooth, warm voice came through almost as clear over the phone as it did over coffee.
“It’s only been like,” I glanced at my watch, “three hours.”
“That’s two hours and forty-five minutes more than I’d given you credit for. And that’s taking into account the time it would take you to get home and find my number.”
“What can I say? I’m unpredictable.” There was silence on the other end of the line.
“Oh, I’d be willing to bet against that.” I could hear her smiling.
“And why is that?”
“I’m willing to bet you don’t have the unpredictable balls to come over here and pick me up.” I was pretty sure my heart had stopped. “Alex?”
“Huh?”
“Come get me. Let’s do something.” No. My heart hadn’t stopped. If it had, I wouldn’t have been able to hear it pounding in my ears.
“I’m married…”
“So? Bella doesn’t let you have friends?” But Bella didn’t let me have friends. At least not attractive female friends who showed any remote interest in me. Forget interest. They just had to be attractive to set off her radar. The second I mentioned a girl’s name she didn’t recognize, her face narrowed to a scowl and she went into a sort of attack mode. It didn’t matter if it was the girl bagging my groceries who asked for paper of plastic, or Liddy, my very beautiful, but very straight, cubicle buddy. Bella was a force to be reckoned with, and I knew she’d have more than a few things to say if she even knew Michelle existed.
“What? Of course she does. Of course I can have friends.”
“Then come pick me up.” This girl was nothing, if not persistent. And I wanted to get in my car and go get her, no matter where she was, no matter what we were doing, more than anything. “My car’s in the shop. I’ve been walking to work. I live about a mile from Northwood Hospital. You do have a car… don’t you?”
I laughed at her, realizing how ridiculous I must seem leaving the cafe on my little vintage road bike every day.
“Yes I have a car.”
“So then?”
“So then what?”
“Do you, or don’t you, have the balls to come see me?”
I paused for what felt like days. And as I did, I thought about all the ways I’d felt confined over the last three years, maybe even longer than that. I thought about all of the times I’d met a gorgeous woman, who, in some unimaginable way, appeared to want me too. And I had to turn around and go home to our dreary one bedroom with Bella, bitter and resentful. I thought about all of the times Bella had told me “no”– “no, Al, you can’t get drinks with the office after work.” “No, Al, I don’t want to meet your friends.” “No, Al, just no.” I thought about what it meant when I took those vows and put on that ring three years back, what it was supposed to mean. I thought about never sleeping with another woman ever again. Never kissing another woman again. And I felt trapped, chained by some words and a piece of paper and some hunks of metal we wore on our left hands.
“I’ll be there.”

Is Marriage Equality Setting Us Back?- Thoughts From a 28 Year Old Divorcee

Okay, before you start with the hate mail and death threats, hear me out.

Like anything else on The Dapper Butch, I can only tell you what I know– this is what I know:

I was married at 25, and divorced by 26. The girl I married was someone I’d only known for two years, and had only been steadily dating for one. And, to add to the whirlwind, my ex wife and I were only together for about seven months before I proposed.

My best friend was with her ex partner for just about a year before they got married on Valentine’s Day. They were divorced a few months later.

Two women my ex wife and I used to spend time with had been together for five years. They were in their early to mid thirties, and had both had significant past relationships. They even had six kids between the two of them. For five years, they lived together, happily, until they were married. A year after they were married, they were divorced.

I could go on, but the point of this editorial isn’t to send all of you to a Xanex and a pint of Half Baked. I’m bringing these harsh examples to light, because I want to ask a very important question that someone asked me; are we getting married too quickly, because we can?

I know, it’s a big one. And I can’t possibly answer it with a few first hand, heart breaking experiences. But I would like to attempt to reflect on it a little, because I think it’s important. How can we expect the haters to take our marriages seriously if we ourselves aren’t?

The day of my wedding, one of my life-long friends approached me and said “well, it’s not like you’re really going to be married.” Yes, actually. It is a real, live marriage. At least in the state of Massachusetts (and many others) it was as legally legitimate as any other, complete with real, live divorce. But I couldn’t help but ask myself– was there a part of that also didn’t think of my marriage as “real”? Or on the plane of my other hetero friends who were tying the knot that year? Or was it just my young age and poor choice in life partner that caused me to laugh it off? I think there is still a huge misunderstanding out there when it comes to marriage equality, even among my VERY open minded, liberal friends here in Boston. With so many shades of gray between “totally illegal” and “rainbow themed weddings,” there’s a lot of confusion. And, because the idea of marriage equality is still so new, I have to wonder, do we ourselves even take it as seriously as its traditional counterpart?

Again, I realize I’m inviting backlash here. And I would like to state, for the record, that I am not one of those self-hating gays who thinks marriage is not meant for two queers. Not even close. I married a woman, after all, at a very young age, at a time when it was still illegal in many other parts of the country. But, like most young divorcees, I am gun shy. And not just for the usual reasons. I’m gun shy because I think we, as lesbian identified women, have to ask ourselves some additional questions that our straight friends may not have to (again, this is not a universal concept. Just something to consider). If I’d really thought about it, back in 2009 when I got engaged after only a short time, I would have realized that yes, part of me was rushing into it because, well, I could. Because why wouldn’t I want to exercise this new right that has been so long coming to all of those who struggled before me? (I’m looking at you, Edie Windsor). Don’t I want to be “normal” like my straight friends and family? If I’d asked myself these (hard) questions, I would probably have realized that they were contributors. Big ones too. And I think the ladies mentioned above would agree, to an extent, with that.

There is another issue, too. One that I know many of you will lose your panties at me for (and not in the fun, Teagen and Sarah concert way, either). The concept of U-hauling is not a myth. Call it a stereotype based in lies, or a mysoginistic representation of women, but it comes from some serious truth. When my girlfriend and I first started dating, I was frustrated with the “slow” pace things were moving (aka we hadn’t professed our undying love and moved in together in the first month). *Jess, being the smart, logical woman she is, said to me “every relationship has someone who’s the brakes and someone who’s the gas… You’re the gas.” Truth. Harsh, harsh truth. I have always been the typical “gas” in all of my relationships, as many (many) women are. I just so happened to find one of the rare “brakes” out there to keep me from proposing to her on our third date. But what happens when two “gasses” get together (as if often the case when two women unite)? It’s no secret that things can move at warp speed, finally exploding into tiny little relationship fragments. And I believe that, at times, maybe too many times, this warp speed is bringing us right to the alter.

This is not a criticism, my fellow Exxon-ers out there. It’s just the way some of us our programmed. I am wired to ask for a key when you buy me a coffee. My girlfriend is wired to make a long pro and con list for at least six months before taking a vacation with you (okay, so I exaggerate, but you get the idea). I would also like to add that this is not an exclusively lesbian problem. Of course two men, or a man and a woman, or whatever you identify as, can all be fast-movers. I’m just saying it seems to be more common within our community. That being said, I encourage you all to slow it down.

I love Jess. I would even go so far as to call her the love of my life. And there are times I have to fight every inch of my being to marry her right this second. But I don’t. Partly because she’s way too smart for that, but also, because it isn’t safe. Just because we CAN (and SHOULD be able to) now, doesn’t mean we have to rush it. We expect to change the way the world sees the concept of marriage. We want to dispel that notion that same sex marriage will mean higher divorce rates, poor parenting, etc. And I think we need to start by making sure we’re making sound choices in our own relationships. Sure, our heterosexual neighbors’ divorce rates will probably still sky rocket. And that’s tragic. But if we want to be taken seriously, we have to treat marriage seriously. So please, all you “gasses” out there, put on the brakes… or, at least find someone who will. Ask those important questions. Let’s change the way others see us by starting with how we see ourselves.

Let’s be those couples who manage to stay together for a lifetime, as often as we possibly can.

 

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