I don’t know how to start. This is how it is when what you feel is bigger than what you can say. But I’ll try. For you, I’ll try.
I am used to it now, I suppose, being looked at as though I am the enemy when I walk into the room. Used to it in that I’m no longer surprised. I know what is coming, and every sharp click of my high heels on the pavement betrays me. I know what I am. I know who I am. I look for strength in it, but still the ring of my stilettos makes my chest tighten, my heart beat faster. These shoes announce me, brash and unmistakable, like the chime of my jewelry, or the scent of the perfume I touched to my elbows and throat and against the bone between my breasts all announce me. What kind of woman is coming.
And always, as I step up and through the door, my head high and my back straight even though I know what’s coming, my heart pounds and I fight the urge to run. My desire is stronger than that urge, though. It always has been.
My heels are muffled by the carpet, the scent of me lost within the odours of beer and stale chips and it’s dark enough I slip into shadows and feel foolish. It’s another world in here, the music too loud for anyone to be have been as aware of me as I was of myself. I take a moment to smooth my skirt and my hair, briefly invisible, before heading towards the bar. Before the frowns and the suspicious stares, the sneers and the sniggers begin.
I am used to it, I guess I am.
But it still hurts every time, deeper and quicker than I can say.
They don’t understand why. They don’t understand why, in this day and age, I would be this way when I could be any other. When I should be any other, if belonging here is what I really want. To prove my sincerity, and my authenticity. To prove I can be trusted, I guess. On some level, I get that. I think we’ve all known how it feels to be scared your girlfriend will leave you for a man. The weight of homophobia is crushing, and when it comes from within as well it’s too easy to suffocate. In their eyes, I’m uniformed for the other side. In this day and age, it doesn’t need to be that way, so it shouldn’t be.
It doesn’t need to be? What a class conscious-less scene it is, this day and age.
Okay, truth to tell, even if I didn’t have to look this way to get a certain income, I would. Oh, we could debate the ins and outs of gender construction, nature versus nurture and the pressure of the heteropatriarchy, sure we could do that for hours and then some. But this is me. I created me, but we all do that. It’s how we find ourselves, and hide ourselves, and make ourselves vulnerable too, vulnerable like the way I feel when I strut to the bar like I don’t notice their cynicism. I know you know what it feels like to be stared at too. In far worse ways than this if I’m honest, out in a cruel world that is furious at your defiance of the norms it demands, the same ones I uphold, I’m told. There’s so much courage in how you are, in your resistance to going unseen for who you are, for what you are, for who you love. There is so much ferocity in your unbridled determination in being at ease in yourself, in the way that feels most natural for you.
And because it’s so vital for you to be your way, you understand that’s how it is for me too. That this is really all I could be.
I love you so much for that understanding.
No one has ever called me a dyke while I was walking down the street by myself. They’ve called me other things, sure, especially when I used to work the beat on William Street, but never that. It’s the simplest equasion. Femininity is obligatory labour demanded of women by men, in order to make us more consumable for them. I perform it, therefore I must be performing it for them. If I were really gay, I’d resist it, right? I’d make that choice, regardless of how I feel, in the name of alliance.
That’s something else they don’t understand: I’ve already made that choice, named my alliance, and it’s all in the way I am here.
I suppose I could choose to be, if not something I am not, then something at least less than what I am. Keep the long hair and the cleavage, but ditch the makeup and the skirts. And the heels, of course. Naturally. Work a little harder to be seen here. To be a little less consumable along the way.
But here we arrive again: they’ve never understood the way it is between us. The way it’s always been.
That this is how I want to be seen. How I want to be seen by you.
I suppose it’s not politically correct to say that, not in this day and age, right? If I’m going to try and justify it, I should at least say I’m doing it for myself. That’s what we all say, nowadays. Okay, I won’t deny I get pleasure out of it. It’s fun for me, it makes me feel good. But I’m not interested in any spin about empowerment here. For me, fem has never been about any inherent feminist potential in femininity. It’s always been more meaningful than that, more meaningful for me anyway. I want them all here to know it, and I want the world outside to know it, but more than anything else I want you to know it, if you don’t already, because you’re the only one that really counts.
All this – the heels and the curve-hugging dresses, the way I make myself up and do my hair – it’s got nothing to do with the desire of men. This is all the manifestation of my desire for you.
It’s not them I want looking at me. It’s not them I need to recognise me. Darling, that’s you. It’s always been you.
It always will be. That’s why I won’t change, that I can’t. How else can you know me? I speak to you before we’ve even met, even if we never meet, the best way I know how, from head to toe, in the outcome of every minute I spent getting ready to come out. I want you to see me. I want you to see that.
God, do you know how badly I desire you? How my entire self aches with it? I want you to see that desire in the sway of my hips and the way my hair falls when I brush it back over my shoulder. I want you to feel that desire from across the room, and have your own desire ignited by it. I want you to see me and know that it’s you that I dressed for, you that I want to be desired by, you that I’m here for. I want my passion for you reflected back in yours. I want our hearts to sing to each other in their silent way, the echo of it leaving us trembling. Do you feel that way too? I dream that you do.
I want you to know I was thinking about you when I dressed tonight. I think about you every day, knowing I could encounter you anywhere, even just passing you getting on the train as you step off. But tonight, especially, I want you to see the care I’ve taken. How much it meant to me to dress for you. When I chose my earrings, I thought about how they might catch in the dim bar light and pull your gaze towards my face. I thought about how the seams on my stockings would invite your eyes to travel the path of my leg to where it disappears beneath my skirt, how your mind might wander further than your gaze could and show you my garters as your hands unfastened them, rolling those stockings down and off, your mouth following in their wake. When I set and brushed out my hair, I wanted you to think about what it would feel like in your hands, your fingers twining through it, tugging my head towards yours. I chose this dress because it is tight, because it clings to my hips and waist, because it cups my breasts so that they overflow into cleavage I hope you want to plunge into. I want you to see the lipstick print I leave on the rim of my glass and think about how it would look smeared across your shoulders and neck, how it would feel as my lips touched you there. I wanted my perfume to go to your head and make you reel, make you think what that scent would be like mingled with my own, more visceral. I want you to watch my hands as they cup my glass, to notice my lacquered nails and think about them digging into your skin while you fuck me and I let you…
Being seen by you is how I feel beautiful, how I know my own desirability. Without your gaze to anchor me to meaning, I am adrift and without purpose. The gaze of this world in all its rigid ignorance – of men and the order they built – is black shadow within which I’m lost. It’s only by you that I am truly seen.
You know it, darling. You must know it. I’m not for them. I’m for you.
It’s only with you I’m at my most complete, that I realise the fulfillment of my desire, a woman like me who loves women like you. Who is it all for, if not you? It’s you that I find strength in when you recognise me and smile, when your eyes linger on me and my heart leaps to guess at what you’re thinking. That’s when I know I am where I belong, as I am, who I am. When you see me and know I’m all for you. When you want me, the way a woman like you wants a woman like me. All the ways it makes my knees weak and my pulse rise.
You are always the most desirable one in the room. Do you know that? Know it when you see me and I have eyes only for you, with all your cool pride and handsome rebellion. You set me on fire the way you refuse ever to be unseen, by anyone, to live your truth. You made your own way of being a woman, the way that came most natural, the only way you could. You are more than brave, and more than beautiful; you are butch. You do not belong to them, you never have, and it’s intoxicating, darling, to see you and know it so immediately.
Before the first time I saw you, I only knew that I wanted women. I didn’t know how. Not until you showed me, just by being there in your boots and jeans, thumb hooked into a belt loop, hair cropped short to show your strong, bare neck. How raw and exquisite you were, nothing about you even a little bit like me, and yet I knew you were, down at your core, down deep where we both ache for each other. And all I have wanted ever since is to be your desire as much as you are mine. Do you dream of me like I dream of you, dreams that chase me into waking, that glaze my eyes as I shift through the day? Is it arrogant to want you to? I do, darling. So much.
So I do it for you, in spite of everything. In spite of what they say, about you or me, or us. Regardless of what they think, I’m here. It’s by your side I am seen by them the only I really want to be – as yours.
When I see you there leaning up against the bar on tattooed forearms, wallet chain gleaming against your worn leathers, your cap pushed high on your head, surveying the room with your strong jaw set – or by the pool table, your collared shirt rolled up at the sleeves, suspenders clipped to your jeans and your work-roughened hands with their short, clean nails gripping the cue so nonchalant as you step to take your turn – or in the corner by the jukebox, beer in hand, big black boots on your feet, your hair combed and greased back, weary from a hard week but your shoulders still square – oh god, darling, when I see you, see me too. See how lovingly, how carefully I have made myself for your desire, for yours alone, and be aroused by it, be inspired. Let me live in the light of your gaze, for without it I am lost.
All for you, always.