Who Is Confused?
This week we start the discussion about confusing signals and intentions
This week we’re going to stay in the near present, during my 2018 book tour for THE LIST, as we start to explore and dissect an issue that many of you have asked about: the confusion LGBTQ women often face with the intentions of other women. Where are the boundaries? What are the signals and cues? Are you imagining it? Unlike some of the issues we’ve touched on, this confusion transcends all generations—from the Boomers to Generation Z. I’ve heard stories of teens misreading cues in high school from female friends. Or did they? We’re going to explore some dimensions of what is at play here.
I will start by positing one bit of wisdom I have gleaned with age and decades of living as a gay woman: you might not be imagining it, and the confusion you’re sensing might not be your confusion. At times LGBTQ women conflate their hope and desire with the experience of friendship, but other times, the supposedly straight woman or girl you encounter might be unwittingly sending you signals. She might be confused about her own sexuality, or consciously or unconsciously trying to sublimate it. Or as you’re about to read about this week, she might try to act as her authentic self, but then find her guilt paralyzes her, even in this time of mainstream LGBTQ acceptance.
As a woman who is quite often the gateway girl—their first—I can tell you many women never felt like it was on the menu to be gay or bisexual until it became more widely acceptable in the past decade. But okay, let’s be real: if you are sexually experimenting or coming out in your 50s or 40s or even 30s, how many confusing signals have you purposely or inadvertently sent to other women over the decades? This is not a criticism of formerly straight women, or women who are experimenting; rather, it’s an acknowledgment that this issue is multi-faceted, and often not so simple as, gee, I didn’t realize you were married to or dated men, so I must just be imagining it.
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An added dimension for me in navigating this confusion on my book tour was being a public figure. I want to stipulate that when a person is put in a position of authority as a leader of a company or organization, or as a public speaker, there is an imbalance of power over the employees, or members of the audience. Men abuse this power constantly—they prey on workplace subordinates or adoring fans. I realized while I was documenting The Weekly List that hundreds of thousands of folks were leaning on me for comfort, a sense of normalcy, and hope that we would come out on the other side. This was a responsibility that weighed on me heavily, and I wanted to respect and honor the trust that was placed in me, so I conducted myself by being warm and welcoming, while oblivious and aloof—the on/off switch for my sexual side was safely set to off at each book event!
One of my favorite cities on my book tour was Portland, Oregon. I had a jam packed two days away, including events and some extra time to stop by the famous Powell’s Books, and enjoy the local cuisine and shops. On my second and final night, I had just finished a sold out event of 400 people at the Alberta Rose Theatre, after a long day that started early morning with an appearance on Thom Hartmann’s radio show, then a lunchtime book event out in the suburbs. I was exhausted! For the first time that day, I looked forward to catching my breath at the hotel bar and getting some chow. I took a seat at a small table near the bar, pulled out my laptop to catch up on news stories I had missed, and ordered a beer and a big, juicy, overflowing, multi-layered cheeseburger concoction—one that made my mouth water just looking at the picture on the menu!
After a few bites into the burger, I closed my laptop to check out the scene: it was mostly men attired in golf shirts and sportcoats, and one quite striking woman. She had long brown hair, deep brown eyes, maybe early 30s and so exceedingly beautiful it kind of took my breath away when I first saw her. Apparently the guys around her, who it became clear were work colleagues, felt the same, and for some who were downing extra bourbons, their level of interaction with her seemed to shift from professional to flirtatious to predatory. She appeared increasingly harried and uncomfortable. I noticed a couple of times she glanced over at me.
I devoured the rest of the burger, ordered another beer, and reopened my computer to finish catching up: Trump was meeting with Kim Jung Un, Paul Manafort was heading to prison pending trial, Trump’s zero-tolerance policy was finally garnering attention—I was recording these stories on my phone for Week 83. Moments later I looked up, when I noticed over the computer that the other seat at my table was occupied—and amazingly, by that gorgeous woman! She smiled at me, dimples and deep brown eyes glowing. I wanted to melt! At first I was startled, but quickly closed my laptop and caught my breath and composure, and smiled, “Hi!” She smiled back coyly, “Hi,” then exhaled, and coquettishly asked, “Will you rescue me?”