When I was 18, I was kicked out of Fiesta Cantina. Because I was 18, duh. Six years later (in other words last week) I went back for the first time. Despite living not terribly far from West Hollywood, I never really go out there; maybe because I had more than my fill of gay bars when I lived in San Francisco and had a gay fake-boyfriend.
Long story short, Emma and I ended up at Fiesta Cantina and got way too drunk. Somewhere in there, she went to the bathroom, and as I was holding down the fort, two women came up and asked if that seat was taken. I said yes, she's in the bathroom. They asked if they could stand by the table (it was crowded), and I said of course. The one who was doing most of the talking then asked if I was gay. It had been so long since a stranger asked my sexual orientation! This used to happen all the time in SF. Searching my drunk brain for what I had once upon a time learned to say in these situations, I hesitated, ready for the awkward ambiguity that was about to ensue, and said, "Not really, no." To which she said, "Not really? What does that mean? Are you into girls?"
"Generally, no. I do have a boyfriend."
"So you're straight!" She said in a jovial sort of I've-found-you-out tone.
"Well, technically yes, but I don't really relate to being straight. I don't like the men that straight women are expected to like."
"Would you have sex with a woman?
"Um, I don't know. Maybe. But maybe not. It's too hypothetical to be relevant."
She laughs at me.
"Let me put it this way. I like men who look like women. I like men for the qualities that they share with me, not the ones that make them different. That's why I don't identify with being attracted to the 'opposite' sex, even though I technically am." I was proud for putting it so concisely, but a little annoyed that I hadn't thought to say that in the first place.
"Whoa." She is visibly bewildered. "But...you don't like women?"
"In general, no."
"But you like men that look like women."
"Yes. I like androgyny and ambiguity. I'm a heterosexual narcissist. I see I've confused you, so do you see why I have a hard time just saying I'm straight? Do you know how weird it can be to be a straight woman attracted to men who look like me?"
"Whoa." She says again. "Interesting. What about your friend, is she gay?"
"No, she's straighter than me. Like, actually straight."
It's weird for me to have such personal conversations with strangers, when I'm generally uncomfortable talking to strangers in the first place. But this made me realize that so much of how I learned to articulate how I see my own sexual orientation, and to define aesthetisexuality, came from lesbians at bars asking me if I was gay. And I had to learn to explain myself in a way that didn't mislead them or misrepresent me, because a simple yes or no never worked. It hadn't happened in a long time, and while it is really out of character for me to explain my perspective in such detail to a stranger, it was like a reminder of how I came to be me as I know me now. It was like a brain exercise to keep these thoughts fresh, relevant, and available for discussion. And when drunken bar outings double as brain exercises, I know I'm doing something right.
But what was even more astounding was her visible, unabashed bewilderment. She really could not comprehend what I was telling her. That was fascinating to me, and probably a good, useful experience for both of us. I tend to have this assumption that gay people are better acquainted with sexual ambiguity, gray areas, and unconventional gender aesthetics. But then I am sometimes reminded that some gay people can see the world just as black and white as sheltered straight people; they're just immersed in the gay side of it. I think I may have opened something up in her brain, and for that I'm proud.
When I went out to events alone in SF, women would often ask me if I was gay. What this often translated to, I realized, was "can I proceed with hitting on you?" Though sometimes it may have been more of an "are you in the club?" type question. I actually always found it really admirable as a preface to flirting. It can seem blunt and awkward, but it's blunt in a way that is very respectful to both parties, I think. Part of the reason I can't stand being hit on by the average dude (aside from the fact that I generally can't stand the average dude) is that they appear have some reason to think that I should be into them, when they don't. This is most likely just the psuedo-confidence that men have been told they've needed since puberty. But if a guy asked, "are you straight?" before proceeding with the regular dude-ness, I would have immense respect for him. Even if I was absolutely uninterested in him in a romantic way, I would probably continue talking to him, because there'd probably be interesting things in the brain of a person who would say that. Then again, I bet a lot of straight women would be offended by that question, but then again, those women are probably lame.