I moved to Chelsea and now people think Im straight. I used to walk the streets hand-in-hand with my girlfriend Melinda, fitting into the East Village, where I lived, or making a statement in old Hells Kitchen, where she did. But ever since we moved to our new apartment on West 21st Street, smack in the heart of Chelsea, where gay people go to be gay, all the local guys have ignored me but checked Melinda out like a new cocktail on the brunch menu. You see, they thought she was a he.
I first noticed it crossing Seventh Avenue to buy paint.A hunky brunet walking his Lab eyed her up and down but nearly tripped me with his leash. In Bed, Bath & Beyond, checkout boys incessantly asked her, Sir, is there anything I can help you with? Home delivery today? At the Cuba Café, Melindas cocktails kept coming, while I sat as dry as their plantain chips.
Ive never been called sir so much in my life, Melinda said over dinner.
Im sorry, babe, I said. If it makes you feel any better, it means they think Im straight.
Melinda laughed. And you date a really short guy.
At 5-foot-5 inches, Melinda was not that short for a woman. Nor was she that butch for a lesbian. Sure, her light brown hair was cropped and her curls coiffed. Her taste in button-downs was impeccable and her trousers well tailored. But she was definitely a she. I could have seen it once in a while. Say, when she threw on her black Nike hat and sweatshirt to run up to Whole Foods without me. But together, throughout all our years in New York, there had never been much confusionsometimes to our chagrinthat we were lesbians
until we moved to Chelsea.
Were going to have to buy you tighter T- shirts, I said.
Theyre already smalls. Melinda frowned, her blue eyes round with willingness. Do you think that will work? I dont know, but you hate being called sir and it sucks to live in one of the gayest neighborhoods on the planet and have people think youre straight. I stabbed at my steak.
Thats when it dawned on me. If they thought Melinda was a he and they were checking her out, then they thought she, er, he was gay.Which meant they mistook me as way more than straight.They thought I was a fag hag.
Mel! I hissed, leaning across the table.
They dont just think Im straight.They think Im a fag hag! I spat out.
Mel sat back fast in her chair. She covered her mouth with both hands, like any good queen would. She feigned shock but her eyes gave her away. She ached to laugh, as she mimicked her best horrified, gay gasp: Oh no! Fag hags were as opposite as anyone could possibly be from me. They were straight women (usually single) who primarily befriended gay men. As one lesbian committed to another, the last thing on earth Id do is fawn over a mangay or straight.
Seriously, what are we going to do? Melinda asked.
What can we do? Yell that were dykes to every guy who checks you out? Buy combat boots? Wear lavender triangle T-shirts? The waiter brought Melindas drink, and I piped up to order a strong one.Wed have to figure something out; Chelsea was our neighborhood, too. Of course, we knew about its reputation before we moved: The rainbow flags, clouds of cologne and thumping club music were impossible to miss. We picked Chelsea because it was the middle meeting point between our single-girl stomping grounds and we wanted the food, shopping, art and walking commutes that living there afforded us. But with Chelsea came the gays.
Not that I had anything against gay men.
In fact, I often felt that Melinda and I had more in common with them than most lesbians.We had great hair, upwardly mobile careers and a spectacular apartment with views of the Empire State Building and an epic shoe storage problem. Despite all this, gays usually held us at arms length.
Lesbians and gays were frequently referred to as the LGBT community, but in real life were rarely so close to one another. In mind and body, we were on opposite ends of the spectrum: Men loving men on one end and women loving women on the other. LGBT did not represent a community as much as served as an abbreviation, like U.S.A., to represent a multitude of disparate people all pursuing their own happiness.
In New York, we divided up neighborhoods and designated whose community was whose. Technically, Melinda and I had invaded their turf. It wasnt their job to make a place for us any more than it was to pick our outfits with eye shadow to match.
One night, Melinda and I attended a benefit for the Harvey Milk High School.To raise funds, a bunch of gays hosted a beauty pageant to pay tribute to LGBTs un-sung heroes: fag hags. While Id rather not be mistaken as one, I recognized that these ladies were on our side. As Melinda and I continued to fight for full citizenship privileges and recognition that our relationship was every bit as real as our parents, we would whole-heartedly accept all the love we could get.
Hags representing Harlem, Soho and other neighborhoods showed off their D.I.Y. finery, boasted Madonna trivia, belted out karaoke and, to the delight of most, paraded her gay around in his swimsuit. Melinda and I rooted for Miss Hells Kitchen to win since Miss East Village didnt stand a chance. In the end, Miss West Village barely won by the crowds cheer-o-meter.
Its a shame that Chelsea wasnt represented, I said to Melinda, walking out of the womens bathroom that doubled as the hags dressing room.
Ooh! Youre so cute! a gay guy interrupted us, squealing at Melinda.
She looked at me bewildered.What more could she do than come out of a door marked Women? I wrapped my arms around her. I know, I gushed back at him. Thank you! Startled, he looked from Melinda to me to the bathroom door, Oh
Oh! I see, he said. He turned quickly on his heel, blowing a kiss behind him.
Melinda tucked her cheek against my shoulder. Come on, Miss Chelsea, she said. Lets go get a cocktail.