Saturday, July 31, 2010

My Life in Pink - Part 7

I got my first official job that summer after sophomore year, as a junior stylist at one of the chiquest hair salons in town. Junior stylist meant that I shampooed clients’ hair before the real stylists cut it, and then swept up afterward, and sharpened their scissors, and disinfected their combs, and liaised with their coke dealers for them when they were busy, and fetched them food. The only male of the four stylists, Jean-Claude, who’d never been anywhere near Quebec, let alone France, was gay, and detested me on sight. One of those impeccably masculine types, with short hair, a mustache, and Carhartt work boots, he apparently thought “flamers” such as I made it less likely for the society at large to accept gays. I neither bothered pointing out that I was as straight as a one-dollar bill, nor asked his feelings about the annual Gay Pride parade down in the City.

Another stylist, Zhaneen, was around 40, botoxed to within an inch of her life, and unashamedly predatory. My second day on the job, she said, “You’re having a drink with me after work tonight,” in a tone that invited no negotiation. She drove us back to her condo in her little Mazda sports car, virtually threw me inside, and ravenously deflowered me. The sex part was hella fun. She was a wonderful teacher and I, judging from the noises she made, exactly the sort of gifted, attentive student every teacher loves to teach.

She didn’t teach me just about sex, but taught me a lot about makeup as well. I’d sort of been winging it the whole time I’d been wearing it, since I started middle school. She refined my approach. After lovemaking, she’d sit me down at her makeup table and experiment with different looks for me. Seeing myself in some of them, I think I knew how Narcissus must have felt. I was stunning! These sessions would almost invariably end with both of us being so turned on by how pretty she’d made me that we wound up making even more torrid love than when just home from the salon. She called me a dream come true — wonderfully feminine-looking, but generously endowed and inexhaustible. She made me promise I wouldn’t let any of the salon’s rich lady clients lure me away, but it was actually she who pulled the plug on our relationship, after the girlfriend who’d left her earlier in the year decided she’d made a terrible mistake.

Yes, another depression. But this time, having earned my own money for the first time, I was able to pull myself out of the pit with retail self-therapy. Ordering judiciously on line, I put together what I was sure was the cutest wardrobe any student at my high school would ever have been seen in.

I actually felt quite popular my senior year. No fewer than three boys, two of them much lusted-after jocks, secretly invited me to the prom — and then swore me to secrecy about their having done so when I declined. I thought it only fair that I take Pilar, who I’d found out over the course of my friendship wasn’t nearly as contemptuous of tradition as she pretended, self-protectingly. She wore a tuxedo and I a gown. An hour into the evening, we were named its king and queen. When Mrs. Halfin, our principal, read the announcement, she said, “Now the only question is which of you is which,” and everyone was comfortable enough to laugh, as I prefer to believe Mrs. Halfin had intended, rather than threaten a lawsuit. It was the happiest moment of my life to that point.

Pilar and I made love that night, and I think we were both surprised, she by how much I had to work with, and how skilled I was with it, and I by her gentleness. It felt like a wonderful valediction of our long friendship, and I wasn’t the only one crying when we parted.

Friday, July 30, 2010

My Life in Pink - Part 6

In the spring, I went out for the swim team. The coach wasn’t exactly the faculty sponsor of the Anti-Homophobia League, but became a lot more tolerant when he saw how fast I could swim. Once having demonstrated myself the fastest freestyler on the team, I became a bit safer, as my teammates began looking out for me too. I set two school records my freshman year.

I got my first girlfriend, though nobody but the two of us knew about it, a few weeks into sophomore year. We were both signed up for Journalism, in which one of our first assignments was to conduct an in-depth interview with another member of the class. Carly and I got assigned to each other, and discovered that we had a lot in common. Her mom was an alcoholic, as my dad had been, and we seemed to get each other’s jokes, which was a rare pleasure for me. I have come in adulthood to realize that what I’ve got is called a dry wit, and in high school, you generally need a much damper one to be thought funny rather than weird. She suggested we go see the latest Jim Carrey movie together. I’d always found him a lot more exhausting than funny, but would have gone to a Bruce Willis smirkfest just to be with her.

She drove. After the movie, at which I laughed aloud a lot more than I would have if I hadn’t been trying to impress her, we found a secluded spot and steamed up her windows. She said she found my androgyny a huge turn-on, and that she knew a lot of other girls did too. She claimed to know a big jock who had a crush on me too, but wouldn’t divulge his identity.

I hadn’t realized her stepdad was a member of the faculty because their surnames were different. She knew he wouldn’t approve of her seeing me, so we had to be very discreet. We saw each other, far from the eyes of others, for around two months, at the end of which she seemed to stop finding androgyny so attractive. She dumped me in favor of a junior who was on both the tennis and debate teams. We’d done everything short of sex without actually doing sex. I discovered that I responded anatomically to a pretty girl’s stimulation just like any other straight guy might. I went through another rough depression. When I tried to talk to my brother Scott about it, he refused to believe I’d had a girlfriend, and was actually irate that I didn’t trust him enough to tell me it had really been a boyfriend.

My geography teacher, the mustachioed, nervous little Mr. Ives, came onto me. He summoned me for a conference having to do with the work I’d failed to do while depressed. While I explained that it had been a broken heart making it impossible for me to concentrate on schoolwork, he locked the doors of the classroom. He didn’t have to pull the blinds because we were on the third floor of the Social Studies building. He told me he wanted to kiss me. I, thinking fast, said that was really kind of him, but I didn’t think it would be a good idea. He put his hand on my leg. He was flushed and slick with sweat. He kept licking his lips. He said if I let him kiss me, I wouldn’t have to make up any of the work I’d not done. Once again I refused; I wasn’t so na├»ve as to imagine he’d be content with a kiss.

Now he really got red. He called me a spoiled little brat and a faggot, and said if I breathed a word of what had happened to anyone, he’d say I’d offered to trade sexual favors for a good grade in his class. He’d been teaching at my school for 29 years and had never been in the slightest bit of trouble, so which of us did I think everyone would believe? I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone, but he gave me a C in his class. I had nothing else but A’s on that report card.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Life in Pink - Part 5

I realize now I also haven’t mentioned to you how important my music was to me in those years. When I could have given in to loneliness and despair, I instead was teaching myself to play the bass guitar on which Karen had never managed to get good enough to get into a band. I spent many a happy hour playing along with my favorite CDs. It really got to be fun when I started getting a sense of how music worked, and was able to start embellishing the bass lines I’d at first had to be content to copy. I bought some CDs I wouldn’t ordinarily have been interested in — by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rush — just to study what their much-praised bass players were doing. I discovered I could sing high harmonies while playing.

I got to high school. So too, thank God, did Pilar and her gang, which several older girls seemed eager to join. It wasn’t Pilar and friends who kept me safe, though, but my membership in the emo band I’d joined in the summer, Naked to the Waste. Theirs might have been the most enthusiastic reaction to my androgyny ever; when I showed up at their rehearsal studio, Terry the guitar player delightedly exclaimed, “Dude!” at the mere sight of me. He and Daedalus (originally Danny), the singer, said not to bother to take my Precision out of its case, my look being so cool that it would hardly matter if I could play at all. As it happened, I was the best player in the band by far, and the band, though popular with neither hip hoppers nor metalheads (who now included both my brothers), was generally regarded as my town’s Great Musical Hope, and treated as celebrities at school.

A couple of kids were trying to form a gay students’ support group, and invited me to be in it. I told them I wasn’t actually gay, but they said they’d be grateful for my support anyway, since everybody assumed I was. I joined with my sister Karen in mind; maybe I could do something to make high school a little less excruciating for the next girl like her. I discovered there were actually quite a few straight kids in it. Demonstrating yourself non-homophobic had come to be seen as a cool, status-enhancing thing to do among a lot of those students who didn’t think gays and lesbians should be burned at the stake.

The Nakeds played a party during Christmas break my freshman year, and I got a lift home from Daedalus, who drove us to a secluded spot and tried to kiss me. When I rebuffed him, he was furious and embarrassed, and said if I told a soul, he knew some dudes who’d delete me, as he put it, for a couple of cases of beer. I’d have told him, sincerely, that I had no intention of telling anybody anyway, but the next thing I knew I was out of the band. The most hurtful part was his telling everybody that it had been I who’d come on to him. People were going to believe what they wanted anyway, so I didn’t bother to set anybody straight. I went through a pretty awful depression, and missed nine days of school.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

My Life in Pinik - Part 5

Alejandro and Enrique couldn’t protect me from the shame of always being picked last for teams, but if I wasn’t used to it by now, when I was going to be used to it? And as we finished with the traditional sports for which I’d long known I had no aptitude whatever, and explored new ones, like soccer and gymnastics, I discovered myself a lot less useless athletically than I’d always imagined. I seemed to have a real knack for dribbling a soccer ball with my feet. Other boys would charge at me, seemingly intent on knocking me flying and relieving me of the ball, and I’d embarrass them, either faking them out or simply outrunning them. By the end of our two-week soccer unit, I’d scored more goals than anyone in my class, though of course it was the boy who’d scored the second most whom Coach Himmelmann named the class’s best player.

I went to the PE office after classes to ask him about it. You should have seen the assembled coaches sneering and heard their snickering when I presented myself. Coach Himmelmann was furious with embarrassment as he led me to his office, whose door he pointedly left open. He acted as though he’d initiated the meeting, telling me loudly before I was able even to explain why I’d called on him, “I want you to be very clear about this: I very strongly disapprove of you and everything you stand for.” Outside, one of the other coaches loudly snickered, “You tell her, Buddy.” A couple of the other coaches guffawed at his ingenious use of the feminine pronoun. I wondered exactly what it was Coach saw me representing.

I acknowledged that I wasn’t of much use at football, basketball, or baseball. More guffaws from outside. “You got that right,” Coach snarled, as though in some awful movie about CB radio. “But,” I said, “I think I was pretty clearly the best soccer player in class, and wonder why you said Bruce Logue was.”

“Are you questioning my judgment?” he leaned forward to growl at me, as though I’d somehow impeached his masculinity. I think I was supposed to cower or even burst into tears, but I just smiled at him. He snorted in disgust at my failure — the failure of a 14-year-old who stood 5-4 and weighed 118 pounds to confront a big 220-or-so-pounder in his early forties — to get back in his face, as I think the popular saying goes, and leaned back in his chair. “Listen,” he said, “we do soccer because the school board says we have to. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a girl’s sport.”

I guess gymnastics must have been for girls too, as I was at the top of my class in gymnastic too, the only one who could do a standing back flip. A couple of my classmates actually complimented me. I’m pretty sure Coach would have strangled them with his bare hands if he’d thought he could get away with it.

I don’t want to jump too far ahead, but maybe this is the best place to recount how, seven years later, after I moved down to the City and got a job at a trendy Asian fusion restaurant where I was the only Caucasian…ladyboy, Coach and a couple other butch guys came in one night. Seated in another…gurl’s section, they seemed at first to be rigid with discomfort and loathing. But once they had a couple of drinks in them, I think they got another kind of rigid. When they left, I found out from Lili, who’d served them, that Coach Himmelmann had pleaded for her phone number. We were strictly forbidden to date customers, so Lily had had in the end to give him a false number. Take this from me: most of your most aggressive homophobes and those most offended by someone who doesn’t fit neatly into a conventional gender slot are those who watch the most shemale porn and secretly fantasize most about sucking a cock.

Monday, July 26, 2010

My Life in Pink - Part 4

The pretty girls’ patronage was useless at middle school, and it was a miracle I survived my first day. No fewer than half a dozen groups of boys surrounded me between classes or at my new locker to loudly wonder, “What the fuck is this?” It occurred to me that maybe I should have listened more attentively to Karen and gone easier on the eyeliner, and foregone my eyebrow pencil entirely. Maybe I should have saved my fluorescent pink high-tops for later in the week. A couple of my teachers’ mouths dropped open at the sight of me, and if looks could kill, I wouldn’t have made it through PE, in which my teacher gave me the most hateful glare in the history of glaring.

Once again, it was the fairer sex that rescued me. Just before fifth period, a trio of girls in low-riding combat pants, lots of liquid eyeliner, and huge hoop earrings — two latinas and a black — pushed aside the three boys who’d come over to ask while I opened my locker if I liked taking it up the ass. At first I thought I was done for — that the girls had come over to show the boys how much more deadly is the female of the species. Imagine my relief to discover that what they wanted was to pay their respects. Their leader, whose name I later learned to be Pilar, offered me her fist to touch mine against, and said I was due “mad respect” for having the cojones to come to school looking as I did. “Anybody jack with you, homegirl,” she said, “we jack with them.” It seemed a strong possibility to me that the three of them had learned their style from TV and movies, as there was no real ghetto in our town, but if it worked for them, it was certainly fine with me.

The odd thing — and I must apologize here for not mentioning this before now — is that I honestly hadn’t the slightest interest in taking it up the ass. I may have had neither interest in nor aptitude for baseball, for instance, while I had the utmost interest in shopping and clothes and hairstyles, but there was no question in my mind that I was straight. My fantasies were of looking fantastically pretty, and having sex with a girl of comparable prettiness. I’d gotten fairly heavy into self-stimulation by this time, and it was always sexy girls I thought of in the act.

Nonetheless, I thought it in my best interests to let Pilar and her posse believe whatever they wished to believe, without ever actually lying to them. They would complain to me about their boyfriends as they might have to another girl. When they asked when I intended to get a boyfriend of my own, I would look coy and say something like, “I’m just exploring my options, yo.” They always managed to read enough into that to be content.

I wouldn’t have lived through four semester of middle school PE if the girls hadn’t told various boys to look out for me. The first year, it was Pilar’s boyfriend Alejandro and a couple of other Dominican boys, one of whom, Enrique, took up the slack when Alejandro went on to high school in my second year. It wasn’t that most of the other boys didn’t make a big display of never keeping their backs to me in the showers, and a few of the bolder ones apparently thought it hilarious to announce, “Faggot alert!” whenever I entered them. But I gave them nothing to work with, never looking anywhere other than up or straight ahead, and slamming the door on any thoughts of Pam Anderson or Heather Locklear the second they appeared in my mind’s eye.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Happy Birthday, Lady Gail-Gail!

It’s been my custom to add a new little essay here every day of the week save Sunday lately, but today is a special occasion — the anniversary of the birth, in Canada, several years ago, of my friend Lady Gail-Gail. The remarkable thing is how, without a lot of fanfare, without a lot of gaseous rhetoric from demagogues, her birthday has come to be a de facto national holiday. In Beacon, New York, where I live — to whatever extent one can be said to be living, rather than just enduring, in a heat wave that seems intent on lasting forever — there was on Main Street this morning, before most folks headed off to church, a parade featuring flower-bestrewn floats. My own favorite — and a favorite also of the judges, who gave it both the Judges’ and Least Appropriate for Children awards — was the Marie Antoinette’s Beheading float, sponsored by our soon-to-open designer bakery Flour. Reminding us that Her Highness is wrongly thought to have said, “Let them eat cake,” when advised that many of her subjects were starving, Flour’s proprietors hired local teenagers to distribute samples of their delicious devil’s food cake to those lining the parade route. Many declined, having not yet had their breakfast (here in Beacon, we believe no less avidly in a nutritious start to the day than in the sanctity of Pete Seeger), but those who accepted samples were generally delighted to have done so. “Absolutely gorgeous,” remarked local figurative painter Richard Butler, once the lead singer of the Psychedelic Furs, in whose native United Kingdom, gorgeous is often invoked to connote great deliciousness.

A spokesperson for Lady Gail-Gail advised local revelers via videoconference that the birthday girl intended to spend her day driving up to Santa Barbara for lunch with one of her many glamorous public relations clients. On returning to Los Angeles this evening, she will allow one of her many suitors to take her to dinner, and then devote the balance of the evening to opening gifts and cards.

It’s never too late to transmit belated felicitations here.