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Daphne Merkin

On Not Becoming a Lesbian

Although I have preferred the company of my own sex to that of men for as far back as I can remember, I've never had a lesbian experience. I've never been close to a gay woman, either, though for a while I carried on a bantering friendship with a self-described "dyke" I met during a brief hospitalization for depression. This woman was great fun to be around; she was also very overweight and sported the kind of G.I. Joe haircut I associated with women who put their tongues in each other's mouths when they kissed instead of politely brushing the cheek. Toward the end of my hospital stay the two of us regularly signed up for passes to go out to dinner; usually we went for sushi in the next town over, but one evening we planned to have dinner at an elegant inn about an hour's drive away. On the afternoon of that evening, flowers were delivered to me; they were from my friend, and I suddenly realized that she might be reading more into our outings than I intended. That night at the inn, over candles and glistening tableware, I felt other people's glances on us. I wasn't sure whether it was because my companion was not only obese but given to an excessive style in general, or whether everyone suspected us of being lovers. I felt palpably uncomfortable, and as the evening wore on, our conversation grew ever more stiff. Over dessert I decided to confront the situation directly; I explained that I had greatly appreciated the flowers but was a bit taken aback by the sheer romanticism of her gesture. She understood what I meant, and the affair was over before it had begun.

I find it striking that I don't count any lesbians among my good friends, and even more surprising that over the years I've met only a handful of women who have openly acknowledged their gayness--as opposed to having this aspect of themselves bruited about as gossip or speculation. Even so, somewhere along the way, in spite of my limited exposure, I've sensed that gay women are drawn to me. I suppose it's because I lead with my brain--something most men still react to with undisguised alarm--and because I exude the sort of attentiveness toward other women that most women save for men...



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