I had just paid for two full pints and was headed back to where my friends were sitting. As I turned around, I found myself directly in front of a couple, two short-haired women with tattoos and gauged ears. I gave them my biggest tipsy grin.
The women responded with a barely perceptible look of disgusted surprise and instantly turned away, pretending they hadn’t seen me. I was left holding my beers in complete confusion. These two had to be the meanest lesbians I ever met!
Shuffling back to my table, I realized what had happened. While I had seen them and thought we were members of a common tribe, they had looked back and seen some drunk dude with really horrible gaydar, presumably hoping to chat them up.
This was about a year into my transition, right around the time I started being read as male with complete consistency. It was time to say goodbye to the lesbian smile and the lesbian nod, like I’d said goodbye already to lesbian identity.
I still sometimes give a queer nod or smile–when I see a butch with a badass pompadour, when I see a gay or lesbian couple in love. I’ve learned to pick the time, place and manner so that I don’t bother people. They respond pretty well, though they often look a little confused, like they’re trying to figure out if I’m just a really cool straight dude, or maybe thinking, That guy’s gay? Really? I doubt that they ever suspect the truth.
These days I’ve also learned to give women a very different kind of smile, what Alma rather glibly calls the “I’m not gonna rape you” smile. This is the distinctive closed-mouth, eyes-averted, head-down grin a man gives a woman in strange situations, such as being the only two people walking on a street at night, that’s meant to say, I am totally not a threat to you. The body language is exactly like a submissive dog, leaning way, hunching down to look a little smaller.
This gesture is second nature to me now. I do it without thinking, moving to give female passersby a little extra space. I hurry past them on my way, because I hate getting stuck ten feet behind a woman who walks the exact same speed as me, who keeps turning the tiniest bit, trying to look at me without showing it, obviously extremely uncomfortable. I can’t say anything in these moments–anything I could possibly say would only make it worse. All I can do is make a wide parabola around her, smiling with my head down, hoping she can tell that I just really want to get home.