Here’s My Number

This summer, I asked a girl out on a date for the first time ever.

This summer, I asked a girl out on a date for the first time ever.

No, I’m not a brand new baby lesbian. I’ve been explicitly out since 1992, which is a little more than half my lifetime ago. Put another way, I’ve never really been “in.”

I’ve had girlfriends as well as my share of messy high school and college dalliances. For that matter, I made the moves on the troop leader’s daughter as an eight-year-old  Brownie. I have a nice dyke resume, all told. But I’d never simply asked a girl out on a date before this summer.

My first time went okay. She blushed, stammered, fumbled, and told me that she’d just started seeing someone. “It hasn’t even been that long!” she said, incredulous. She blabbed nervously about how strange life is, how everything happens at once or nothing happens at all. It was endearing; she seemed to be into me, classic Dyke-Insta-Merge Exclusivity Contract notwithstanding, and I was glad to be let down gently at least.

Then I swallowed my disappointment and started asking girls out as a matter of course. The beautiful butch in the slick button-down, engrossed in a See’s lollipop, walking amidst a sea of straight downtown office-workers — she got asked. The cute boyish thing on the BART train, texting dexterously — she definitely got asked. The lean androgyne on the park bench, writing intently in her journal — she  got asked. The soft butch with the winning dimples moving uncertainly through the gift shop, comparing hipster baby clothes with a puzzled look on her face — asked. The spooky artist with boyish charm, the handsome graphic designer with the square jaw, the country girl with close-cropped curly hair and mischievous eyes, the woman at the dyke march with the shy smile, the grad student carting a textbook around at a social event… I was making up for lost time.

There’s something so amazing about not only noticing the specific kind of beauty I respond to but also directly expressing what I’ve noticed. I love the energy of it, the exchange. I love making it verbal instead of just looking on appreciatively. I love the feeling of action; I love making a gift of it. I love making girls blush or otherwise get visibly nervous. I really love having the element of surprise in my favor — the kinds of girls I like tend to be used to doing the asking; also, they generally don’t even expect me to be gay. This all just adds to the fun. It turns out I just love asking girls out.

But frankly, it’s also terrifying.

Thus far, I’ve never been met by any rejection worse than “I already have a girlfriend,” which has been qualified each time with something like “…but it’s lovely to meet you” and a meaningful, soft-eyed look. Whether this is true or not, it’s a kindness. Women are socialized to take care of other people’s feelings. I resent this when it’s expected of me, but having it cradle my ego a little in these situations is… actually, really kind of nice. Because despite the fact that even when they reject you, women tend to soften the blow, asking them out is terrifying. It’s terrifying to tell a girl that something about her, her particular beauty, her presence, moves you. It feels incredibly revealing. It’s a lot of power to give.

All of this has got me thinking about the way I’ve historically treated straight guys. Because who asks me out at random in public places? Not girls, sadly, but plenty of men. When I was a young, angry dyke, I developed a method for responding to their unwanted attention that had nothing to do with caretaking feelings: I punished them. I was mad. I had a large and justifiable chip on my shoulder about the multiple interlocking “isms” that we lesbians discourse on so well. I was mad that because I’m small and pretty, straight men assumed I would be available to them. I was mad about the gross, oppressive harassment I got — men telling me to smile, commenting on my body, describing things they wanted to do to me, grabbing me — so that when a guy would respectfully ask me out, it just felt like more of the same onslaught, one more piece of unwanted attention. In my younger years, when I was salty and looking for conflict with the straight world, I’m sure I yelled at and humiliated more than one nice, well-meaning guy just for expressing interest in me.

Coming home from a disastrous date the other night, I waited for a train. A freak cold spell had interrupted our late summer weather, and I was wearing a dramatic wool pencil skirt that sharply contrasted with the dominant Bay Area fashion meme of polar fleece and denim. A guy came up to me. “Excuse me,” he said, tentative. I felt my face wanting to take on a sneer but held off on rolling my eyes. “Yes?” I said, somewhat shortly. “Um… I just noticed you, and. I wanted to say ‘hi.’” This sounded familiar, probably because it was almost exactly what I’d said in one of my earliest clumsy attempts with a girl on the street just weeks before. I had a hit of compassion. “Oh,” I said, disarmed. “I’ve been saying that to girls a lot myself lately. It’s awkward, isn’t it? Well, I’m gay. But thanks for the compliment.”

I hope that turning over this leaf signifies enough of a lesson learned that I won’t have to meet my comeuppance in the form of a girl who responds to me the way I used to respond to men. Regardless, I am glad to have had that moment of feeling brotherly camaraderie with this awkward, bearish, scruffy guy, who was clearly unsure of himself but approached me anyway. I understood the mix of anxiety and hope that made him do it.

I know, now, how you’re afraid to be vulnerable to a stranger, how exposing it is to say, “You hold this thing which means beauty to me” — but the desire for a moment of connection with that beauty, and the hope for more, outweighs the fear.