Yesterday, for the second time in my life, I claimed to be lesbian because a man made me uncomfortable. I was walking to a puppet show alone during the last hour or so of daylight when a young man approached me. He was more a boy than anything, really, with that dark strained fuzz on his upper lip. He was shorter than me and seemed unsure of himself, but he was also too dazed by boldness, drugs, or desperation to be stopped. He asked me for change, and when I gave him a quarter, he asked me my name. I surprised myself by telling him the truth, but I didn’t correct him when he heard it wrong. He asked me a few questions that were innocuous enough, but I said little.
He was walking on a diagonal, edging me off the sidewalk. I realized I was starting to walk on the grass to avoid him. Just as I was about to say, “You’re walking too close,” he asked, “Wanna be my date?” He started to put his arm around me, but I moved away. When I tried to explain that I didn’t date boys, he looked offended, said he didn’t gangbang. That wasn’t what I meant. When I clarified, he seemed to know I was lying, or else he didn’t think such a thing were possible, at least not for anyone in real life.
What made him leave wasn’t anything I said. I fell silent and kept walking. I didn’t change my pace while he kept parallel. I felt somehow ashamed, but I knew that he was nothing to be afraid of. After a moment, he muttered his thanks and quickly crossed the street. He yelled something once he was there, but I couldn’t make out the words. It was probably just as well. When I turned west toward my destination, I could see him approaching the two women who had been walking ahead of me. I wanted to stop him. I wanted to warn them—I had the same tense feeling I get when I see that one guy telling the same story about his car breaking down—but I didn’t know how.
At the time, I just felt uncomfortable, but in hindsight, I’m pissed off. I can’t help but question my reaction. I didn’t really feel threatened, did I? So why did I lie? Was it easier? I usually think of myself as comfortable with my sexuality (public nudity and open discussion have both been a significant part of my life here), yet I didn’t skip a beat in rejecting a facet of my personality just because I got a little freaked out. Practically speaking, it’s not that much more effective—pulling “I’m a lesbian” can tap into a guy’s desire to be the one to convert you to loving the penis. Admittedly, I sometimes feel the parallel toward gay men—the thought that if the sex is good enough, gender shouldn’t matter. But not everyone seems to be aware that acting on that principle at the cost of other people’s comfort is a terrible idea.
I wanted to hide behind some stereotype I thought could save me, but a simple “no” might have done better. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. I found myself wishing that I were still a smoker, because I would have burned him with my cigarette. The intensity and violence of this reaction shocked me. Some militant part of me felt justified—he touched me and I don’t know him, and that is not ok—but I couldn’t fool myself for long.
I was angry because I had compromised myself. Yes, he had been invasive, but that’s less taxing to get over. It’s alarming to find out what your instinctual, panicked reactions really are. It’s easy to be less sure of yourself than you thought you were. As I’ve learned, the experience brought things to the surface. Next time I will know what to say.