Being the Aggressor


I’ve always been absurdly influenced by my dreams. Not in a “Hey little girl, you can be a nurse who rides a unicorn while winning a daytime Emmy, you gotta follow your dreams!” kind of way. Rather, my subconscious mind exerts undo control over my daily choices, specifically my love life.

Back in high school, I liked a guy (This in itself was unusual. Mostly I liked Candice Bergen.) I knew he liked me. We’d even gone out on one uneventful date — I’m pretty sure we saw that Helen Hunt movie about weather, you know, with the flying cows. However, at 18 I felt embarrassed to date a sophomore. (I still can’t bring myself to reveal his exact age.) So I’d busied myself with important things like hating my best friend for getting the lead in the school play and honing my eating disorder. Then one night I had a dream. In it the boy proposed to his new girlfriend. I chased the couple down the street shouting his name as if reenacting The Graduate. When I awoke, my mission was clear.

The boy actually had begun dating someone. I’m trying to remember her name right now and I honestly think it was Star. I also remember that at the cast party for Neil Simon’s The Good Doctor, she told a joke about blow jobs, the punchline of which involved her spitting a sip of her soda back into her red plastic cup. But the cast party joke came later. First I made my move.

An hour before the play began, I pulled the boy into the empty girl’s dressing room.

“I like you,” I said. “I think we should date.”

At that point one of the female cast members tried to open the door. I leaned against it. “Well?” I said.

“Let me in, I need to change!” The cast member banged on the door.

“Just a second,” I called. “Well?”

“OK.” He blushed.

At the cast party that night, I watched the girl’s eyes fill when the boy ignored her, instead following me from room to room. He wasn’t a jerk, just young and too inexperienced to break her heart boldly. Three months later I broke up with him (Might have had something to do with the persistent Melissa Etheridge dreams.), but that episode was just the beginning of me having to initiate every goddamn thing in the world.

Or maybe just romance.

The other day a straight friend told me I’m the most feminine person she knows. (The issue of why a straight woman complimenting my femininity pretty much made my week is perhaps a topic for another therapy session — I mean essay.) Her statement got me thinking about roles. In my life, I’ve dated men and masculine women, yet with literally one exception, it’s fallen to me to make the first move.

Maybe that’s not surprising. After all, lesbians take forever to get to the point. At least when the point is sex. Ingrained female passivity is one oft cited explanation. We may have studied our Jack Halberstam, but not before being steeped in gendered cultural cues. Or perhaps its our biology. Because we, I don’t know, like to nest or have our chairs pulled out or something. But despite culture or biology, despite my actual experience as a femme, I still expect butch women to initiate. Certainly I support ol’ Halberstam’s notion that female masculinity is not an imitation of male masculinity but instead must be understood on its own terms, but I wonder if my expectation hinges on the fact that men are the culturally mandated initiators. And if men are sexually aggressive, I assume masculine women will initiate as well.

“The lipstick and the earrings are throwing me off!”

Of course this assumption is not only hetero-centric but defies my posterior experience. In other words, it seems like my culturally-based expectations outweigh my actual history. When I wrote that getting the relationship ball rolling has nearly always been my reluctant task, I thought maybe I was exaggerating, but as I examine my experiences I realize that although I think of myself as an eyelash-batting femme, aside from brief bar encounter interactions, and the one notable exception, I have always been the first to confess my feelings/lean in to kiss/lock the dressing room door.

Perhaps I was chaining a potential love interest to a radiator the day they handed out my dose of female sexual passivity. Possibly my mother’s right and I’m just generally impatient. But I’m starting to wonder, do I actually represent the hidden lesbian cultural norm?

What about you guys? Are you always the initiator? Do you wish it were otherwise? Have you ever locked someone in a dressing room? Talk to me.

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