My love and I live a distance apart. Think counties, not states. We’re close enough to see each other several days a week, but far enough apart that we can’t run home to pick something up on a whim.
So Friday I showed up at her place toting all my usual stuff: My computer (duh!), my weekend bag, and a bag of shoes and boots.
What I forgot were my clothes, which I had very carefully hung near the door. I was facing down a busy Pride weekend with only the things I had stuffed in my bag – lovely red lingerie, a vintage black slip, stockings and garters, a tank top, and a cardigan – or had on my back. I had no dress, no skirt, no fetching tops.
To make matters worse, I had stopped for a hair appointment on my way to the Bay Area, and I was dressed in the most daytime basic – a t-shirt, ripped vintage Levis, red ballet flats, and my black leather motorcycle jacket.
When I arrived at my sweetheart’s, we had less than two hours to jump on BART and sign in for our volunteer shifts at a certain women’s party at a certain private location. Yikes.
Since my t-shirt was black and white striped, my girlfriend joked that we could add a beanie and red scarf and I could be Waldo for Pride weekend. Funny and not funny.
I finally cobbled together an outfit that was a little tougher than my usual evening wear, and definitely not what I had planned for our weekend kick-off – fishnet stockings under my torn jeans, my red bra under one of my butch sweetheart’s white ribbed under-tanks, and my jacket. (I was so happy I had a fresh haircut and pedicure and had not forgotten my makeup. These things go a long way toward making me feel pulled together every day.)
I was feeling awkward and I know exactly why. Lately, I’ve been suffering from a little femme invisibility. My professional life has necessitated growing my hair out a few inches. In my daily life, I feel like I just don’t look as queer. Plus, I’ve somehow become une lesbienne d’un certain age* (which sounds SO much nicer than “middle-aged dyke”). Because of these factors, I look forward to queer events, where I feel much more attractive than I do in the world at large.
(Side note: I’m probably not alone in this. I suspect there are lots of queer women who, like me, felt uncomfortable, unattractive, and misplaced until they came out and found their place in the community of women.)
I wanted to look pretty and witty and gay, damn it.
But really, this isn’t an essay about my fashion travails. It’s about compliments and how thoughtful people can really make your day.
During my volunteer shift at the party, I was sitting at my station on a stool by the door, greeting people as they came in. A woman took a moment as she passed by to tell me that she thought my outfit was “perfect”. She said (something like), “you’ve hit just the right balance of sexiness there”. Awww. I felt better already.
But later that night, a young woman** rocked my weekend. My sweetheart and I were sitting on a couch, getting ready to face the cold winds on the way to BART. She approached us and said to me, “I just wanted to tell you that I think you’re really beautiful.” She delivered this in a way that was completely un-ironic. I said “thank you” and told her she was very sweet, but I was really too stunned to formulate a proper thanks.
The next day, when the three of us ran into each other again at the Dykes on Bikes party at El Rio, I explained about my missing clothes and how funky I had been feeling, and how she made my night. We introduced ourselves and ran into each other one more time, at the Dyke March, before the weekend was over.
I know I’m supposed to be able to move through the world without needing the feedback of other people to feel secure, happy, and attractive, but I’m not always completely at peace with myself. A heartfelt compliment is a mood-booster.
In my days as a department manager, I was told that any effective compliment should be brief, specific, and sincere. And I think that’s true in our non-work life, too. For most people, it feels uncomfortable to be gushed over, when a simple “that haircut is great on you,” sounds so real. Statements like “you rock,” “you go, girl,” and “you’re hot,” feel as ubiquitous as “wassup?”.
So when someone takes the time to approach and say something meaningful and nice, it’s special.
The best part of this sort of exchange is that it inevitably pays forward. On Saturday, we passed a young woman sitting on a curb in Dolores Park. She was wearing a long, vividly printed halter dress that looked absolutely amazing against her dark skin.
I stopped right there and told her so.
*une lesbienne d’un certain age: Probably too old to be a MILF, old enough to hunt younger cougars, and not old enough to star in granny porn.
** A special hug to Vanessa in case she reads this.