Saturday, August 4, 2007

My gaydar totally broke when I moved to Wisconsin

Last year, while in Rehoboth Beach (Delaware) for the weekend, I found myself chatting with some women from New Jersey during my afternoon coffee. (This was back in the days before my stomach rebelled against me, and I could enjoy such things.)

When I mentioned I was from Wisconsin, one of the women got very excited. "Wisconsin! I've been to Wisconsin! I used to date a woman from there." I asked her where in Wisconsin she'd been, and I want to say it was Watertown or Delafield or Green Bay, but I really have no recollection at all of her answer, except that it wasn't Madison.

"And let me tell you," she said, "the first time I went-- When I got onto the plane, I thought I had entered lesbian paradise. I whispered to my girlfriend, 'Oh my God, this plane is full of dykes! You never told me there were so many in Wisconsin.' And she said to me, 'What are you talking about?' So I pointed out to her about a dozen different women with, you know, the look. Flannel shirts, hiking boots, no make-up, baseball caps, short hair -- you know, stuff like that."

(Considering that my interlocutor was wearing stretch jeans, a leotard-like black top, lipstick, eyeliner and tastefully selected jewelry, I found her comment ironic, but I digress.)

"And my girlfriend just looked at me and said, 'Oh, honey, they're not dykes. That's just how straight women dress in Wisconsin.'"


When I was in college, I thought I had perfect gaydar. But after I moved to Wisconsin, my gaydar sounded false alarms so often that I decided it had never really worked at all. It was just that, when I was in college, I guessed correctly a lot because there were certain signals that women would give to say, "Hey, I like women," without having to say it. A lot of those signals involved clothing and posture, and I began to assume that any woman who wore certain clothes or held herself a certain way was gay.

But then I moved to Wisconsin and discovered that the straight women here had never received the fashion memo. Many of them looked and acted and dressed like dykes -- some were even downright butch -- and yet they were straight. So I gave up. There's just no way of knowing who's gay or who's straight unless they tell you -- or start making out with you. (And even then ...)


Two years ago, right before I left Madison for Pennsylvania, I shocked my straight friend Tanya in an unwitting display of my pathetic, gaydarless state. Tanya and I had both been working out at the same gym for about a year and we were both obsessed with it. I worked out there four or five times a week. We were a bit intimidated and perhaps fascinated by the people we considered seriously buff, and so we knew the names and amazing athletic accomplishments of dozens of people to whom we had never actually spoken.

I was at a point in my life where I tended to stay away from bars but, that August, a series of events led me to Club 5, a Madison gay bar, one weekend evening. And there, I ran into one of those athletic women from the gym.

I mentioned it later to Tanya. "You know who I ran into at Club 5?" I said. "It kind of surprised me. I saw So-and-So there with a bunch of her friends. You think she might be gay?"

Tanya gasped and giggled simultaneously (an amazing feat, really) -- not at my news, but the fact it was news to me. "Um, you don't really have to run into her at Club 5 to figure that out."

"Really?" I said.

Tanya stared at me and shook her head in a pitying way.

I tried to build a preemptive defense for my ignorance. "Well," I said, "she's got short hair and she looks kind of butch in her gym clothes, but everybody looks kind of butch in their gym clothes."

"It's not that," Tanya said. "She's just gay. It's obvious." Pause. "Don't you have gaydar? Even I have gaydar."

"No," I said. "I used to think I had gaydar, but then I realized it was just wishful thinking."


If one of my editors were reading this, they would ask me what "the hook" for this story is. Why am I telling you this, and why now?

Well, I was at a party last Saturday, and the aforementioned So-and-So showed up with an "I Love Pro-Choice Boys" pin fastened to her hat. "I stopped to sign a petition at the Planned Parenthood table at the farmer's market today, and they'd run out of 'I Love Pro-Choice Girls' buttons. But I still wanted to give them my money and wear pro-choice paraphenelia, so I took this." She removed her hat and spun it around in her hands. "I kind of like it. Totally dykey woman who loves pro-choice boys -- maybe it'll throw people for a loop."

So even So-and-So thinks everyone in the world knows she's a lesbian. Sigh. My gaydar never got the memo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Kiapita, T and I often experience a kind of parallel puzzle. We have been reduced to the following, typical question: "Hey, is he gay or just English?" Sometimes, though, the answer is, "Not quite either, he's just rich and from Boston."
-- from Clams