Don’t call me pretty: A STEM coming out story
I don’t go to bars anymore. Technically, I don’t go to straight bars anymore but there’s really no other alternative in my country of residence so I just don’t go anywhere where pick-up lines and the invasion of personal space is commonplace. Instead I use the internet. Why? Because I’m tired.
Why do people go out in the first place? You can pretend that it’s to meet up with friends, drink fancy cocktails and dance your life away but we all know the truth. If you’re not taken, you’re out to find someone. You’re looking. We’re always looking. The constant searching and longing for connection is deep rooted in our DNA.
I’m a recently single lady, so guess what? I go out with the full intention of finding. I am making a bold statement to myself from the moment I take off my PJ’s. I am saying: I’m ready to get back out there, as painful and as scary as it is, I don’t want to be alone so let’s do this.
So I go out, I put my best face on and face the crowd. I get in rather easy, ladies are treated like royalty in these places. Lucky for me, I look like one. I’m not the traditional stereotypical lipstick lesbian. You’ll hardly find me wearing a sundress, far less stiletto heels, I’m more of a jeans and jacket kind of girl.
However, my Indian roots have graced me with some very distinct features.
I have long, dark, thick flowing hair, perfectly arched eyebrows and long, thick eyelashes. I’m pretty to look at, or so I’ve been told.
The only issue is: who’s looking? Definitely not women. No.
I’ve never been ‘confused’ for a lesbian.
I walk to the bar, the bartender shoots me a smile and politely asks what he could get me. “Vodka Cranberry” I reply. He brings back my confidence in a cup and I’m ready to start scouring the place but not before he asks me if I have a boyfriend. Now I’ve heard this question a million times over and from experience I know that it’s not worth getting into. “No, but I’m not interested in one either” I quickly say and walk away. “Can I get your phone number?” he asks. I hate being rude or impolite to people. I’m of the belief “treat others as you’d like to be treated’ so against my better judgment, I feel compelled to respond. “Sorry. No”. This time I really walk away. Another patron noticed my conversation with the bartender, he feels this was some kind of ‘signal’ for him to come over. Offended by my aversion to his advances he leans in and in a matter of fact way says “You’re married aren’t you?” I have no idea what it is. What do married woman look like? Why do I give off that kind of vibe? Granted I’m the mate-for-life kind of girl but you need to find your mate first. I nod and walk away.
There are a group of girls dancing by the DJ. I find a spot close to them and admire their beauty from afar like any trained stalker would. Part of me is secretly hoping for one of them to notice me, be intrigued by me, approach me or give me a sign that they’d like to be approached by me so that I could avoid any unnecessary rejection. But that doesn’t happen. That never happens. At least not to me. After several failed attempts at approaching a girl, I go home to the one thing that never leaves my side: My bed. I cuddle with my pillow and tell myself it’s just another bad night out. Tomorrow is another day.
Tired of the routine, I confide in my closest lesbian friend to help me get out of the rut. I ask her for guidance. She has girls waiting in line to give her their phone number. So what is it that draws girls to her? What does she have that I don’t? To my amazement, this is the knowledge she shared with me:
“It’s not about what you have or don’t have. It’s just about how you portray yourself, how you identify. I IDENTIFY as a lesbian. You… you don’t”
“What does that mean? I’ll always say I’m gay to whoever asks,” I argue.
“That’s not it. People can’t just see you and know you’re a lesbian. You look straight so they wouldn’t think of approaching you unless that’s their thing. You have to approach them.”
“It’s a vibe thing.” My best friend says. “If she’s in the club and she’s constantly checking you out, chances are she’s gay or curious. Either way, that’s your signal.”
“What if the only people checking you out are men?” I ask in resignation.
“Then change your style. Be less confusing. Don’t dress like a STEM. Dress according to the kind of girl you’re looking to attract.”
“I’m sorry. What the hell is a STEM?”
“It’s like in-between a girl and a boy. That’s what you are.”
“I had no idea there was a label for what I was. I thought I was just a pretty tomboy.”
“Well, you’re a STEM. But girls here, they don’t get it. They’re confused by you. Do you like boyish girls or girly girls?”
“I like… both. I don’t know. I like girls. I’ve liked both kinds before so I can’t say I like just one.
“Well hun, my advice is that you pick one if you want to get laid. As your friend, I’d suggest you start dressing more boyish.”
After some self-exploring and a wardrobe change, I hit the town again. Only this time, I was alienated. I was still “too pretty” for the girly girls. It was back to the drawing board. We switched the flip. I went all girly on myself. I wasn’t ready for heels or a dress, but there was a skirt and a halter top involved. Mascara and lip gloss as well. I felt uncomfortable at first, but the liquid courage helped put things into perspective. I was on a mission. I was getting a lot of attention. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of attraction I was looking for. Every two minutes there was a different guy lined up offering to buy me drinks. I wasn’t sure if to laugh or cry. I thought of the superficiality of it all, attracting someone based on your personal appearance when that’s just one shade of what makes you. Then again, how are the girls I was trying to attract any different than the guys? I was hoping they would notice me and like what they saw physically in order to approach me. It’s only after all of this that I came to a realisation.
Yes, I’m single but I’m not desperate.
Desperation is an emotion that would cause you to let go of who you are to get what you want.
For a second there I had forgotten how truly amazing I was as myself. As a person. Not solely a body or an outfit but a human being.
I am weird. I am different. I dress funky. I wear men’s shirts with girls’ tops underneath. I wear my hair out. I might or might not use mascara depending on the mood I’m in but none of that takes away from who I am as a person. We are still so judgmental of a person’s ‘cover’. What you see on the outside is but a glimpse of a person’s true beauty.
I agree that physical attraction is important but that is sometimes overshadowed by our assumptions. I’m sure a ton of ladies have felt attracted to me but because they thought I wouldn’t be their type or they weren’t mine, I never got the signal.
I’ve decided to just be me even if that means being alone for the time being. I feel sexiest when I am comfortable in what I wear and I shouldn’t compromise who I am for anyone. It’d be beautiful if we could live in a world where we could just go up to someone we like and be like “Hey, I like you and I’d like to get to know you better. If you’d like to get to know me too could I get your number?” Instead, we insist on playing these games of catch and release.
After watching a series episodes from Amber’s Closet, I finally understand what it is to be a STEM and I realise this is much bigger than me. I am part of a subculture of lesbians. And it’s okay. I won’t be shamed or bullied into fitting in a box. If girls don’t get me, that’s ok. Eventually, one will show up who will give me the opportunity to show her everything I am and can be and when they see her with me they’ll say “Damn, she’s lucky”.
For more on coming out check out Things I Wish I Had Told You Before You Came Out, Sexual Health for WSW in Nigeria and Coming Out to My Doctor and Ethiopian and Lesbian: Here is my Coming Out story. Check out this post about lesbian rules that people need to break!
Also read this charming short story called The Children who started the fire.