New York City, New York
I would be lying if I said a part of me didn’t plan to fuck her despite the man waiting for me at home. I would be lying if I said that part of me hadn’t been growing and growing ever since I laid eyes on her in my women’s studies course, since we started exchanging text messages that were so charged I fucked myself while reading them, cumming harder than my boyfriend ever made me. Sure, I was out. I was part of the campus pride organization, I had made out with plenty of girls, most of my friends were queer. Yet the thought of Jennifer’s body filled me with terror; if I gave into her, I knew I would lose myself completely. When she invited me to join her friends at the queer pride parade, I could not deny myself the temptation. It would be my first, and it would be historical: two days after Cuomo signed the legislation that passed same-sex marriage in New York. In my mind, I knew there would be dancing in the streets, that women would be going topless—something else the city had legalized. I couldn’t have cared less. All I wanted was to be close to the temptation that was Jennifer’s body, her short blonde hair, her blue eyes, her arms riddled with tattoos. The friction between us was as hot as that summer day, late June in the city. Her friends noticed and teased us, one asking me directly what my boyfriend thought of me going into the city with a group of self-identified dykes. I wasn’t thinking about him or anything else except burying myself between Jennifer’s thighs, losing myself to that place. I found the parade to be rather boring; I would later learn that NYC Pride was commercialized long ago, filled with displays from banks and local politicians trying to gain support from constituents. Pride was not in the procession but in the crowd on the sidewalks, everyone bedecked in rainbow, making out with their lovers. I wanted to make out with my lover, I wanted to make her my lover, I wanted to fuck her right there on the street. As we were leaving we saw a young teen girl writhing in the gutter, clearly drunk and wilting from the heat. A group of older, maternal lesbians gathered around her, offered her water, determined if she needed medical assistance. I witnessed the concern on Jennifer’s face and saw the power and salvation women offer. It was this power that both thrilled and terrified me. We went to what her friends called the last lesbian bar in the city, although the internet tells me there are a couple left of the dying breed. A man entered the bar and experienced dozens of angry female eyes glaring at him. His female friend tried to apologize and normalize his presence, acknowledging that yes he was a straight white guy, but he was cool. Her comments were met with silent glares and he looked around frantically before he pushed his way out of the crowd. It was the only time I had ever seen that kind of fear on a man’s face, the fear women experience everyday passing through a man’s world. Jennifer and I were inches apart, we were dancing, but we never touched. Queer power generated between our bodies. Even when people tried to engage me, to ask me what my tattoos meant, or to hit on me, my eyes never left Jennifer in that crowded bar on that hot city night.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Six years later, I was still with the same man, and Jennifer, with her intoxicating butch haircut, was long gone. It had been several years since I allowed myself to come close to the power of a woman. I bid my time by accepting my boyfriend’s affection, despite the fact that I often found myself crying during sex, or feeling empty afterwards. We constantly sought out new experiences, his competitive job in tech funding meals at fine dining restaurants and trips. We traveled to New Orleans, the city I considered my soul city. Each trip inadvertently took place during hurricane season. Part of me yearned for the city to destroy what was left of me, for strong winds to pick me up and rip me away from the home I had made of his body, for my tears to join the torrential rain. The French Quarter was always quieter during this part of the year. Beyond the risk of storms, the heat was at its most oppressive. As we unpacked in the historic hotel room, music started to burst from the street. The city was generally quieter on our trips, the heat stifling the musicality it was known for. He continued to unpack while I shifted my weight from one foot to the other. Come on! I kept urging him. COME ON, WE COULD MISS IT! He continued to methodically pull his clothing out of his suitcase until my voice annoyed him enough to stop his routine so we could discover what was going on outside. This was one of his many pet peeves about me: I was always ready for the winds to sweep me away, while he was grounded and wanted to address each aspect of life practically, in a planned-out fashion. I tried to ignore his aura of anger, his rolling eyes and sneer, while we went outside. I needed to know what the city had in store for me. The parade unfolded on the street in front of us, and it only took one look at the crowd to realize that we were surrounded by queers. Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived unexpectedly on the first day of the NOLA Pride festival. So much for planning. Unlike New York City, the parade and the crowds were small. Modest krewes with homemade costumes paraded down the street, moving their bodies to the music of the latest gay icon and throwing out rainbow Mardi Gras beads. Several strands weighed down my neck. If New York City took pride for granted, NOLA acted as a beacon to queers from surrounding rural areas, where coming out or breaking gender norms was still a radical act. The faces of butch women glimmered in the sun. Black krewes stomped down the street with pride. He was willing to adjust our plans for once and we found ourselves at a local drag show, the performers less polished than those up north, their performances gritty and profound. I was given free jerseys from an Absolut rep, bright with pride colors. I would later hide these shirts in my closet, never sure where to wear them, but confident that they were meaningful artifacts I had to keep close to me. After the show we emerged into the muggy street, already drunk. My vision was blurred enough to forget my desire to be ripped off of the ground by a storm, carried away to somewhere that felt more fulfilling. We decided to return to our old favorite, Dat Dog, the purveyor of sausages filled with Creole seasonings, a restaurant I had dreamed of when I was in other cities famous for their cuisines. Our commute was interrupted by a group of naked bikers, a line of flesh speeding down the street. I took in the female bodies, their breasts tanned under the sun, their thighs taut while they pushed against the bike pedals, street punks with dreadlocks and mohawks. They moved with the destructive power of a storm. I would not meet his eyes for the rest of the trip; I had been ripped away on the winds.
New Haven, Connecticut
I had become the face of LGBTQ+ advocacy at my workplace. I set up the booth at our local pride parade—held in September to accommodate when the rich Yalies were in town—which I both resented and appreciated. The air was cool and no one would risk overheating. My coworkers eyed the rainbow beads around my neck, which I had saved ever since leaving NOLA, my luggage weighed down by beads and flags and my two jerseys. Apparently, I was supposed to wear my regular business casual, even to pride. But I networked and smiled and told stories about my NOLA trip, neglecting how it felt to be pulled away by the winds momentarily. My smile carried our booth. Clients approached me in the following months and told me how important it was for people to see me, the face of our organization, smiling and welcoming members of the LGBTQ+ community. Some of my clients would ask me if other people I worked with were “part of the club,” assuming I was queer. Why wouldn’t they? I talked to my coworkers about my romantic partner in genderless terms and their eyes always lingered. They wanted to know who my partner was, or more specifically, what pronouns they used. Would I be taken less seriously at my job if I was in a relationship with a man? Part of me wanted to hide this part of my identity, to be just one of many faces in the pride parade, smiling, beaming with my love for other women. I lost myself at the parade, enjoying the company of my coworkers and the community members who approached us. Music echoed off of the walls of industrial buildings in our neighborhood. Our booth was in an alley that scared me to walk down alone at night, but it was now congested with people streaming out onto one of the main roads in the city. I was handing out packs of Skittles—taste the rainbow—to anyone who approached the booth. I had painstakingly applied a sticker to each one. It had a welcoming message with my contact information should anyone need help. A man walked up, took several packs, and quickly ripped off each sticker. “I’m not a faggot,” he stated simply, before snagging other freebies and walking away. The staff met each others’ eyes. Many of us worked with the disenfranchised and recognized that he was probably struggling. We watched him disappear into a crowd made up of older men wearing boas and teens giddy to be at their first event. None of us knew how to address what had happened, and none of us wanted to engage further. As he drifted away into the crowd, I wondered if my face echoed his more than the gleaming ones that were shouting we’re here, we’re queer, GET USED TO IT! I would eventually leave my shift at the booth to drift amongst others, hugging a friend I hadn’t seen since college whose PhD studies focused on the rights of sex workers. He frequently and publicly responded YES to Facebook events advertising sex parties at local motels and bear events. He had never seen me with a woman in a serious relationship. What did he think of me? Was I a valid queer? Did I even count as a member of the community at all? Does longing equate identity? I knew what I would say to others who asked me these questions, yet I still felt like a fraud, like someone who carried an identity outwardly so she could hide from the fact that she was not attracted to men at all. I watched women march in the parade. They laughed into each other’s eyes, held hands, and made out against brick walls. I waited for a wind strong enough to rip me away. The fall air was cool but stagnant. My shift was over so I pushed my way through the crowd and walked back to my apartment, a block or two away. I unlocked the front door and mounted the stairs to my apartment, to the home I had made out of a man’s body, who I wished would finally evict me.
Callie S. Blackstone writes both poetry and prose. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Plainsongs, Lily Poetry Review, Rust+Moth, Prime Number Magazine, West Trestle Review, and others. Callie is a lifelong New Englander. She is lucky enough to wake up to the smell of saltwater and the call of seagulls everyday. You can find her online home at calliesblackstone.com