Monday, September 24, 2007

Sugar and Spice and Sensible Shoes

So some very good friends of mine lent me the DVDs of The L Word. Toasty and I curled up on the couch this weekend and watched the pilot episode (1 & 2) and episode 3. So far I like it, although there are so many women in it that we're going through that whole "getting to know you phase" of having to ask each other, "now, is that the one who's trying to get pregnant?" and "hang on, I thought the curly haired one was the sister of the dark-haired one?" And it's a bit like coming in on a conversation in progress. There are already dramas and histories in play here, and I have to figure out why the sisters are mad at each other and the tennis player is such a flaming neurotic. Obviously, I don't have their names mastered yet (except Shane, whose name comes up about every eleven seconds), but it's refreshing not to be able to designate any particular woman just by saying that "she's the lesbian."

So in episode 3 (and watch out -- spoiler coming) the neurotic tennis player finds herself attracted to the sous chef at her club. The sous chef is a woman, naturally, and so begins the mystery: is she or isn't she?

(A little side note here on generational differences: I can't imagine my mom asking herself, now, before I get into all this, is George straight or gay?)

Friends of the tennis player agree to help and secretly put the suspect sous chef through a whole range of tests, checking her fingernails, her shoes, her walk. Said sous chef comes down pretty firmly . . . on the fence. She's not androgynous or secretive or anything like that, she's simply not giving anything away. It was pretty funny hearing them run through the list of things I would assume were sort of offensive stereotypes: short hair, trimmed fingernails, the ever-popular sensible shoes. So I couldn't help but wonder where I'd fall on the Straight <----->Lesbian spectrum of social clues.

I realize that Toasty is a bit of a give-away, but without him in the picture, how good would I be at deflecting gaydar?

I have short, often ragged fingernails (I'm a rock climber, and I wear contacts and don't enjoy poking my own stupid eye out). I rarely wear skirts or dresses, mostly because my lifestyle and my job don't require them. I have long hair (one for the "straight" column). On the show, they "tested" the sous chef by kissing in front of her. She didn't flinch, but neither did she stare. Now, this one I kind of object to. I find all excessive PDA uncomfortable, straight or gay. I don't flinch (usually), but neither do I stare. It seems unfair to me to assume that anyone who flinches is doing so from homophobia rather than just from being -- like so many of us -- awkward around tongue-wrestling couples of any description. Anyway, I am not polished or fashionable or particularly concerned about my hair or my makeup. Sorry, Toasty. If we're speaking in stereotypes here, I'm looking a little lezzy.

But I'm really interested in what this says about straight women and lesbian women. We're very quick to categorize, mainly, I think, because we're too lazy or scared to find out the truth through, oh, I don't know, actual human interaction. If you're really so desperate to find out information about a person -- straight or gay, liberal or fatheaded, rich, poor, smart or stupid -- it is possible to do this novel thing called "getting to know someone." If I'm that curious about a person, then I should ask. It's time to stop being so sensitive about labels. It's not an insult to call someone a lesbian, so why should it be awkward to ask them if they are?

And yet it is. Asking a stranger outright about their sexual orientation (I love that -- it makes it sound like we're all running around in the woods looking for flags that say "straight" or "gay") would brand me instantly suspicious. What are my motives for asking? Do I want to eliminate them as a friend, employee, partner, living human being?

I liked the way the show dealt with the question. The sous chef knew she was under scrutiny, so she put all doubts to rest by shoving the tennis player against the lockers and giving her a kiss that ended the debate. (Of course she was a lesbian -- in this section of LA, they're all lesbians, and the straight women are a little thin on the ground.) While I prefer my own "getting to know you" activities to involve a little more conversation prior to the locker-shoving, lip-chapping tongue-lock (and FYI, folks, not all my getting-to-know-you conversations lead to that), it was cute and funny and sweet in a rather aggressive sort of way.

So, there you go. When it comes right down to it, we're all still using the same old set of tired social cues to determine whether or not someone's worth getting to know. But at least we're now aware of our tired social cues and looking to expand the lists a little.

And speaking of gaydar, I knew she was a lesbian back when she was still excited about her yogurt.


NuclearToast said...

It'll be interesting to see where this show goes. And for the record, as a lesbian myself, I'm right up there with the tennis star when it comes to my lack of gaydar.

Tony Easton said...

what's gaydar? and why do straight men run in the opposite direction when they see me coming?

Ash said...

I like sensible shoes but I guess that is counteracted by my nice nails. ;)