Biggest Lesbian?

middleagebutch, who blogs The Flannel Files has named me the Biggest Lesbian, Ever. My qualification? I got engaged. And got a Drive By Truckers trucker’s cap.

Aww, thanks, MAB.

I feel … validated. I feel … like I belong. I feel … like a real lesbian!

I spent my whole life admiring women. I knew what I was, but I buried it. I didn’t act on it. With the help of a wonderful minister, I accepted myself in my early 30s. Then, with his help, I met and fell in love with the most extraordinary woman in the world.

I don’t have a butch bone in my body. I wear Pendleton plaids and jeans out West, but so do the straight girls. The butchest things I own are hard hats, which, I admit, are pretty butch.

I can fix a power plant, but I can’t change a light bulb. I can design an efficient internal combustion engine, but I can’t change a sparkplug.

My Love is a ranch girl. She can rewire a house or rebuild an engine, but she’s even more feminine than I am.

I wear a skirt. I wear (a little) makeup. I don’t wear heels.

So MAB says the award was for biggest lesbian, ever. Not biggest butch, ever. And getting engaged to the woman of my (and everyone else’s) dreams is pretty lez.

It validates that we lesbians are a diverse bunch. We don’t all fall into stereotypes.

So, thanks, middleagebutch! The prize was more than the prize!

 

PS: The prize was the ebook of middleagebutch’s memoir: Rae Theodore, Leaving Normal: Adventures in Gender. Everybody: go out and buy it! Even though neither my Love nor I is butch, and we’re both attracted to feminine women, it has had a lot to say to me. And it’s funny.

Mathematician and engineer

My fiancée is trained as a pure mathematician. If you’ve ever spent time with a mathematician, you understand why Pythagoras and his gang were considered a strange, unworldly religious cult. Mathematicians aren’t like you and me.

When my fiancée was eight or nine, her mother bought her a boxed set of books called, The World of Mathematics. The description in the catalog made it sound like a book of puzzles and games. Instead, it’s a collection of essays and papers, some historical, some philosophical, some theoretical, some practical. Some are out-and-out funny – Bishop Berkeley’s The Analyst: A DISCOURSE Addressed to an Infidel MATHEMATICIAN. WHEREIN It is examined whether the Object, Principles, and Inferences of the modern Analysis are more distinctly conceived, or more evidently deduced, than Religious Mysteries and Points of Faith.

All are far over the head of an eight- or nine-year-old; most are aimed at a mathematically literate college graduate. Many assume an understanding of calculus. And yet, she read it over and over until she understood it.

Her favorite essay? G H Hardy’s A Mathematician’s Apology. (You can read it here.) It’s what inspired her to become a mathematician. Hardy says that the joy of mathematics isn’t that it’s useful. It’s that it’s beautiful. The beauty isn’t in the usefulness of the thing proved, it’s in the elegance of proof itself.

Hardy was a number theorist. To Hardy, much of the charm of Number Theory was that it had no immediate use. It was pure elegance. Mathematics purely for the joy of Mathematics.

Hardy was a pacifist; he wrote the Apology in 1940, as the Second World War was raging and the Great War still fresh in his mind. He was pleased that Number Theory couldn’t be used to make bombs or poison gas. The joke (if there is one) was on Hardy: Number Theory is the basis for modern cryptography and code-breaking. Polish mathematicians had already used it to crack the Nazi Enigma code machine. Alan Turing and his gang would build on that to crack more sophisticated code machines. General Eisenhower said the Enigma intelligence was “decisive” in defeating the Nazis.

Hardy not only inspired my Love to be a mathematician, he inspired her to become a number theorist. This summer, she gave me a copy of a textbook Hardy wrote with E M Wright, Introduction to the Theory of Numbers. It’s an incredibly elegant book, accessible to anyone who passed ninth grade algebra. Even an engineer can see why it enthralled her.

You might think that Number Theory means proving things about numbers. If so, you’d be wrong. She proved things about constructs that have some attributes of numbers, but have strange and interesting pathologies. As she describes it, it’s taking something familiar (the integers) and then removing the elements that make it familiar.

I don’t pretend to understand any of it. One afternoon, I picked up one of her books, entitled A Course in Arithmetic. “Aha,” I thought, “Arithmetic. I can understand that!”

I was wrong. There’s nothing in there that you or I would recognize as arithmetic. The only numbers are page numbers. Should you so desire, you can read the original French or an English translation on the internet.


Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.

O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.
— Edna St Vincent Millay, Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare


She insists that she’s not a mathematician now: Mathematicians prove things; she hasn’t proved anything since she was in graduate school. Her partners tell me that’s false: She has proved dozens of theorems fundamental to her business. They insist that she could write as many as 20 ground-breaking, publishable papers over a weekend.


Engineering is as ruthlessly pragmatic as Mathematics is ruthlessly unworldly. Mathematics is logical. Engineering is empirical.

Engineers delight in teasing mathematicians.

Who cares if you can prove it? The only thing that matters is, does it work?

Thanks for the rules of thumb!

Mathematicians are horrified at what engineers do with Mathematics. They are particularly horrified at engineers’ use of dot notation for derivative. (You are not expected to understand this.)

Still, the joy of engineering is also in creating something elegant – and tangible and useful.

I started my career as a design engineer. There’s a purity to design engineering, which one doesn’t really understand until one visits a jobsite where one’s design is being executed. (Or, as any design engineer will tell you, being butchered.) Then you realize that,

The map is not the territory.
— Alfred Korzybski

I worked while I pursued my graduate degrees. My interesting papers are on integration of complex subsystems. They are abstract, theoretic and analytic.

My work career quickly took a different direction. I left the desk for the field. I loved taking on difficult practical problems. The more bizarre and difficult the problem, the better I liked it. I wasn’t married, I had no social life, I didn’t have any ties or distractions. I could throw myself into problems, working on them every waking hour. Even while sleeping: I got some of my best ideas while asleep.

The problems that seemed most intractable – and interesting – involved integration of complex subsystems. My academic career was heavy on abstraction, but the abstractions helped me think clearly about solving concrete problems.


My fiancée and I work in overwhelmingly male-dominated fields.

Mathematics is not so male-dominated as it once was. But in the uses to which my fiancée puts Mathematics, the decisions are made by men: CEOs, CFOs and heads of corporate strategy for major multinationals; managers of high-risk international ventures; senior bankers and investment bankers. She’s usually the only girl in the room, and she has to prove that she’s smarter than all the boys.

Engineering and construction are overwhelmingly masculine and testosterone-laden. A girl engineer is a rare thing, especially a girl engineer in charge. I’m usually the only girl in the room, and I have to prove that I’m smarter than all the boys.

At that level respect is critical. Man or woman,

Respect isn’t given. It must be earned.

More than that, it has to be earned anew on every job.

Choosing to be a lesbian

At my fiancée’s family cookout last month, someone asked me,

When did you become a lesbian?

I gave the stock answer:

I didn’t become a lesbian. I was born this way. Nobody would choose to become a lesbian.

And that’s true: Nobody would choose to be a closeted lesbian in a heterosexual world dominated by the intolerant. From my own history, I know that a teenage girl or high-school-educated woman in a remote farm or town would not be likely to choose to be a lesbian.

The firebrand conservatives say that’s a good thing. Decriminalization, social acceptance, legal equality – make it easier to be a homosexual, encourage the spread of homosexuality.


There’s a joke:

Two guys are out golfing. A bolt of lightning kills them. At the Pearly Gates, St Peter is befuddled: These two guys weren’t supposed to die today.

St Peter says he has to send them back. As compensation for their trouble, they get to choose who they want to go back as. The two guys huddle, then come back.

Two guys: We want to be lesbians.

St Peter: Lesbians? Why lesbians?

Two guys: We still want to have sex with women, but we want to use the ladies’ tees.


That joke gives me a warm smile.

Loving a woman is glorious. Absolutely, utterly glorious. I love everything about it, about her.


Of course, I love a woman because I was born this way. I never got the chance to choose to become a lesbian.

But, now, I am glad I was born this way.

I would choose to be a lesbian.

In that sense – and in the sense that I have chosen to come out, chosen to meet a woman and fall in love with her, chosen to ask her to marry me, chosen to accept her request that I marry her – I have chosen to be a lesbian.


There was a time, and there are places, where no one would choose to be a lesbian.

Not New York, of course.

Not back home, either – at least, not for my fiancée or me. Conservative Christians and Mormons may disapprove, may even tell me that I’m going to Hell. That doesn’t bother me. I’ve dealt with much worse disapproval and heard a lot worse things said about me – for things that I have chosen. There’s not much that they can do to us beyond tut-tut.

I can live happily and openly with the woman I love.

I choose to be what I am: A lesbian.

Cookout

Every August, while my fiancée is home, her family gathers at her parents’ ranch for a cookout.


Last year, they had two cookouts. Only her siblings and their families were invited.

At the first cookout, my fiancée came out to her siblings and their spouses. The next day, at church, my fiancée’s sister outed her to the minister – who then set my fiancée up with me for our first date.

At the second cookout, on Labor Day weekend, they got together again to meet me. The warmth for each other and for me was overwhelming.


This year’s cookout promised to be a gigantic affair. Relatives in three states – out to third cousins – angled an invitation.


I thought my fiancée incapable of worry. Her self-possession, her self-confidence, is unnerving.

She’s no Pollyanna. She has known hard times, even financial disaster. Her partners say that for the first few years of her firm, she only slept when she collapsed, and she didn’t have an untroubled night’s sleep for three years during the recession.

But I have never seen her nervous about the future. She’s like a kid watching a thriller, on the edge of her seat in excitement about the surprises about to unfold in front of her.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.


We had a lovely, romantic evening after our anniversary dinner.

She was up early, which is out of character. She was itching to go, which is even more out of character. Getting her going in the morning is the most difficult thing in our life together.

We had planned to shower and dress at the ranch, to be as clean and fresh as possible. But my fiancée’s mother called to say that people had already started to arrive at the ranch. So we showered and dressed at the B&B.


Before I flew out, my fiancée told me to make sure to bring my lemon-yellow sundress. It was what I wore when we had our first kiss. (She loves that dress on me.)

She wore a light blue sundress. (I love that dress on her.)


We drove over in my fiancée’s 50s-vintage pickup. Bench seat, stick shift on the floor. I slid all the way over next to her and she drove with her arm around my shoulder. She let me do the shifting, which is considered pretty damn chivalrous out where we’re from. The sort of thing you only let your best girl do.


It was an absolutely glorious day.

The day I arrived had been beastly hot – almost 100 F/38 C. Late afternoon thunderstorms had broken the heat. It was in the 50s (10s C) that night and the forecast was a high in the 70s (20s C). The sky was spectacularly blue, without a cloud, and there was no humidity.

Her pickup pre-dates air-conditioning. It was cool enough that we didn’t get sweaty. With the windows down, we did get windblown.


We thought that the heat and thunderstorms of the previous day would have discouraged some of the cousins – particularly those from farther away. We were wrong.

The ranchyard is a half-dozen buildings surrounding a gravel lot of a couple of acres – big enough to jockey split-rig stock trucks around and back them up to loading chutes. When we arrived, the lot was full of cars. We parked in the machine shed.


The cookout was in full swing when we arrived.

Everyone else was wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans. We could have gone full butch and fit right in. Much as we love our butch sisters, that’s not us, and not the message we wanted to send. I’ll post more on that later.

My fiancée’s dad called everyone around the back porch and introduced me, my parents, my sister and brother and their spouses and kids.


Everyone brought food. The variety was unbelievable. Eight different kinds of potato salad. (Freshly dug little red potatoes from a mountain valley, cooked with a bit of crunch left in them, are one of this world’s great pleasures.) Green beans. Peas. Five different kinds of cole slaw. Lettuce salads. Cucumbers, right off the vine. Carrots and radishes, right out of the ground. Roasted beets. Roasted potatoes. Roasted peppers. Roasted squash. Corn on and off the cob. Grilled onions. Homemade pickles. Homemade onion pickles. Homemade relishes. Even Jello.

Steak, sausages, hot dogs and burgers, with charcoal and wood grills to grill your own.

I like steak fine, but wood-grilled lamb is my favorite meat. My fiancée (or her sister) must have talked to one of her lamb-raising cousins. He brought baby lamb rib chops, cut one to a rib, just for me. He dipped them in olive oil and rosemary and grilled them for me over the wood fire. It was the best lamb I have ever eaten. I’m sure that he’d never been kissed by a lesbian in a sundress before. If he wasn’t married, and I wasn’t a lesbian and engaged to his cousin, I might have married him, right there.

Slow-roast pork shoulder.

Raspberry pie. Rhubarb pie. Huckleberry pie. Peach crisp. Blueberry cobbler. Chocolate cake. Lemon cake. Gallons of ice cream.

Growlers of IPAs and stouts and summer wheats from one of the local microbreweries. Lemonade. Limeade.

One of the best things about the Mountain West: Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, so they make root beer. Not sugar syrup and flavoring in fizzy water. Real, brewed root beer. One of my secret vices is a root beer float with Mormon root beer.


Most of them had been to college and most lived in towns or the small cities within a couple of hundred miles of the ranch. They had probably all at least come into contact with gays. But there probably weren’t any gays in their social circles.

On the whole they were open and friendly – and curious.

I was afraid that we might be ogled and studied like creatures in a zoo. After everyone left, my fiancée admitted that her anxiety that morning had been exactly that – that she suddenly regretted that she was going to put me under a microscope, to be examined critically by strangers.

I did feel that, at first. My fiancée and I made a special effort to engage with those she and her parents thought might be the most difficult.

I thought it might be better for me to mingle separately, rather than with my fiancée as a couple. Engaging as a couple might be provocative – a poke in the eye – and meeting people separately might make me seem more a person and less half-a-lesbian-couple. Also, my fiancée seemed so nervous that I was afraid she’d put a damper on the happiness of meeting people. On the other hand, my fiancée didn’t want to abandon me in a sea of strangers. The only large gatherings of strangers I have ever been in were professional conventions and scholarly gatherings. She was concerned that I’d not be able to turn on enough charm.

In the event, it didn’t make a difference. We worked the crowd together for a while, then went into a cycle of splitting up and getting back together. She had a good sense of when and where I should circulate – a talent I’ve never had. She’d engage a relative or a group, then wave me over. We’d talk together, then she’d leave me and warm up another group.


At first, we were careful not to display affection. After a while, we held hands when we were together.


There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over our (matching) engagement rings.


I was afraid the older relatives might prove difficult, but they were fine. I’m not sure that they all had gotten the whole story – maybe that they’d been told we were just good friends.

One of the oldest aunts, however, sat me down to tell me that her favorite aunt (my fiancée’s great-great aunt) was a lesbian. After all, the aunt had never married – and she lived in Seattle. With a roommate.


I did get some of the silly questions that lesbians get asked. But they were good natured and seemed honestly curious. There were a few who plainly did not approve, but they were well behaved. The rest ran the spectrum ran from tolerance to acceptance to approval.

My fiancée’s mother was keeping a mental register of those she judged would not attend a lesbian wedding. It’s not an issue; the potential problems are beyond the first-cousin circle, which is as far out as we planned to invite.


I had one uncomfortable chat. It started pleasantly enough. The woman (a student at a well regarded liberal arts college) seemed genuinely curious. But then she said, “I just don’t get lesbians” – and followed it by stridently disparaging the very notion that a woman could find satisfaction without a man. Her vehemence (and lack of understanding) startled me; I brushed it off with an inconsequential reply.

As I thought on it later, the remark irritated me more and more. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. It dovetails with a perceptive comment that I received a few weeks ago. I’ll write more about it, although probably as a protected post.


My family had a roaring good time.

Dad is an affable guy and a great hobnobber. He loves a good party with lots of new people; it’s an opportunity to get out from under Mother’s shadow. He made friends with everyone. Every time I saw him, he was either laughing with some guys or looking at my fiancée or me with pride.

I was afraid Mother might cause trouble if she ran into some poor soul who didn’t show what she considered proper respect for my fiancée and me. She was generally well behaved, the sort of gigantic personality that goes over well in a big, boisterous crowd. There was one lapse: A woman told Mother that my fiancée and I seemed like nice people, but the woman couldn’t approve of our “lifestyle”. More on that in another post.


My siblings and their spouses had a good time, too. They didn’t walk away from the Catholic Church, as I did, and were initially lukewarm about a lesbian in the family. Since Mother laid down the law, however, they have been fine.

I was afraid they might be drowned in the boisterous sea at the cookout. My siblings are very nice and I love them dearly, but they are very normal (compared to my fiancée’s siblings). Their socializing is limited to business, church and their kids’ schools. In the event, they found like-minded people and connected with my fiancée’s more conservative and business-oriented relatives.


A teenaged boy waylaid me away from the crowd. He told me that he thought he was gay, and it frightened him. He was sure his parents would be OK – they had been cordial to my fiancée and me – but he was afraid of being ostracized and bullied in school and he had religious qualms.

I told him he should talk to the minister who set me up with my fiancée, and should consider discussing it with his parents. I didn’t think that he should come out to anyone else – and he shouldn’t act on it – until he was in college. The most awful mistakes of my life were my sexual activity in high school; from that experience, I firmly believe in teenage celibacy. I offered my and my fiancée’s good offices; he didn’t take us up.

He called a few days later to say that he had discussed it with the minister and with his parents. His parents were disappointed, but they were OK.

He thanked me for being a “good role model”. I’ve never been accused of that before.


Almost no one left before sundown, even though some had four-hour drives. They all pitched in to clean up and distribute the leftovers – of which there were surprisingly few.

Family evaluation

My Love and I want children.

I’m going to my Love’s GYN.

Both of us are going to a fertility clinic that our GYN recommended. When I asked our GYN if the clinic is lesbian-friendly, she laughed that a fertility clinic in Manhattan has to be lesbian-friendly. She was right: The clinic made us feel very welcome.

Initial tests indicate that neither of us will have a problem. We shouldn’t need to take extraordinary measures.

With a new, high-profile, high-pressure job, I can’t consider taking a pregnancy leave for at least a year. I need to establish myself before taking extended time off.

My Love hasn’t any restrictions. She can work as much or as little as she wants. She could take time off, or work from home, or even retire. She’s the undisputed boss of her firm: She started it and built it into a powerhouse. To give herself time to build a personal life, she turned over day-to-day management to her partners, although she is still The Boss. Even if she weren’t, her partners would happily let her do whatever she wants. She has made them a lot of money. Financially, after starting with nothing and having been broke a couple of times, she could retire today and live very comfortably for the rest of her life.

Her only restriction: We’re planning to marry next August (2016). She doesn’t want to be a pregnant bride.

My Love: I don’t want our teenagers to look at our wedding album and think that premarital intercourse is OK.

I think she’s serious.


On the other hand, neither of us is getting any younger.

I’m in my mid-30s. She’s in her late 30s. I’m not sure how much time we have to try turkey basters before we need to go to more scientific measures.


My Love is funny. Her business is using quantitative methods to project probabilities of extremely complicated business options. Yet, she is incapable of planning anything, even lunch.

I’m an engineer. I need a planning document, P90s, critical paths, PERTs, gantts, requirements.

Me: We should be planning this a little. Understand the conditional probabilities of the options. Have a critical path, a timeline, alternatives, fallbacks.

My Love (rolling her eyes): Oh, for goodness sake. People have been doing this for a few million years without any of that.

Me: Lesbians haven’t. It’s a little more complicated.

My Love: I’ve inseminated hundreds of heifers and cows. How complicated can it be?

 

Annoying words

I struggle with the aesthetics of words.


Homosexual is an ugly word. It sounds ugly. It has no euphony, no harmony.

It has the antiseptic ugliness of medical jargon. It sounds like a heading in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Which it once was.

It’s even got an ugly etymology: faux Greek spliced onto faux Latin.

And it’s the word that the intolerant love to use.


I’ve never liked gay as euphemism for homosexual.

It’s not as ugly as a word. But it was a delightful word that I used to describe myself – before I realized I was gay. I hated that it was appropriated to describe something that took the gaiety out of my life.

Even now, I have a hard time with gay  – and particularly gay woman – to describe myself. Yes, it’s up there in the header (“God-fearing gay geek girl”), but for its alliteration. But I think of gay as a word for men.


When I was in the closet, I didn’t like lesbian, either. I’m not sure why. I thought it sounded ugly and antiseptic. Not as ugly as homosexual, but ugly. Not as antiseptic as homosexual, but antiseptic.

Maybe it was just the baldness of, “I’m a lesbian.” No matter how firmly I say it, it sounds like I’m admitting to a sexually transmitted disease. (My Love likes to joke that if you ask a Harvard undergrad where he goes to school, his answer will sound like he’s admitting to a sexually transmitted disease.)

But I’m reconciling to lesbian. I’ve come to like it. I like the sound of it, now. I like the baldness of, “I’m a lesbian.”


Then there are queer and dyke and faggot. I hate those words, absolutely.

I understand that people use them self-referentially to denature them. I understand that people use queer to encompass the whole range of non-heterosexuality.

But they are plain ugly words, hateful words that I’ve heard, spittle-flecked, through clenched jaws. Maybe I hate them out of shame that I protected my closet by not objecting to them.


The funny thing is, this blog is the only place that I regularly use any of those words. It’s not that this is the only place I’m comfortable with them.

I’m fully out of the closet. I’m not ashamed of what I am. I’m happy to admit it, to confirm that I love – am engaged to marry – a woman. Everyone at my firm knows I’m a lesbian. Everyone in my family. All my friends.

I don’t make a point of it. I don’t need to. I don’t feel a need to correct people or to get annoyed at heterosexual assumptions. After all, heterosexuals outnumber us somewhere between ten to one and fifty to one, even here in New York.

Perhaps this blog is the only place where it’s an important part of my persona.

At work, the primary element of my persona is engineer. Lesbian or even woman is irrelevant. To my landlord, the primary element of my persona is tenant or rent. At church, it’s Christian or member. To my Love, it’s fiancée or sweetie. To my family, it’s daughter or sister.


I look back through the posts on this blog and see that I am becoming more and more comfortable with lesbian. I’m beginning to like it.

Maybe it’s that I’m only now beginning to think that I’m entitled to use it. It’s been less than a year since I first allowed myself to think of confessing my secret to another woman. And now that woman is my fiancée.

Maybe it’s that other bloggers that I follow – or that follow me – are so comfortable with lesbian. You’ve been using it a lot longer than I have. You seem happy with it. You seem happy to let me use it.

Thanks.

Vulgar language

[This is not the password-protected post.
The password-protected post is here.
I apologize for the confusion.]


I don’t like vulgar language.

I’m not prissy. I’m no prig.

I’ve spent my working life on construction sites. Vulgar language is as common as dust, mud and pickup trucks. Put a woman in charge – a woman who’s proud to be a woman and leans toward the feminine – and it gets even louder and more common.

I’ve heard every vulgar word and phrase you have ever heard, and a lot more. I’ve heard them combined in ways you can’t imagine. I’ve had them used to belittle, describe or taunt me. I’m a big girl. I can deal with it. I get respect in the end.

Please pardon me if catcalling and wolf-whistling don’t give me the vapors. Yes, it’s immoral. No, it’s not rape.

I don’t even hear it any more. There’s a filter between my auditory nerves and my conscious brain.


I avoid using vulgar language. It doesn’t add anything, and a good engineer seeks economy.

Still, I would win any profanity-slinging contest.


My Love is even more fastidious than I am.

Her firm is the cleanest-mouthed organization I’ve ever been around.

She’s no prig, either.

She grew up on a cow-calf ranch. She’s castrated more bulls than you have seen, even in the movies. If she judges that a male is treating her with insufficient respect, she will describe the method for him. In detail.


Whenever she hears anything off-color, she has a Pavlovian reaction: “Do you eat with that mouth?”

The first time I heard her say that on the subway, I thought the punk would murder us, right there. Instead, he looked sheepish and apologized.

My Love is not a woman to be trifled with.