The only girl in the room

In our previous episode, I extolled the virtues of a clawfoot tub and Jo Malone bath oil. Soft skin. Nice scent. A girly girl, no?

I like being a woman. No: I love being a woman.

I like men. I don’t want to sleep with one, but I like working with them.

Men dominate my profession and work environment to a greater degree than any other profession. At my level, I’m usually the only woman in the room. Usually, I’m the person with the ultimate responsibility to the owner or the bank.

I want my style to send three messages:

  • I am a woman.
  • I am selling competence.
  • Everything else is a distraction.

My style is quiet, conservative, traditionally feminine. A dress or a skirt, knee length. Not short. Not tight. Not peek-a-boo. Blue, gray or a neutral color. Flats or low pumps. Nude stockings. Light natural makeup. Natural hair color, medium length. A little gold or pearl necklace. Stud earrings.

I’m not Barbie. I’m not selling sex. I’m not making a political point. I’m not a canvas for tattoos or a pegboard for piercings.

Is that bending to heteronormativity? Advancing the patriarchy? I don’t care. I have a job to do: Build or fix something. Something useful. Something that makes people’s lives better. That job is far more important than smashing the patriarchy.

Besides, I like this style. It’s comfortable. It doesn’t distract from the message. Am I brainwashed? A cowardly conformist? So be it.


Of course, if I’m inspecting conduit or storm drains, I wear a Pendleton plaid shirt, Levi 5o5’s, Red Wing boots, a neckerchief, leather work gloves, a hardhat and Chapstick.

Just call me Butch.

As in, You just keep thinkin’, Butch. That’s what you’re good at.

My story: Teenage

I was in Seattle, on the street with my mother. I was in junior high school. I had always admired women.

We saw two ordinary, well dressed women holding hands as they walked down the street. They stopped, kissed each other – chastely but affectionately – and separated with a wave and a laugh. Something I had seen thousands of times between married couples. A tableau of real affection, of love.

My mother said, in disgust, “Lesbians.”

Then I knew what I was. My heart went out to them, even as I knew that they were damned.

It wrenched me to the core. These were ordinary women. They weren’t strange or depraved. They were just like my mother. Except that they were in love. With each other.

And what of me? I had that same feeling for women; was I objectively disordered?  Was I in sin?

To prove to myself that I was not a pervert, I forced my virginity on a boy. It was quick, sordid and painful. Everything about it was disgusting. I was sick with myself for days.

I became a slut in the hope that I might be converted from my shameful inclination.

I became isolated.

I could not bear to be with girls. Girls did not want to be with me, a slut.

Boys didn’t want to be seen with me. They did want to be with me, unseen.

Everything about sex disgusted me. It had no meaning for them; its only meaning for me was degradation. I loathed it even as I went back to it, again and again, trying to exorcise the other depravity.

I threw myself into school work. I graduated at the top of my class. My first-choice university accepted me to its honors engineering program.

Sexual orientation: A paradox

My sexual orientation isn’t sexual.

Neither is my Love’s.

I can find a man aesthetically or intellectually interesting. But I’ve never felt an emotional or sexual attraction to a man.

From an early age, I appreciated the aesthetics of women and was emotionally attracted to them. I was too young for it to be sexual.

I didn’t have a sexual desire for anyone, man or woman, before I met my Love. I had dreams and waking fantasies of women. They were chaste – being close, talking, holding hands, perhaps kissing or snuggling. No sex, however broadly defined.

Maybe it was just that I had never even held hands with or kissed a woman, and my imagination was too impoverished to supply a sexual context.

But I don’t think so. I wasn’t ignorant. I had sex with men in high school and college.

My Love suggests that aesthetic, physical, intellectual and emotional attraction are, for us, logically prior to sexual attraction. We can’t have a sexual interest without aesthetic appreciation, physical attraction, intellectual engagement and emotional passion.

Perhaps that’s why the (relatively limited) sexual activity that we’ve had has been so explosive for both of us.

I am in my mid-30s. When I was in high school and college, I tried to sublimate my yearning for women by having sex with men. That sex, all of it, was tawdry and degrading. It had no meaning for them; its only meaning for me was disgust. I loathed it even as I went back to it, trying to exorcise the grave depravity of wanting to love a woman.

My Love is in her late 30s. When she met me, her entire sexual experience consisted of having her breasts fondled by a respectful high school boyfriend, and cuddling and having her breasts fondled by a college boyfriend. It was not meaningless – she had affection for both. But she had no desire. It was mechanical and unerotic.

Calling us babes in the woods laughably overstates our lesbian experience.

When my Love first touched my cheek, I almost fainted. Pricks of light danced in my eyes. When she first touched my breast, I stopped breathing. I am certain that my heart stopped. Until that moment, I had been an unemotional woman. Then, I wept in ecstasy at the simple warmth of her palm through my shirt and bra.

When I first touched her breast, she crushed me so hard into herself that I struggled to breathe. Was the scream I heard an actual scream – hers or mine – or the rush of blood in my brain?