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: First date

I have a very good friend at the church I attended out West. She loves to talk about her genius sister, who has an advanced quantitative degree from an Ivy League university. The sister founded a successful firm that uses quantitative tools to model clients’ business alternatives.

The sister comes out from New York every summer to relax for a few weeks on their parents’ ranch. My friend brought the sister to Sunday services.

The sister had just come out to her family. My friend, who has a puckish sense of humor, introduced her sister to the minister as her “New York lesbian sister”. I think she expected that to fluster the minister and her sister.

Quite the contrary. The minister was delighted. He asked the sister whether she was comfortable in her faith. If so, would she talk with a woman who was struggling with coming out? (That would be me.)

She agreed. She reserved a table for a dinner at a romantic little restaurant.

The only person I had come out to was the minister. He was a professional, bound to confidentiality. This woman would be the first ordinary person to whom I would come out.

I was nervous, but all the reticence of more than 30 years in the closet evaporated in minutes. I talked freely with a woman for the first time in my life.

She was beautifully dressed, a subtly tailored, simple, classic grey jersey designer shift, pearls, sapphire studs, impeccable light makeup, blonde hair to her shoulders – and cowgirl boots.

At first I thought she had a speech impediment, but I came to realize that she was taking the time to craft each perfect sentence out of a perfect vocabulary.

To any observer, we were two women having a business dinner. We didn’t touch. We didn’t flirt. We talked seriously about our lives, about our families, about growing up in the rural Rockies, about our faith, about our home state, about having kids someday and about coming out. She talked about things of which I knew nothing: literature, the opera, places I’ve never been – New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Rio.

I am self-confident to a fault, but her self-confidence was unnerving.

She would have been intimidating – brilliant, beautiful, beautifully dressed and coiffed, a distinctive personal style, cultured, cosmopolitan, a successful entrepreneur, a New York sophisticate to beat all New York sophisticates. But she carried it all with down-to-earth ease – just a girl from a ranch 10 miles outside of West Jerkwater, amazed at her good luck. She was the friendliest, happiest, least conceited, least self-absorbed person I have ever met. Her self-deprecation was charmingly amusing instead of falsely modest.

She would have seemed unattainable, but she was genuinely interested in me. In me. It was incredible to me then, and it is incredible to me now. She plainly saw me as an equal, as if it were incredible that I might be interested in her.

As we were standing on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, taking our leave, she touched my cheek. I nearly fainted. I understood what it means to see fireworks: Pricks of light flashed in my eyes. All the years of suppressed emotion exploded at the tip of her finger.

It was a few minutes before either of us could talk.

And she became my Love.


For my Love and me, urbandictionary is lesbian special education.

It’s fun to troll through the lesbian labels: top, bottom, switch, femme, butch, soft butch, boi, tomboy, sporty, andro, lipstick, chapstick, diesel, bull, dominant, submissive …

Is this really a thing? Do lesbians really label themselves (and each other) this way? Neither of us has the experience to know.

(I just found the entry for “rogue lesbian“. It describes us. That appears to be its only appearance in the Internet. Is it a thing?)

Unless you are, or have loved, a mathematician, you don’t understand obsession. Mathematicians define every term with rigorous precision and prove every proposition with rigorous logic.

Permit me a digression.

My Love’s family raises cattle. Lots of cattle.

Everyone in her family eats steak and chops rare. Her brother says, “If somebody lit a cigarette as the steer went up the chute at the slaughterhouse, it’s overcooked.”

Whenever my Love’s family gets together, they grill steaks. A quarter of the steak gets eaten before the charcoal is even lit. There’s a sharp knife and a salt grinder next to the raw steak platter. One cuts off a bite-sized chunk of raw meat, salts it and pops it in one’s mouth.

My Love likes her steak a bit more done than that. She likes a nice char on the outside, room temperature in the middle and otherwise just warm enough to turn the marbling into its ambrosial state. In her family (and to every cattleman or cattlewoman I’ve ever met) that’s medium rare.

Unfortunately, if you leave the range and order a medium-rare steak in an urban steakhouse, you will get what my Love would call a medium-well steak. It will be cooked through. Compensate by ordering rare, and it won’t have the proper char and (not having properly been brought to room temperature before grilling) the marbling will still be just fat.

Here in New York, it’s not a problem. She eats her steak at Keens. Her steak specification is as well known at Keens as Lily Langtry’s taste in champagne was known a century ago. They get it right.

(Digression to the digression: A sister explains why Keens is the best bar in New York.)

(Further digression to the digression: If Miss Keens is to be believed, pubic hair removal is not a new phenomenon.)

But elsewhere, my Love needs to get very specific. She tried, “rare medium rare”, but that either got overcooked or undercooked, and didn’t have the char she craves. She tried, “rare side of medium rare”. Same problem.

To get the right char, she asks for “Pittsburgh”. That requires explanation some places. In others the steak gets burned to a cinder.

So she’s given up on steakhouse labels. She carries a pack of little cards that describe exactly how she wants her steak. She hands one to the waiter. If the steak doesn’t come exactly as described, she sends it back and demands that they start over from scratch. She keeps sending it back until they get it right.

Here endeth the digression.

That’s how we feel about lesbian labels.

Both of us are traditionally feminine. Different from each other, but traditionally feminine.

Femmes? Lipstick lesbians? I think not, if the connotations in urbandictionary are correct.

We’re strong women who stand up for ourselves. We’re both highly successful in male-dominated professions.

We’re equals in every way. We both like to give as much as we like to receive. Neither of us dominates or submits.

Top? Bottom? Dominant? Submissive? No, no, no, no.

Neither of us is a pillow princess, that’s damn sure.

When we’re out West, we wear Pendleton plaid shirts and blue jeans. It’s not lesbian code. It’s what everybody wears.

My Love rides horses, can give a truck engine a valve-and-ring job and knows the right way to handle any hand tool or power tool.

Does that make her butch? I think not; every ranch girl knows those things.

I build things. Not do-it-yourself dog houses; billion-dollar construction projects. I fix things. Not cars; broken pipelines.

Does that make me butch? I think not; it’s my job.


I am a woman who loves being a woman and loves being with a woman who loves being a woman.

My Love is a woman who loves being a woman and loves being with a woman who loves being a woman.

And by “woman”, I mean “traditionally feminine woman”. Brainwashed by the heteronormative patriarchy? A PhD engineer and a woman with an advanced quantitative degree and the founder of a successful enterprise? A couple of highly successful women in overwhelmingly male fields? If you say so.

We both wear dresses or skirts to work every day. We wear them on weekends, too, unless we’re doing something that calls for something a little more rough-and-ready.

She wears designer shifts and sheaths, which she has subtly tailored. She wants to send the message that a woman is in charge. She wears flats, except when she wears her cowgirl boots.

I wear Brooks Brothers button-down shirts, pencil skirts and loafers. I dress that way for Miss B.

I’ve never seen my Love wear anything with a heel higher than her cowgirl boots. I don’t wear heels.

We wear makeup. Not much, though. You’d never notice it.

She wears her hair shoulder-length. Mine is bobbed at the neck and tucked behind the ear.

We are feminine, but neither of us is girly.

When we’re out West, we wear Pendleton shirts and blue jeans. It’s not lesbian code, however; it’s what everybody wears.

Miss B

My elementary school was tiny: One class per grade. The teachers were ancient, fussy and frumpy. Most of them had taught my father.

Not Miss B. Miss B was just out of college. It was her first teaching job.

She was young, tall and slender. She had correct, easy, graceful posture. She wore a skirt, a starched cotton shirt, penny loafers and pearls. In the winter, she wore cashmere cardigan sweaters. She had beautiful hair, bobbed at the shoulder and tucked behind the ear.

She ensorcelled me.

Until then, I was an indifferent student. But I was desperate for Miss B’s approval.

I did all my schoolwork as soon as Miss B assigned it. Checked it twice, three times. I asked for extra reading. Miss B loved science and math, so I read every science and math book in our school and town libraries.

She set me on the road to engineering.

She also set my style. I wanted to look like her: Understated, classically, quietly, definitely feminine.

She was my first crush. I was too young to understand why she so enchanted me.