Last weekend, I met real life adult lesbians. I’d never met lesbians past their mid-twenties before, and it was an experience akin to spotting a unicorn in an urban jungle.
Obviously unicorns aren’t found in the middle of, say, New York City — just as a lesbian couple, complete with a wide-eyed infant, doesn’t quite fit in at a crazy family dinner, where half of the attending members are deeply conservative, the other half are slightly conservative, and all are heterosexual.
I drove my family crazy during dinner with my excited wiggling and whispered exclamations of, “They’re real! Look, look. Real life lesbians!” all while too terrified to actually approach them where they sat at the other end of the table. Eventually, I managed a nervous conversation with April and Dawn, the lesbians in question.
Later, after the waitress delivered the salads and I’d been dragged back to my seat to pick unhappily at mine, my grandfather approached me, eased himself down into one of the seats, and tapped his bronze cane against the leg of the table. “So tell me, girls,” he said, addressing my cousin Nicole and me, as he leaned forward conspiratorially. “Those ladies—” he indicated April and Dawn with an inclination of his head. “They’re together, huh?” Nicole and I hummed affirmation and exchanged a glance, wondering what bomb our grandfather was about to drop.
“So which one of ’em’s the lady?”
I was torn. Should I give my 80-year-old grandfather a lecture on heteronormativity or just tell him that April, the stay-at-home mother of the pair, was most likely the “lady?”
“I was thinking it’s the blonde, because she’s a little better dressed,” he added, referring to Dawn.
Nicole and I shared another look. Lecture it is, I decided.
“There is no lady,” Nicole and I said in near unison.
Our grandfather grinned. “No, I mean, which one of ’em’s the man?” he amended.
“Neither of them!” I bit my lip to hold in my laughter. “They don’t need a man. That’s why they’re lesbians. They’re both ladies.” The conversation soon derailed as my grandfather turned his attention to Nicole and referenced her sex life with her boyfriend, which left everyone in hearing distance choking for breath between bouts of laughter.
This humorous exchange highlights a rather unfortunate paradigm in our culture: A relationship has to be composed of a man and a woman, or at least a masculine force and a feminine force. My peers under the age of eighty are guilty of this, too. I’ve had friends ask me, only half-teasing, “Who’s the girl and who’s the guy?” in reference to my relationships, even when both my partner and I were “femme” or “lipstick” lesbians, as though a woman’s preference for dressing up or down necessitates a label and category.
So, from this decidedly unsexy edition of Behind Closed Doors, take to heart that same-sex relationships don’t function in the same way that heterosexual relationships do, and please, for the love of God, don’t ask your queer friends who’s the man and who’s the woman in their relationship.
Kalyn is a Behind Closed Doors columnist who loves her crazy grandpa.