SAQGA: Situation Abnormal Quite Good Actually

So before Thanksgiving, I went to a Meetup at a bowling alley in Cambridge. I haven’t been bowling in maybe thirty years and it showed (I scored 47 after an hour), but I had fun and met some nice ladies. Then this past Saturday, I went to another Meetup at a beer place, and met three of them again, along with a whole lot of other women I had never met before.

I am telling this story just because it was an odd night. It took me half an hour to get the server’s attention, and it took another three or four women’s help to finally get served. Then when they asked me what I do and I said, “I teach writing,” everybody was thrilled.

Strangest response ever. This is not the way people generally respond when I talk about my work. Mild interest, yes. Excitement? Heck, no.

It turns out that almost all of them wanted to be doing (more) writing (again) (like they used to). They are all avid readers and spent the next half hour sharing lesbian authors/novels and talking about the writers groups they were/are in, advice they got from published writers, including Natalie Goldberg, and talking about how people really, really need to make art.

Then if that wasn’t strange enough, I got pulled over to an empty-ish table and engaged in a long and interesting conversation with one of the women I had met during bowling earlier: let’s call her A. And then another, older, woman came over and asked if I was me, because she had been amused by some things I had written in response to her questions on the Meetup site and wanted to meet me (let’s call her K) (note: this is the second time that has happened).

The three of us got talking, and although I didn’t really notice it at the time, the younger woman, A, gradually got quieter and quieter, and then said she was going to the restroom and would I watch her beer? I noticed that her best friend, J,whom she had brought to both Meetups went with her, but heck, we’re women, we always go in tandem. (Also, the doors to the stalls were mis-hung so they don’t close all the way, so I figured they wanted to keep each other’s doors closed.)

Well, she didn’t come back for quite a while, and eventually the older woman, K, noted on it and wondered if she had just left. I said, “She wouldn’t leave her beer.” K said she hoped she hadn’t mucked things up for me, since she thought I might have been getting somewhere with the girl, and I was my usual, “Not bloody likely. That never happens to me.”


K left and went back to her table with another ten women (who she apparently told about me). The younger woman, A, came back and told me she had been afraid that I was interested in K and that had bothered her a lot because she really liked me, and her friend, J, had spent all that time in the bathroom trying to tell her to keep her courage up, and to come back and tell me all this.

Of course I was immensely flattered. She seems sweet and open and is interested in travel and language and loves Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Relationships have been built on a lot less than that. It was one of those conversations with a lot of eye contact and touching each other’s arms, (which I had never been in before, although I have read about such conversations) and she had a couple of beers that had a higher alcohol content than I think she is used to (and she is also not big), and she repeated that she really liked me and wanted to see me again, but that she needed to get home early because she had an early day the next day. While she was in the bathroom, I went to her friend to make sure that she would see that she got home okay.

They left. I went over to the table where K was talking to about ten women I had not met yet. They immediately turned toward me and asked, “How’d it go? We were watching you. It seemed like you were doing really well!” Then I got about five high-fives.

OK. I watched The L Word. I have heard about lesbian gossip, blah, blah, blah. But seriously?

Muscles & Mascara Monday: Truthful Statements


“Style is fundamentally a truthful statement… There are layers and layers of truth; and style, whether in dress or life, art or literature, is involved in their discovery.” –Freya Stark

I have been thinking about makeup lately. I used to think that makeup was something women put a huge amount of time and money into to get the attention of men, who often don’t even bother to shave. O, patriarchy, why you so mean?

I am lucky enough to have clear skin and dark blue eyes so I always figured that if a guy needs me to “put on my face” simply to notice me, then he’s not a person I really feel like being noticed by. I still feel that the Manhattan style of makeup is over the top, but New York has always struck me as being a hard-edged city and maybe it’s just a form of protective coloration, layers of powder rather than a sword and buckler.

Boston, as an academic city (we’ve got thirty colleges just within a few miles of the city center) tends toward the mildly androgynous. We probably have more comfortable women’s shoes in just a five-mile radius than they have in Manhattan and Los Angeles combined. And women who work/teach at these colleges are not an exception, whether they are full-time, part-time or graduate students (and the undergrads in baggy sweatpants). This always worked for me. As long as I looked “professional” and teacher-like, I figured that nobody would care if I didn’t take the time to put on makeup before running out the door guzzling my coffee and trying to remember my lesson plan. I get good student evaluations every semester. The rest is meaningless.

But in January, I started going to the monthly lesbian happy hour, which is a fascinating sociological activity. Where else are you going to find a sample of about eighty women with such a wide variety of clothing styles in the same bad bar lighting? More than half of our sample look like any other women you might see on the train every day. But there are a few types who stand out.

Fashionista/International Femme: Makeup, long hair, dress, heels. An air of being exactly where she needs to be. Even if I wore the exact same thing, if I was standing next to her, no one would notice my existence. I have had friends like this.

Grad Student Femme: Shortish wash-and-wear hair. Casual clothing, such as skinny leg jeans. Comfortable shoes, minimal makeup. The glow of youth.

College Dean-ish: An excellent haircut, whatever the length. Makeup, but never too much. Classic jewelry. Professional clothes, more femme than not. Classic but comfortable shoes, probably expensive. An air of quiet authority.

Grad Student Butch: Short hair with a little product for style. No makeup. Men’s style clothes but not necessarily menswear. Comfortable shoes, maybe spiffy. The glow of youth.

Flannel Butch: Plaid flannel shirt, dark wash jeans, expensive sneakers. Most of the jewelry is in one ear. One or more tattoos. A. The glow of youth AND/OR B. An air of quiet authority AND/OR C. Laidback attitude.

Bowtie Butch: Short hair. No makeup. Menswear, including either necktie or bowtie. Men’s style shoes. Laidback attitude.

Perhaps if I saw the same people in the bright light of day, the differences might not be apparent. But in the dim light of a bar, the women who don’t wear makeup, especially if they are over 40, look kind of grey and washed out.

So I’ve made a couple of visits to Sephora, one to get help in picking a shade of lipstick and one to get a 15-minute primer on how to apply eye shadow the right way and get help picking good colors. The young women (and one or two men) who work there are all made up to within an inch of their lives. But when they ask me what style I am going for, and I say, “Sorta like Ellen,” and they say, “Oh! You mean natural!” they are gung ho in helping me achieve a look that is as little like theirs as possible.

My shift in thinking about all this is primarily a shift in thinking from more outward–what do other people see when they look at me–to more inward–can I see my best self when I look in the mirror, blue eyes, Polish cheekbones and all.

It also helps that two of the faces of makeup companies in recent memory have been Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Ellen Degeneres (Ellen the Homophobia Slayer), both of whom have fresh light looks that don’t scream, “Look at me! I’m wearing makeup! Ask me how!” Which is funny, actually, considering that is exactly what they’re getting paid to do… Ah, marketing, why you so sneaky?