2600 words • 10 min
The week after the election, nearly everyone I knew had violence occur in their neighborhood. My best friend at the time lived in an apartment complex, and the body of a young black woman was found dead in the apartment below hers. My ex-boyfriend lived in a small town in the northeast and a man went on a shooting spree across the town, something that had never taken place in that area before. A guy I had been talking to online (and who I went on a date with eventually - Gizzards, coming soon) had a Muslim friend who had buckets of red paint thrown on him while walking across campus. And one of Axes' family members was assaulted on the street for wearing a pride shirt. She was physically okay minus some bruising, but everything was terrifying; everyone was shaken over these events happening all over the country.
It was heavy, depressing times, and I found myself going to Axes to talk about it over and over again. Over half of his immediate family and all of his friends were queer - he *got it* in a way that most of my other friends didn't.
He also said something that I still think about on a regular basis, and keep as quote on my phone. I shared with him that I had just started to be kind of Out at work. After Pulse happened, I wore all my LGBTQ t-shirts to work that week, and a few coworker friends knew about my life. But after Trump won, and people I know started getting more violence and hate directed at them and those they loved, it started to feel a lot more unsafe, or at least unwise, to be out in the workplace.
And Axe's response was perfect.
If you are afraid to show your true face to someone, that just means they haven't earned it.
If you are afraid of being yourself around someone, it is not your courage that's in question, but their ability to make you feel safe. If your home or work environment scares you into being silent, you are not LESS THAN for not speaking up. It's their shame, not yours, if you don't feel safe enough to share with them.
Our conversations were much more substantial, discussing our families and our fears, and our creative work. He wrote poetry, usually with a fantasy setting or about fantasy topics. And I'm a writer and editor.
So the time had come for us to share our work with each other.
There's always this moment of DREAD when you are a creative person dating another creative person. "Hey can I show you some of my work?" O GAWD. The amount that you like a person has absolutely no bearing on how good their work is. You could fall madly in love with someone, and they could be just the GREATEST PERSON, but that is no guarantee that they aren't a terrible, terrible writer/artist/musician/etc.
I always brace myself before opening whatever they send. Like, okay. Steel yourself. IT'S TIME. Either it will have genuine good points to it and you will be able to continue to respect them. Or it will be somewhere between BLAND and COMPLETE TRASH and you will have to decide whether to offer gentle constructive criticism (always a bad move, honestly. this has *never* worked out for me or for anyone I know) or just flat-out lie and hope they never bring it up again.
He showed me some of his poems, which were................................... um. I mean. They weren't, uh. They weren't... terrible? I replied with bland but friendly comments, pointing out one or two lines that I actually liked, and trying not to be overly critical. They were just really boring, and trying too hard without saying, like, anything. I did my darnedest to be polite and friendly, point out only the good things, with a vague slightly constructive criticism thrown in there (which was the only part he didn't pay attention to, so).
Aaaand then it was my turn.
I sent him my retelling of the Little Mermaid, which (shameless plug) is available for free, for anyone to read, here. It's called "Blood in the Water," and I took the original, dark-as-shit tale, and made it darker. Because, y'know, I'm a badass like that.
This motherfucker came back with not just a response... but an essay of literary criticism on my piece that was almost half as long as the piece itself.
This is probably going to sound like I'm a touchy, pissbaby author who can't take constructive criticism. But my side-eye was largely because this was not the time, nor the place. Someone who is trying to date me and is seeing my work for the first time shouldn't burst into an unsolicited five-paragraph breakdown of what I was trying to thematically accomplish with my retelling. I hadn't done the same to him? He showed me his poems and I responded appropriately. That courtesy was not afforded to me.
When I responded with basically "uhmmm you're taking this a bit seriously? that's... kind of a bit much?" he bragged about how great his criticisms are and how he goes to literary workshops and always gets complimented on how good he is at it.
This critique was sent not even an hour before our next date. I was meeting him at his work, then following him home in my car.
I maaaay have had some choice words to say to him, and ended my message with "I'm driving to your work now, and if you want to call off this date, I understand, just let me know."
He didn't call it off. I followed him home, and on the 40-minute drive, he and I spoke on the phone about the critique and other things. He had *mostly* recovered lost ground by the time we got to his house.
It was time for me to meet THE SUGAR GLIDERS.
Unfortunately, I don't have pictures. I took them all on snapchat, and because I was so flustered and nervous, I didn't save any of them. I was super skittish and shy, worried I'd drop the little fuzzies or they'd bite me or something, and I think Axes was a bit annoyed with me. I wouldn't shut up about how much I wanted to see them, and then... when I saw them... I was scared and awkward about it. >_<;;;
His house had an entire room dedicated just to the sugar gliders (probably to protect them from the cats, now that I think about it). After they were installed in their homes again, he started making dinner, and I sat awkwardly in his kitchen while he did.
He took up quite a bit of time talking talking talking, and I was getting really discouraged. It was feeling like a repeat of our first date all over again. I gave him a gentle nudge, a reminder of why he almost didn't get a second date - I honestly think I just paused really long and didn't make encouraging noises when he took a breath - and so he asked me a question.
How did you come to understand you were bigender?
I told him how gender didn't seem to exist when I was a little kid. I was encouraged to play sports and Barbies equally. I dressed up as superheroes and princesses in equal measure. But when I hit puberty, it felt like all of that "you can grow up and be whatever you want to be! girls can do anything boys can do!" rhetoric was a lie. I was suddenly required to shave, do my hair, care about my appearance. Clothes got tighter with higher hemlines and lower necklines. I had to wear an uncomfortable bra, and my day to day was full of comments about my appearance, all the things I was supposed to care about but didn't. It felt like I went from being a person to being a GIRL almost overnight, and I hated it.
So at roughly eleven years old, with no LGBTQ+ community, no knowledge of any genders other than male and female, and barely even understanding what it meant to even be gay... I started telling my friends and family that I was an "emale." Not a boy, not a girl, but a perfect middle ground between the two. I decided my pronouns were e/er (as in, I asked if e wanted some chili with er crackers).
Naturally, everyone ridiculed it (especially since emale sounds like email). I was told to "get used to it," and "that's just what it means to be a woman. It sucks." etc. I was incredibly bitter about it, refused to wear anything other than XL men's t-shirts and hoodies to cover up my body and hide the curves and woman-ness my body was mutating into against my will. It wasn't until I discovered Japanese street fashion at fourteen that I--
"Do you want to start the movie now?" Axes asked me.
"Um... sure, I guess?"
I was... stunned? Honestly. He literally, actually interrupted me mid-sentence, cut off a story he had asked me to tell. He put a bowl of food he'd made into my hands and I awkwardly sat on the couch, staring at it, trying not to be hurt or upset, thinking maybe he just meant for us to move to the other room, to start eating? But he started talking about movie options, which one we wanted to watch first, and I honestly... I think I might have been trying not to cry. Or had gone into a very anxious, nonverbal place, because I just remember staring at my lap and focusing on eating as he moved around the living room, setting up the TV and talking and talking and talking.
He started the movie.
We never got back to what he'd asked me to talk about.
It was our first date all over again, where I felt like I was in 8th grade all over again, at a slumber party with mean girls who would intentionally leave me out of conversation, or just... a dozen terrible, heartbreaking moments that I had struggled really hard to put out of my mind. It hurt in a really unique, subtle way, and I honestly don't think he did it on purpose. I think he's bad at conversation, bad at reading social cues, bad at understanding facial expressions or what the other person is feeling, and he just bulldozes on ahead with whatever he's doing.
Regardless, this was a really hard episode to write. It kind of took me days. I kept putting off getting to this moment.
He kind of kicked me out before we watched the second movie, by awkwardly telling me he had a busy day at work the next day and needed me to leave (at, like, 8 pm). He didn't walk me to my car in his driveway. Just waved at me from the doorway. I drove home feeling weirdly... rejected, ignored, and unseen.
The next day, he messaged me "I had a really great time last night, when can we do it again?"
And I told him the honest truth. He hurt me, and I keep getting hurt when I spend time with him, and I'm really done putting myself in those situations.
His response was several emails back and forth that were several paragraphs long, but it boiled down to... he is "monogamy-minded, with a poly heart." He said he started the relationship "refusing to give into NRE," which is "new relationship energy," a poly term for being really excited and giddy about a new relationship, all those feelings you get when you have a crush and are enjoying a brand new relationship.
His spouse was polyamorous and had a girlfriend for years and he thought he'd give it a try, but he was resistant to the very idea of it from the beginning, and felt he had "too much responsibility to people in my life" that he couldn't actually engage with me.
Which made a ton of things suddenly make sense. I felt like he didn't want to date me because he didn't want to date me. He was falling all over himself apologizing and saying he didn't want to hurt me "But... I'm not there yet. And it's not you; it's me coming to terms with [blah blah blah]" YEAH HE SAID THAT. IT'S NOT YOU IT'S ME. I'M DYING. Anyway.
I hate when guys reject you by telling you how "flattered" they are by your interest. Take your feeling flattered and shove it. I'm not here to flatter you. I want to be with someone who thinks I'm awesome and wants to spend as much time with me as I want to spend with them.
I put on a brave face and ended things on peaceful, friendly terms, but really, I was hurt. Not necessarily because I wanted to be with him, or was so invested in him, but because it drudged up a lot of old, shitty feelings from abusive parents, middle school bullies, and my second relationship ever... a guy in college who dated me for six months, told me he loved me (unprompted), and was talking about possibly getting married some day... then out of nowhere, took me aside one day, and told me he'd lied about everything from day one. He had no feelings for me at all, not even as a small crush. He'd loved the attention so much, and wanted someone to care for him so much, that he'd kept the relationship going, lying and lying until it got so big, he didn't how to get out of it.
It was a lot of "oh, this again." And I was bitter and sad and spent quite a lot of time wrapped up in Chris and Cute Boy's arms sniffling about how trash everything is and why do boys suck so bad, and blah blah.
I also... kind of threw myself into online dating with renewed vigor, lol. There were dozens of conversations I'd let kind of die off because I was busy dating Axes... those people might have actually wanted me, been interested in actually dating me for my own sake. I was pissed I'd wasted that much time on him, and too many old feelings of being unlovable and unwanted were making me miserable.
He and I had been on three-ish dates in three weeks. The day after it ended, I messaged dozens of people on dating sites in a fit of insecurity and shitty memories. The awful feelings faded after a day or two, but the conversations with those people kept going, and I found myself going on five first dates with new people during the next three weeks.
It was equal parts... interesting, hilarious fun, really awkward, empowering, nerve-wracking, and really out of character for me. I was an anxious dweeb whose ideal life involves winning the lottery so I never have to leave my house. I wasn't the kind of person who meets strangers at coffee shops several times a week. Hell, I wasn't the kind of person who could attract one date, let alone five.
But... I was that person in November 2016. I am that person, on the days I choose to be, and I might not have pushed myself to learn that about myself if one random guy hadn't made me feel like I was worthless first.
So thanks, random guy, for making me feel needy enough to reach out to message strangers on the internet. It ended up being a ton of fun.
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