“Are you gay?” Is not the worst way to begin a conversation with a suspect man.
Yes? Good. You saved me a lot of time.
No, even better, because had I not asked, I would have assumed it.
It’s so win win.
So, when Monique and I grab a wine list from an adorable ‘Ino waiter, I just ask. Okay, wait, no I didn’t. He was wearing a Sarah Lawrence tee shirt. All signs point to gay. “Oh, you went to Sarah Lawrence. Are you gay?” That’s how it was done.
He laughs. “Nope. Not gay.”
“Yes, exactly. At SL, the odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
It was winter when I interviewed at Sarah Lawrence College for their writing program. During the on-campus consultation, I learned the school, besides being clad in black, was mostly lesbian. It’s not the kind of thing I expected to actually learn in an interview. Details about their writing program, scholarships, cafeteria hours, fine. But, “I like pusssy?” Not so much.
“Hi, I’m Arlene Bliss, and I’m a lesbian.” A tall woman in open-toe shoes said as she lunged toward me with an open palm. After shaking it, I sat and smiled politely. Maybe she didn’t realize she said that aloud. Her last name was Bliss not Dis. “Do you have a problem with that?” She was now sitting across from me, smiling, as if she’d just asked how the drive up to campus was.
Was this some kind of trick question? Were multiple-choice answers about to be fanned before me on the stately wooden desk? Do I have a problem with it? I looked at her plume of dark hair, the way her bangs threw her brows into shadow, and I waited for a laugh. I waited for her to tell me she was just trying to loosen me up.
And I waited.
I swallowed the silence and finally offered, “No. I don’t have a problem with your being a lesbian.” Then, I smiled. She smiled. It felt like combat; I could smell the gunpowder. “But I do have a problem with your asking me if I have a problem with it.” I knew at that moment, I wanted to leave. It’s no wonder students take tests under trees, under honor codes; no one can stand to be around one another… they’re all under attack.
“So how did it go?” My father inquired as we left the building.
I walked quickly without looking up. Then I whispered, “Dad, this place is just too, too odd. You know, even for me.”
Clearly, it wasn’t the gay thing. It was the let me put it in your face and lap dance you with it. Who would have thought I’d find a City Slicker* in Sarah Lawrence. There’s something to be said for whispering.
* “Yes, we’re black, and we’re dentists. Let’s not make an issue out of it.”
“They weren’t. You are.”