(Sorry, this is long...those of you with short attention spans might want to tune out...)
I left that conference on Saturday, early in the morning. My panel was on Friday morning. It wasn’t great. I became surprisingly nervous, something I hadn’t expected – and I think that showed. I’m not sure what this was about. I do know that something needs to be fixed, structurally, when I expand it. I just don’t know how to do that…(post about my lack of self-editing skills coming soon!)
But the good thing that came out of this is that the chair of the panel wants to publish my paper in an edited collection. So that’s a positive. I guess I’ll think of it as an early version of something that will end up in “my book”.
Anyway. The real story of Friday took place after that. While I was standing outside the conference lunch banquet waiting for my panel chair, who’d arranged to have lunch with me, a friendly, youngish man came up to me – shall we call him Pink Tie (PT?) We chatted about what we did, workwise - he seemed very interested in what I do, and I was interested in what to me is the novelty of what he works on - and said goodbye and that maybe we’d run into each other again. That was that.
Late in the afternoon, I walked into the hotel bar for a drink and PT was there, chatting with a few other people. We nodded hello. A moment after they’d gotten up to leave, he came back and asked me, in a very light, friendly way, “Would you like to come out to dinner with us?” He said they were going to a restaurant and then to some sort of club for drinks, and assured me that it wouldn’t be a late night. Having been mostly confined to the hotel and the nearby running track for two days, I said sure. I anticipated a nice, geeky academic dinner with a bunch of other conference folks – he’d said one of his department colleagues was there, for instance.
But, oh no. Said evening out, it turned out, was to be with his dear, non-academic friend (shall we call him Insane Driver, ID?) who lived in town, and a bunch of ID’s friends, whom PT had never met. When I learned this as we were leaving the hotel, my heart sank. (Funny how that happens – I was prepared to go out with a bunch of people I’d never met as long as they were academics, but totally freaked that this was going to be just some random people!) I didn’t know how to extricate myself, though. I was also starting to feel a little oogly about how touchy PT was being – lots of ruffling of my hair and squeezing of my shoulder…I don’t know about you, but I don’t generally ruffle and squeeze unless I’ve known someone for more than five minutes. I put on my friendly-but-emotionally-distant mask, made some joke suggesting that the ruffling and squeezing wasn’t cool, and tried to remind myself that life is an adventure.
So there was insane driving to ID’s place so he could get changed (me thinking, Christ, what have I gotten myself into?!), and then insane driving to some faraway restaurant, where a group of eight or so friends, almost all of them women, were having drinks. It was a Sex in the City-type crowd…thirtysomething professionals all dolled up for partaying in a kind of on-the-make way. So not my thing. And they weren’t very warm to me from the moment I got there. It felt like that way that straight women sometimes get jealous and competitive about other women…again, foreign to me and not pleasant. I wasn’t exactly feelin’ the love…except, of course, from PT.
We then went to another bar (I didn’t beg off because I could sense that taking a cab back to the hotel was going to cost me a fucking fortune, so far away were we. And I didn’t feel threatened at all. It was the kind of place that gives me the shivers just to think about. A packed, faux-glamorous meat market, all about seeing and being seen – and picking up. It was revolting. It was the kind of place I usually avoid like the plague – there is a whole district of clubs like this in Home City, and I never go near there at night.
I thought I was home free, at this point, having given nothing but cold shoulder to PT. I thought I’d just have to wait out the grim scene. But no, this is where PT laid it on thick, although I’d made clear since about two minutes into our outing that I had a partner, and that she was a She. He told me that he’d been attracted to me from the first time he saw me – he liked my “unconventionality”, he said. (Since I wasn’t exactly looking unconventional that day, I like to imagine that whatever he detected was my sexual orientation – small consolation to me, who never gets read as a lesbian…although in this case, of course, he read it wrong…But at least something was read…Sigh. Too bad it was by him.)
I told him categorically that I wasn’t going to do a damn thing with him. And we just sat there and had a long, tedious and oh-so-predictable conversation about sex and attraction. In fact, PT monologued, and I ridiculed. Some gems?
- His theory that it was unfair to feminine beauty to limit himself to one person, in a monogamous relationship. “It would be like me going into a museum and choosing only to look at one painting…that wouldn’t be appreciating all the rest of the beauty it housed, and that’s not fair.” Sigh. Whatever, buddy. I’m up for critiques of monogamy, but spinning them in such terms - sexism disguished as gynophilia - is pathetic.
- His boasts about what a good lover he is because he really understands women deeply, spiritually.
- His stealing a white rose from some flower arrangement to present to me. I overheard him telling the waiter, “I’m stealing a rose for a kiss.” Yeah, I’m a big old lesbian, but I can be bought by some self-styled Casanova with a flower. How fucking insulting. (I told him so.)
At the end of the night, ID and PT dropped me off at the hotel, not without a final attempt by PT to seduce me. I was frowningly displeased, by this point. Buh-bye.
So the thing is, this is not the first time this has happened at a conference. In the last case, it wasn’t until I got together for dinner with this person I thought was my new “friend”, when I happened to be doing research in his city months later, that I realized what his intentions were – again, even though he knew about my sexuality and my status from the beginning. (Oh, he was a charmer, he was – took to insulting butch lesbians at that dinner. Um, guys? That’s emphatically NOT the way to get a lesbian into bed.)
I wonder if it’s because I’m not a part of any heterosexual scene that I don’t pick up on cues. Cues that should be telling me what’s really going on in the seemingly innocent and friendly attempts of guys to chat with me at these things. Which tend to feel exactly the same as random chats I have with women at conferences. If I think about it, there really are no cues – and I’m really not a social dolt. I mean, I can generally tell if someone is flirting with me. Does this just mean, then, that I should assume that when I’m approached by a man at one of these things, those are his intentions? I can’t stand that implication…it’s along the same lines of “men and women can’t be friends,” which I’ve always railed against. But I wonder if I’m starting to realize it’s true.
GF sometimes gets frustrated with me because she says I’m so open to people. She thinks it should cultivate more suspicion. (This is one of the big differences between us. She’s an admitted misanthrope, which I, in turn, find hard.) I’ve never really understood that frustration - frankly, I don't think the world needs more suspicion. But I guess I’m starting to see it. I guess I shouldn't respond in such a friendly manner, which is what I tend to do. I guess I shouldn’t have gone for dinner – should have assumed that there was an ulterior motive in the invitation.
And I guess I think that’s really too bad.