Monday, October 16, 2006

End of conference "adventure"

(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.


grumpyABDadjunct said...

Oh gawd! Conferences are the worst for this kind of crap, ugh. PT sounds like a real winner!

I'm not good at picking up cues either, and people (okay, men) take my easy, open manner as a come on when it isn't, but I'm fairly misanthropic as well and all that gets me are comments about how they like my 'edge'!

Flavia said...

Oh my God, I'm going to throw up now. "It's not fair to feminine beauty to limit himself to one woman"? What an ASSHOLE.

I think that I project a relatively guarded/cold vibe to men I don't know, but sometimes there are the persistent ones--who not only don't read the signals, but don't seem to notice when you're openly mocking them. Maybe it's the challenge? That's really the only explanation that makes sense to me, especially when it comes to your sexual orientation.

Still, I'm really really sorry about this.

medieval woman said...

What a sick bastard. This brings up one of the things about many men (not all) that infuriates me the most: if a woman they think is attractive indicates or says right out that she's not interested (because she's a lesbian, in a relationship, not interested, or just says NO!), they think it's just because she hasn't met "the right guy" - a guy who can be the best, spiritual lover, etc. - i.e., THEM! They read "no" as "just try harder" - you can say that you wish they'd drop dead and they'll think you mean "come to my room tonight" - is a swift kick to the crotch the only way to get through to these guys? Lots of men make jokes about having to chew their arm off in the morning to get away from clingy women - but they never comment on how a woman sometimes has to practically sacrifice a limb to lose a dude who won't take "go to hell" for an answer.

I'm so sorry you had to deal with that - the nasty chicks, the skeevy squeezy pink tie wearin' fool, and the crazy driver. Here's to better conference karma in the future and conference colleagues (both men and women) who will respect you for the interesting, unconventional person you *are* not the one they want you to be!

red phone operator said...

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I love this story. How absolutely ridiculous, disrespectful, and all that. For sure. Some theories:

1. Pink tie? The dude's a fagaletto, 'fo 'sho. Come on! That explains why he's a-barking up the lesbian tree. It's always the way - he can play the chase and not have to worry about actually winning. Safe!

2. I don't buy the men-can't-be-friends-with-women business. I know, for me, that a big motivator in many a new friendship is that low-key sexual attraction that sustains my interest in the person long enough to get to know them. Then it wears off and we can just continue on with the business of being friends. I do think lots of straight guys (eep - generalization coming) are pretty socially pathetic when it comes to knowing how to interact with a woman in a non-sexual way - like, they don't know how to actually just BE, and instead put on this whole machismo pick-up thing and it's embarrassing. That pink-tied dude is definitely embarrassed somewhere in the world right now. And he blew his chances at actually truly connecting with you, cerebrally or whatever. Spiritually, perhaps (barf)

3. I think you're super-brave for being such an adventurer and that is just so cool.

Barry said...

As others have said, PT sounds like a real winner. I mean, come on, he's willing to do you such a favour by offering to appreciate your female beauty!

Speaking from a guy's perspective, the problem I have with pushy folks like him is that it is by getting all pushy they make a lasting impression, making women feel that that must be what guys are like when really (I hope) he is in the minority.

Hilaire said...

Thanks for all your commiseration, folks. Sounds like this is a common experience, to some extent.

Grumpy: that thing about guys liking your edge made me laugh - cynically!! Good lord.

Flavia: I think you're right that part of it is the challenge. And the triumph it would mean to get me into bed...though that itself is so misguided. Even if a lesbian does sleep with a guy, it doesn't mean he's *won* anything...nor that she's not a lesbian anymore, of course!

MW, What a great way to put it!

Red Phone: Hey, so fun that you've showed up here to comment - love to have your voice here! I so doubt he was gay...he was actually really "in touch with his feminine side", which is why he could be so comfortable in his pink tie, according to him. He thought this was why he was so successful with the ladies, too.

Good point about the way that men often aren't socialized to know how to be with a woman with no sexual undertones.

Did you see Jennifer Beals on the Late Late Show - clip is at LWO? She's so shy!

Barry, thanks for stopping by and commenting! I would be pissed off at such behaviour, too, were I a guy.