I’m at a cafe in Taipei doing some catch-up work, one of the myriad cozy, home-grown coffee shops that are sprinkled generously around the city - so prevalent, I could almost visit a new one every few days in the not-that-short-anymore time I’ve been settling in here. I see a few couples seated nearby, chatting over lattes; they look at each other with fleeting, anxious smiles and their fingers fidget over the handles of coffee mugs. Little sparks of attraction go off as clear as day between them, but neither wants to do too much about it lest the explosion damage their potential to grow. I see them and I think of the first time, the last time, the only time I had a DATE in my favorite cafe in my hometown of Boise, Idaho. It was an incredibly significant hour, because it was the first date I ever had with a woman.
Up until that point my coming out had been fully abstract to me. I liked women, I knew that. I liked them over men. I had pursued someone doggedly, a younger girl who was a fully out and vocal lesbian. But she was online, it was a puppy crush and it fizzled out long before I realized it had. I was a baby gay in the utmost sense of the term. I was shy of the very words. I had already managed to label myself a femme lesbian, an identity I have gradually found to be more fluid and less seminal as I’ve branched out and found my certain pace in queer culture. But I didn’t know a single other gay woman in town. I barely knew where to start. The most obvious place, which made me bristle some but I bit my lip and gave it a shot anyway, was the most often-used online ad space in the States called Craigslist. Yes, judge away, I went looking through personals.
The section of girls seeking girls had its fair share of weirdos. People who posted way-too-committal song lyrics for which I think they might have taken anyone’s name to fill the blanks, lots of younger girls just a bit outside my age range, and instances of grammar that made me a little twitchy. One of the most jarring was an ad that described how she’d cheated, fucked around, messed up… but ended by saying how she had found the importance of love in her life through it all. I put a red flag on the cheating bit initially, but I couldn’t get the words out of my head.
And I decided, why not. I am a big believer in second chances.
So I contacted her. I sent an email saying as much, and those basic surface details such as name, age, what I’m doing. We started talking. And eventually after some of that talking and building excitement decided on a coffee date. Flying M was the place, 7 p.m. the time.
I was so anxious I was about to explode that day. I took a fleeting glance at the clock and determined it 5:25, and gave the cleanup fanfare to my pre-K and kindergarten class. They were quite confused and I was too busy frantically stuffing baby dolls in a box to notice… until a couple of minutes later, when I glanced again and realized my overeager brain had switched the long and short hands on the clock. Doofus teacher moment.
After a whirlwind hour where I determined my shoes sucked for a date and went to buy new ones at Urban Outfitters (I splurged more often than I had ought to there) and did my makeup in the Student Union bathroom, I arrived in the coffeehouse feeling as a wireframe swarmed with butterflies. Here I was, in my little black jacket, straightened blonde hair and a loose tunic with jeans. I looked the prime example of straight girl. I just wanted to look pretty and live up to my self-determined femminess. I was thinking - as I did so often then and have by now lulled it to an apathy-tinged murmur in the back of my head - ‘can people tell I’m gay? What do they think of people like me? Am I gonna get dirty stares once we sit down together?’ Oh, but Flying M has always been, to my mind, one of the most queer- and alternative-lifestyle-friendly places in Boise. I felt reasonably safe from judgment there.
I was just nervous as hell to meet her.
I had seen pictures of her. She classified herself a “stemme” lesbian - embarrassingly I had had to ask what it meant, to which she patiently explained it was a portmanteau of stud and femme, the former by appearance, and the latter by character. So when so-nervous-I-couldn’t-eat little baby lez Cat saw a car drive by with a short girl in a beanie and sweater vest, my butterflies decided to mutiny in me and make the words “oh my god oh shit oh my god oh jeez” murmur out of me like a dazed fangirl over and over while I tried to palm my face, as though that was supposed to keep it from getting hot and blushed. Well, it didn’t. And it only got worse as the minutes plodded by and she didn’t appear out the windows or the door.
“Where are you?” I texted.
“In the car, I parked already”
“Why aren’t you coming in?”
I did one of the two things I do when I’m extremely nervous and shy. I got brash and teasing. “Get in here now or I’ll drag you in!”
No answer. One minute went by, and I got out of my chair to go look for her. I seriously was going to.
And then she came in. And saw me. And came over and sat down.
I melted into shy giggles when she looked at me. I never had a girl look at me that way, ever… the way you regard someone you find attractive, find yourself in an intimate place with. She had an athletic build about her that was apparent even under her oxford, and golden brown eyes that stared straight into mine. Straight. Into. Mine.
I did the other thing I do when I get extremely shy. I clammed up. I tried so hard to talk. I tried so hard to be cool, but I just wasn’t. I was a fluttery mess, and she teased me about my red face and reticence. And I couldn’t help thinking… wow. This is a woman. One minute with her, and she makes me feel like no guy ever has.
Eventually I opened up more. Out of nerves and sheer attraction as I spoke, I remember touching her arm, I touched her tattoos and asked her about them, she showed me her knuckles that spelled out “bitchass.” She was nothing like me. Nothing like I’d ever dated before. All my previous dates, hookups, everything, were clean cut men. She was all different, all exciting, too much to soak in in one evening.
My own knuckles were fighting not to be white. And my lips were fighting not to crush into hers in the kiss I so desperately needed to have.
She had to leave kind of early. I walked her to her car. She reached out for a hug. I hugged maybe too long and too close. I don’t know. But then she grinned that snakebite-pierced grin at me and said “c’mere.”
So I did. I kissed her. That kiss was a revolution.
I left and my head had exploded into light. Dizzy, short of breath, physiologically sledgehammered, I went home. I went home with that kiss and those endorphins scattered into all the unlit corners of my consciousness. I went home… SO. GAY.
So gay. And so complete and so – finally – myself.
(Edited by: Hannah Fazio)