Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Not From Here

Back when I was in college at UT-Austin, around '87 or so, I was waiting for a school shuttle bus. I was dressed all in black, hair pulled back in a severe bun, had on dark red lipstick. (I was going through my attempted "goth" phase, which lasted maybe from '87 to '89. I say "attempted" because I could never quite pull it off. While goth internally... alas, on the outside I look, as a middle-aged married Greek guy shagging my 20-year-old friend and trying to get me to sleep with his buddy, once told me, "like a Nebraska farm girl." The bane of my existence!)

Anyhow, there I was, dressed in black, waiting for the bus. The one other person at the stop was a Middle Eastern student who kept staring at me. Finally, he burst out with, "Where are you from? You don't look like you're from here." I asked, "Where do you think I'm from?" "New Jersey." "New Jersey?? Why on earth?" He thought for a second: "The black clothes, maybe. The lipstick."

Now, 20-some years later, here I sit in New Jersey! :) (Where girls decidedly do NOT wear black and red lipsick! I suppose the young man was thinking of NYC.) And just a couple of days ago, I was in my local pizza joint waiting for my slice to get warmed up and the Middle Eastern counter guy started making conversation: "Where are you from?" I didn't make him guess, just told him I was from Texas, had moved to Manhattan, then to Weehawken a year or so ago. He replied, "You didn't look like you were from here."

I'm also now flashing back to another encounter, this time also around '86 or '87 when I was still in my black-wearing phase. I was at a country-western dance club in Austin, where my friend shagging the middle-aged Greek guy always dragged me. (I didn't particularly like going there since I couldn't ever learn the dances and wasn't attracted to country men, but I went for something to do -- and I liked being around people of all ages, not just 21-year-olds.) I'd usually just sit there and drink and talk to people while my friend danced. One night a guy kept asking me to dance, and I kept smiling and saying "no." Near the end of the night, he came up again and said, "Well, you don't look like you belong here, but you shore do look purty!" :)

And then there's the night in NYC couple of years ago, before I lived here, but when I had flown in to visit for a few days. One of my Joan message-board buddies, a gay man who'd lived on the Upper West Side for 20 years, was taking me around town showing me the night-life. We were dressed up, and went to the Rainbow Room, a play, then to a drag show at a little club in Chelsea... At the drag show, the drag queen kept focusing on us, making jokes about "Uptown straight people slumming"! My friend was in a suit, and I was wearing black Capri pants and flats and a red/black top; I had on make-up and my hair was fixed... The other patrons were more scruffy and punk-ish... My friend and I were/are both gay as hell, yet the drag queen immediately assumed we simply MUST be a straight married couple! :)

Gawd! Now that I'm no longer wearing all black, I suppose I should just move to Nebraska and be done with it! :)

I'm a perverse soul, so it's actually kind of flattering to me to be told that I look like I don't belong someplace... I hate preconceived notions, and like messing with people's heads -- not intentionally going out of my way to mess with them, but messing with them because of THEIR already-existing prejudices that they then have to think about. Yet, on the other hand... it might sometimes be a little nice to just be accepted and not to have to continually prove myself and, here's the thing: NOT HAVE TO PUT ON THE CORRECT COSTUME to prove I belong... That's happened soooooo many times, in every type of "community," from small-towners back in Azle (where a 7-11 clerk once asked me and my friend Ginny if we were "from there" because we were wearing off-the-shoulder sweatshirts with Japanese writing that were so hot circa 1983!), to the tattoo artist AND the professor in San Francisco who gave me the cold shoulder until they learned I was gay (and then both became very friendly), to drag queens in New York City!

It's funny how very alike those in the so-called "counter-culture" are in behavior to the small-town "closed-minded" folk that they claim to despise! And, tellingly, it's, in my experience, always been the more educated, big-city folk who were the ugliest-acting toward what they perceived as the "outsider." The 7-11 Azle clerk, the guy in the country dance place, the pizza-guy: They were just sayin', just curious about another person. On the other hand, the SF tattoo girl, the SF professor, the NYC drag queen: They were not curious, not out to learn anything about another person, just out to mock. (I had SOOOOOOO little respect for these people once they started acting nice to me just because they learned I was gay.)


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A p.s.: The conversation between me and the Jersey pizza guy continued with him asking me which had the better pizza, New Jersey or Texas... Now, one would assume the obvious answer: Jersey. WRONG! Contrary to popular belief, NYC and Jersey pizza isn't that great. I love all pizza (except Conan's in Austin, whose sauce contains big stewed tomatoes--UGH!); you can hardly go wrong with pizza... but I'm here to tell ya that places in Austin like Brick Oven and Double Dave's have MUCH better pizza than the slices up here. (I felt bad giving the guy my honest opinion; he looked shocked, and I suppose it was rather rude of me to tell a Jersey pizza guy that Texas pizza was better! He went on to tell me about his friend living in Houston who had told him all Houston and Texas had was Domino's and Little Caesar's...)

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