A friend of mine is in town this weekend, celebrating her birthday. (Hi friend, if you’re reading this!) The plan last night was to go to a tapas restaurant, and then to the bar that’s (literally) next door, for dancing and drinking. Tapas is fun. I don’t like the meat stuff (duh) but the way the menu and food works encourages a social, sharing atmosphere that’s really delightful with good friends. Lots of reaching and grabbing and passing, “Ooh, what’s that?” and “You have to try this.” In the past, I’ve occasionally been cranky about tapas bills, because I don’t eat meat and didn’t feel I should pay as much, but last night I realized that we’re all paying for the same atmosphere – a birthday party – and less so for the specific food. So I paid up my share without complaining.
Then came the dancing. Well, ‘dancing,’ because when we got to the bar (around 12:30AM) the dance floor was still pretty empty. The bar was in Lincoln Park (not, as I tweeted at 1AM, in Wrigleyville) and full of guys in sports-coats and ties, and their lady friends. I don’t like this kind of bar – it makes me uncomfortable from a social/gender/sexuality standpoint (something I’ll get into more below), I can’t hear friends or carry on a conversation, drinks are inevitably more expensive than I want to pay…the whole experience makes me unhappy.
Those last points seem to be the easiest to remedy (or, at least, the easiest to get over). My friends last night were being super-sweet, trying to get me to have a good time and buying me drinks. I felt bad because they obviously wanted me there, wanted me to be having a good time, and were willing to spend money on me toward that end. And I just didn’t want to be there.
When hanging out with this group of friends (primarily friends from high school, including my two roommates) there’s sometimes a background noise of “You’re trans, we’re not.” Never intentionally, and more something I think I put on myself than they actually put on me. But just an occasional niggling reminder that we share different life experiences. (I know, who doesn’t?) For example, before we went to dinner last night the boys were chatting about facial hair. I chimed in that it was a shame I never wanted the copious facial hair I was able to grow before my hair removal. Everyone chuckled, as they’d all known me then, but I was still reminded how different our backgrounds were in that regard. But not enough to detract from my enjoyment of hanging out with them.
Going to bars like that, though, cranks that discomfort way, way up.
Again, I’m not sure how much it’s them (or the situation) actually putting on me, and how much I’m putting on myself. But I become horribly anxious in those environments. Will guys perceive me as ‘female’ enough to hit on? Oh god, what if guys do hit on me? What if they want to dance with me? Obviously, being hit on or danced with isn’t exactly a fate worse than death. But I don’t know how to handle it, and it makes me feel incredibly anxious. I also feel like a total outsider, even among my friends. When we were standing around the bar, I wasn’t really interested in engaging because I couldn’t hear anyone, and had to yell to be heard. When people were dancing (less last night because I left before dancing really got started) I have two issues: first, I’m convinced (rightly or wrongly) that I simply can’t dance. That I look as awkward and ridiculous as I feel. Second, there’s no one I want to be dancing with. I’m not really comfortable dancing with any of my straight friends. I mean, its one thing during parties at our or someone else’s apartment, but on a big dance floor? No thank you!
I had a chat with one of my roommates about all this this morning, and she brought up something that honestly hadn’t occurred to me: the friends I’m out with know I’m having a shitty time, and don’t like it any more than I do. Their frustration (one or two friends in particular) isn’t because they’re actually mad at me, but because they want my enjoyment to be up at the same level that theirs is. Likewise, my roommate said it kind of bums her out when I’ve gone out with other friends and obviously stayed out late having a blast, because I don’t seem to be able to do that with her and our high school friends. Not because she doesn’t want to see me having a good time, but because she feels left out of the good time I’m having.
My high school friends and I have talked about the idea of going out to a lesbian bar (there’s a great one, T’s, right down the street) but that also doesn’t sit quite right. It feels like it would simply be moving the situation – of me being the only queer one in the group – to a different (albiet queer-er) venue. Honestly? It feels like they’d somehow be impinging on ‘my’ space.
I don’t like feeling so territorial, and I don’t think of myself as someone who does get territorial. I usually love merging groups of friends, introducing people from different aspects of my life. So why does this feel different?
A large part of the difference has to do with how new this is, and how unstable I feel within my queer identity. Introducing friends from high school to friends from a show (for example) brings two stable and confident parts of my life together. In this situation, I’m still figuring out what it means for me to be an out, trans, lesbian, woman. I think I worry about self-censorship, and having to keep in mind the history I have with these friends, rather than simply figuring things out as they come. (Again, I think this is something I’m imposing on myself, not something any of them is doing.)
I don’t want to tell friends who are obviously trying to stay a part of my life that, no, I don’t want them coming with me to gay bars. And my roommate and I talked this morning about how it doesn’t need to be all of my friends; it could be one or two high school friends with this other group I’m starting to hang out with, so I feel less out numbered. And yet, I worry that I don’t want these friends in that part of my life, at least not yet. It feels very mine, in a way that much of my social life with my high school friends feels ours. ‘Ours’ isn’t a bad thing, mind you. I love the history I share with these friends, the support they’ve provided me through relationships, transitioning hardships, job woes, and (though sometimes they seem few and far between) celebrations and victories. But it’s also something that requires negotiation and give and take, things I don’t know I’m strong enough to deal with yet in my queer identity. I worry that, just as I’m discovering this new part of myself, introducing the ‘old’ me will crush or hinder the growth I’m feeling.
I don’t want to feel this way, but I’m not sure how to find balance between discovering a new part of my identity and not excluding the old.