“Can I ask you a personal question?”
My body tensed up in the backseat of my Uber, the security of the seat belt suddenly felt like a suffocation device. My face burned up like I was standing right behind an exhaust pipe or similarly, like I was just standing in Florida.
I pass as straight. It has its inherent privileges, but also its major drawbacks. I have to come out constantly. I have to find new creative ways to respond to “You don’t look gay,” and the questions I get asked about my non-existent boyfriend. (By the way, he’s doing great, thank you.)
I’ve come out at every job I’ve ever had. I come out when I meet friends of friends and when I perform, but still, the most uncomfortable moments to come out is when I’m alone with a straight guy.
In my early 20s, I suffered through some horrible, eyes-open make outs with men, because it seemed easier than saying “I’m gay” and dealing with the aftermath that followed. I was so afraid they would get mad at me or assume I lead them on if I came out as gay after a platonic conversation that they clearly assumed was flirtation. I would’ve rather been a flakey straight girl that couldn’t kiss for shit than a lesbian who tricked them. Gender-based violence is not uncommon, especially when perceived emasculation is the catalyst. The sad truth is: Some men can’t handle the fact that there are some women put on this earth who are not for them.
When I reveal my queerness, I’m cursed with the feeling that I must answer straight people’s invasive questioning—that I must educate them. I get it, it’s foreign; I once found out a girl had her clit pierced and I couldn’t help to be like, “Wait, tell me everything.” In most instances when this line of questioning happens, I can excuse myself to the bar bathroom or fake amnesia. Unfortunately, in a car there’s nowhere to escape. (Unless you’re Alex Mack. In which case, liquefy into the seat’s interior!)
So when “Can I ask you a personal question?” was still hanging in the air, did I really have a choice but to say yes? You’re driving the car, dude. Which means that you are pretty much in charge of my life right now. You and Sallie Mae. (You’ll get your dirty money, when you get it).
“Yeah, sure,” I responded.
Tense. Flame. Tampa, Florida.
“Where’s your boyfriend tonight?”
Unsolicited leading questions about your romantic status are a beautiful intersection of misogyny and objectification. It says: I want to know if you belong to a man or not. Because I would respect another man, obviously. (Probably important to note that the preceding dialogue was the smallest of small talk: You from LA?)
I’ve got three options for how I can answer this garbage question from a male stranger.
Option 1: Lie to avoid further questioning. My boyfriend is actually meeting me at the bar. His name is Geoffrey (with a G) and he’s got huge balls. Yes, I belong to him.
Option 2: Lie by omission. Nope, no boyfriend. But then you open yourself up to the whole arena of being seen as fair game. Available woman for my taking? Don’t mind if I do!
Option 3: Tell the truth. No boyfriend. Been with my girlfriend for a year, actually. How about you? Do you have a partner? You risk being uncomfortable, being questioned, being scoffed at or worst of all, feeling physically threatened.
Option three is perhaps the most dangerous one.
Regardless of sexual orientation, physical threat constantly looms over women. A man smiles at you on the street which means you better smile back otherwise you’re a bitch. Yet they’ll defend it with: What?! I can’t SMILE at you? This is America!
But it’s even more complex than that. The implication that women owe men something at all times is omnipresent. So in this instance (and many others), in this Hyundai Sonata, with nine miles to go on my trek to Hollywood, I am indebted. Though most of us would prefer to not have to exchange anything more than oxygen with our Uber drivers, friendliness is encouraged. After all, you’re providing me with a service and you will, quite literally, be rating me after this.
(Also—you have four options if you know how to successfully barrel roll out of a moving vehicle.)
Women have to protect their safety because they’re sure as shit not teaching men how to be less creepy. Representation is important but not at the risk of your own security. Especially in cars (I’ve seen The Bone Collector). As women, we’ve learned to become body language experts and conversational analysts, with the same intensity of an FBI agent.
So if you feel safe to do so, answer honestly. Talk about your girlfriend. And fuck, if you can help save some other queer chick from having to answer this question from that same Uber driver, help a girl out. And just hope that your 4.7 rating is still intact.
“I have a girlfriend actually” I finally replied.
“Oh! Like a girl that’s a friend?”