Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Ways To Be
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
I just reread Rita Mae Brown's Rubyfruit Jungle, the classic lesbian coming-of-age novel that screams from page 1 and never forgets the intersections of class, gender, and sexuality. I just reread the bit where Molly asks Leroy if it's true that he's flunking school.
"School's stupid. There's nothing they can teach me. I want to go make money and buy me a Bonneville Triumph like Craig's."p. 62-63, Bantam paperback.
"Me too, and I'd paint mine candy apple red."
"You can't have one. Girls can't have motorcycles."
"Fuck you, Leroy. I'll buy an army tank if I want to and run over anyone who tells me I can't have it."
Leroy cocked his slicked head and looked at me. "You know, I think you're a queer."
"So what if I am, except I'm not real sure what you mean by that."
"I mean you ain't natural, that's what I mean. It's time you started worrying about your hair and doing those things that girls are supposed to do."
"Since when are you telling me what to do....[snip]....How come you're all of a sudden so interested in my being a lady?"
"I dunno. I like you the way you are, but then I get confused. If you're doing what you please, out there riding around on motorcycles, then what am I supposed to do? I mean how do I know how to act if you act the same way?"
"What goddamn difference does it make to you what I do? You do what you want and I do what I want."
"Maybe I don't know what I want," his voice wavered. "Besides, I'm a chicken and you're not. You really would go around on a candy apple red Triumph and give people the finger when they stared at you. I don't want people down on me." Leroy started to cry. I pulled him close to me, and we sat on the bank of the canal that was stinking in the noon sun.
People talk like this in Rubyfruit Jungle, speaking their subtext, very on-the-nose, and it doesn't make for velvety-smooth subtle mimetic literature, but that's fine. Here I am grateful to see Brown lay bare Leroy's plaintive need for belonging and direction.
One of the most valuable things, to me, about having a big diverse variety of friends, acquaintances, and colleagues is that I see many ways it's possible to be, and can say "that looks cool, I'll try that."
(If Leroy's lament - how do I know who to be and what to do if we don't have set roles? - strikes a specifically geeky chord with you and you start thinking about nerds and gatekeeping, you might want to read "On geekitude, hierarchy, and being a snob" and "What is geek".)