Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

07 Aug 2014, 13:36 p.m.

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 So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it!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."

"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.

p. 62-63, Bantam paperback.

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".)