A few years ago, when I was reading the novel Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, I often accidentally would call it Soft Butch Blues. The woman I was seeing recommended it to me. I don’t want to call it dating, because she had a wife. But we had clandestine picnics and met in dimly lit tapas bars and our bedrooms when her wife was out of town. I don’t feel comfortable calling it a bad relationship that I was in and I don’t feel comfortable calling it good either. It was what it was, as a coworker of mine during that time loved to say.
It would be an understatement to say the book wrecked me. I met the woman I was seeing for beers to discuss it afterwards. “I wanted to be the character Jess in Stone Butch Blues when I came out, but I was more Soft Butch Blues, like you said,” she said.
Worked for me. I’m not sure how to make this clearer: It was as though I went “girl crazy” overnight. It seemed like waking up and realizing you’re attracted to cats or something–and you have to see cats everywhere and continue to act normal, but your breath goes shallow when they’re around, and you just want to stare. Though the butch aesthetic was what made me truly weak in the knees, made me stare and obsess, I liked other girls too. Since I didn’t know my own sexuality anymore, since it had surprised me, caught me off guard, I felt I didn’t know anyone else’s, either. Was my friend actually in love with me? Was I in love with her? Did the girl that held eye contact with me and touched my hand as I gave her change, want to sleep with me? Had I been repressing something my entire life? Who. Am. I. was a constant mantra in my head.
I’d never known I was attracted to this “butch” aesthetic until I met her. And after I did, I was walking around, aching for dykes. I was dyke aching. Anyone who looked like her, I wanted. I was fetishizing. I’d go on online dates only with women who resembled her. But I was picky—this one’s doesn’t laugh like her, this one’s skin is too fair, this one wears a different brand of jeans than her. I would never find anyone because I wanted her–or her exact replicate.
She was everything I was not. She was a dark and I was light. She had short hair and I had long. She wore men’s clothes, I wore women’s. She hid her body with baggy clothes and ran miles each night to keep her teenage boy body, I wore tight clothes showing my curves. The only similarity was our height and our love of books. Fantasizing about moving in together, I mentioned I would have my bookshelf and she would have hers. “And my books are better,” she said, laughing.
Our relationship had no “real world probability” so I was in a constant state of upset. There were many things I tried to forget her: Jalapeno tequila. Triva night. Strip clubs. Masturbating to straight porn. Different sleepovers with female friends each night. Trivia night. Driving around aimlessly at night listening to the Smashing Pumpkins and sobbing “Why” at the top of my lungs. An ex-druggie, I tried every Vitamin and tincture I could find. Not dissimilar to the Tove Lo song—I always had to stay high.
One night around New Year’s we went barhopping. We began talking to strangers, and it turned out that their friend could get drugs. I’d recently quit an ugly drug habit, but I let the fly out the window for the night. I asked this man if he could get weed. He made a show of going outside and taking around twenty minutes. He came back in and told me to go outside with him. I stood on the street and he handed me a baggie. I asked him if he could get anything else. Could he get pills or coke? He could get coke. I asked for some. He said he had to call the guy. I went back in the bar and a while later he fetched me from the booth. Again I went outside with him and he handed me a baggie. I didn’t look at either baggie—didn’t smell them, and didn’t asses them. Just put them into my winter coat pocket. Back in the booth, I sat next to my soft butch and thought I was hot shit.
I went to the bathroom to snort some coke. Of course I figured if I snorted some coke, I would be better—funnier, prettier, smarter, cooler. I took the baggie out of my pocket. How easy it was to get drugs. How bad ass I was. But the baggie did not hold coke. All it held, was a black pebble. A black rock. I gasped and rummaged around for the other baggie. No weed in there. Crumpled up grass and leaves. The humiliation I felt. I’d given him around eighty dollars in cash. I tore out of the bathroom and told Soft Butch and the (fake) drug dealer’s friends what he had done.
In retrospect, I am grateful that man didn’t give me coke and weed. I couldn’t even buy drugs correctly any more. This was the night I knew I didn’t want to do drugs any more. That I couldn’t. That I had no choice. Because drugs didn’t want to do me. Soft Butch called me “Black Rock” from that day on.
One morning mother and I had breakfast in Soft Butch’s neighborhood.
“She lives near here,” I told my mother.
“Yeah. Wanna go egg her house with me?”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” my mother said, sarcastically.
See, I’d never had rage like this, I’d never had feelings like this—I’d never had sex like this. I’d never known a butch woman up close and personally.
It was powerful to have sex with someone, but not have a penis be involved. I mean, we were having sex. With no penis. Our hands were our penises, and hands are so much more intimate! Hands are how we eat, how we write, how we wipe ourselves. How did I have someone’s hand make me come? A hand. It seemed like the most surreal thing in the world, at the time. A body part had taken on all new meaning.
There were other things that took on new meaning as well. Everything about her was exotic. She had a facade. Her clothes seemed like a uniform, a costume. She carried a handkerchief—something else I’d never seen a woman do, or anyone really.
After I would sleep with her I’d wake up like I’d been beaten up. I texted my friend E. She said, “You sound pretty beat up. Just know you deserve to have someone who wants to fuck you AND make you breakfast in the morning.” That broke my heart. I’d spent my whole life thinking no one would want to do that. How did she know?
The relationship went sour in ways I’d never experienced with a man. “It’s worse with women,” everyone told me. I was quite fond of saying, “She ruined my life.” I loved telling the story. It was all I had. I hung on to it. “She ruined my FUCKING life!” I would tell people. It was my way of gaining control back. It’s so much easier to blame someone else for our actions.
How could I recover? I’d heard of love addiction—I knew of the books Love Junkie: A memoir and Lovesick. I was addicted to feeling badly. For waiting for her texts and calls. When they didn’t come—I thought I wanted to die. Too heartbroken to even watch porn–I’d cry after watching it. On a comedy show, a woman says, “Girls are like stamps—if you lick em, they stick.”
I wish I could say I walked away with dignity. I wish I could say I woke up one morning and had the revelation, “This isn’t good for me.” But I didn’t. I was sure if I just saw her one more time, if she would just hug me/kiss me/fuck me/sleep in a bed with me one more time, I would be okay. But her backing off was the best and worst thing she could have done for me. I knew I couldn’t do her anymore, because she didn’t want to do me.
Sometimes you have to learn the same thing again and again. Sometimes you keep doing things to remember why you don’t do them. Sometimes you think you were in love but you were in lust. Sometimes you buy weed and cocaine but it ends up being leaves and pebbles, a great reminder to come back down to earth.