dancing togetherThe Ritz

Just before we sleep, I stroke your back and begin a favorite fantasy, how we met each other when we were very young. Outside the Ritz movie theater in thick summer night, I am a slightly plump teenager, self-conscious in white short-shorts and sandals, waiting with friends to see Pillow Talk or Where the Boys Are. You are a stranger, the only person no one knows. ("What am I wearing?" you say. "Blue jeans, and a white t-shirt, and sneakers." "Yes! How did you know?" "I do know you," I say. You murmur, to yourself, "Did you really have on short-shorts then?") Someone taunts you with where you are from, but you flirt with me in front of everyone. (And you in the present begin to talk to me: "What's your name? What a pretty name. Will you take a walk with me?")

The other boys and girls have done nothing but tease me about my name since we began school together when we were six. Suspicious, they watch me on the edge of something dangerous, talking to a strange boy, in the spill of light from the street lamp. Junebugs skid through the air and thud into us. Doris Day's poster face, virginal and blonde, smiles secretively at us. I watch myself looking at you, wanting what I can't even name. I ask you, "Are you really a boy?" And you say, "Yes....No." We pay our fifteen cents to go sit in torn vinyl seats. You want to put your arm around me, but I say, "No, everyone is watching. Around here, that's almost the same as getting married." You hold my hand instead and whisper in my ear how sweet I am. I say, "You are too nice to be a boy." Sometimes when we play at being teenagers, you coax me, "Please let me touch your breasts," and my nipples heat up and then flare out in the fear of being touched. Then I begin to cry, bitter hot tears, wanting so badly to be a girl who had you for her first kiss, her first everything.


We climb down the stairs to your gym, a basement of grey gun-metal machines lined up in rows, each array of equipment designed to augment a specific segment of the body, the deltoids, the pectorals. It looks like the inside of a factory, a body factory. You say you work out early in the morning because then you can take your time. No men waiting in line for their turn while you wrestle with yourself to sweat on the weights as long as you need to. The bulletin board has a magazine picture up, a row of women with defined and staring muscles. You point to the woman who is most sculpted, whose muscles are most precise, and say she lost the body-building competition because she had gone too far toward masculinity. The judges preferred more blur in a woman's body. You say you want me to come with you one day as you work out, to spot you, my hand out to break and balance a slip as you lift. I say that I'll murmur, "You can do one more, baby, one more for me," while I kiss the back of your sweaty neck. But you demur: No kissing here.

It's a gay gym, but a few heterosexual couples insist they can do it anywhere they please, the man and woman who rolled writhing on the mats, while the infrequent men caught at it with each other in the bathroom are always kicked out. Though we are two women, here we'd be seen as heterosexual, and resented. No, no kissing here.

In the Tastee Diner we've had our french fries and cole slaw and a shared chocolate milkshake. Full of comfort, I put down the tip, you go pay the check. When you come back to the red plastic booth, some old 60s song is playing. You take me in your arms and begin to dance with me in the aisle between the booths and the coat racks. At the next table two women are scandalized, their eyebrows in O's of astonishment. Later you joke that they wanted to hold you responsible, to say, "Young man, this is not a dance hall." But I was moving with you far beyond boyfriend and girlfriend, beyond a lingering kiss taken over lunch. I was giving myself to you in the way I have perfected over the years since the summer night I stood by another butch lover, drinking beer outside the hidden back door of a small town gay bar. Since the moment a drunk white man staggered out past us, and began to taunt me with his invitation, "What are you doing with her? Come with me. I can give it to you." Bewildered, I turned my back on him, moved closer to her, put my hand on her bare muscled forearm. Whoever she was, she was not a man, and I was not the woman he thought I was. But in daylight, in public, in a parked car near her job, she wouldn't let me kiss her.

I have waited years for you who wants to flaunt me on her arm, my face radiant with desire, as if I'd put my face deep into a lily, heavy with pollen, and raised it to you, smeared and smelly with butter yellow, sated but not yet satisfied, our meal not yet finished as I cling to you in the aisle of the dilapidated diner.

Photo of Leslie and me by
Robert Giard

more stories from S/HE in English and in German.