On the Downlow

Let’s make one thing clear: I’m out to the whole world.  There was never any point in my trying to stay closeted, since acting and dressing the way I do is about as subtle as wearing a neon sign on my back that says “DYKE.”  It’s not that I bathe in glitter every evening or cover myself head to toe in rainbow gear (except for a good Pride Parade), but I fit the dyke stereotype to a T.  I have short hair, a wider build (so men’s clothes tend to hang better on me), and I’m anything but demure.

I’ve worked at some offices where, despite all this, folks didn’t quite get it.  Once I worked at a community bank processing car loans, and my female coworkers asked me if I was married.  When I said no, they went out of their way trying to set me up with the UPS guy or the Fedex guy or just about any single guy that walked through the door.   My current place of employment, fortunately, isn’t quite so dense.  Maybe it was the tie I wore to my second interview? But, hey, I didn’t want to present false advertising, as it were.  I wanted to make sure they knew how I dressed from the get go, no surprises, and they still hired me.

One of my coworkers, in particular, took to me immediately.  I had to wonder.  Granted, my girl-gaydar has never been as strong as my boy-gaydar, but I had an inkling that turned out to be correct.  We started hanging out outside of work, and she told me everything.  About her girlfriend, about how she femmes it up at work, and (most importantly) that she’s on the downlow in the office.   She acts like it’s just amusement to her, that she likes that no one can quite figure her out (and, I’ll admit, it was hilarious when she got a “Men of the Islands” calendar from another coworker), but I think there’s more to it than that.  Really, that’s another story.

But, obviously I’m not going to unwillingly out someone.  If she wants to keep that part of her life private, for whatever reasons–albeit ones I only partially understand, perhaps because I have grown up in a more gay-friendly era?–that’s her business.

So I’ve been at my job a couple months when my whole department, plus a few, decides to go out for happy hour.  As the evening dwindles on, so does the crowd, until there’s only a few of us left.  I guess it was inevitable that the gossip would surface.  The ladies start discussing a manager who’s notoriously difficult to get along with, and who she socializes with.  The next thing I know, one of them is making disparaging comments about how “they just all hang out together because they’re the older, single ladies.”  (Though, she tacked on the “older” as an afterthought, as though she just remembered I was sitting next to her.  A comment that, interestingly, didn’t make me any less single.)  Now, for starters, this woman has no business criticizing anyone for being single at any age (granted, I don’t think anyone has any business commenting on the relationship status of anyone but themselves, or their partner), considering she’s in her 50s and just eloped a few weeks ago.   It’s amazing how fast coupled privilege sets in.  For another, what the hell is wrong with being single? (I have a feeling I’m going to be asking this question a lot…)

But what really got to me about this whole interaction wasn’t this woman’s attitude or her snide tone, but my reaction.   You see, one of the people she called single was actually my gay friend on the downlow.  I immediately wanted to blurt out, “She’s not single!” as though singledom is something that needs to be defended.  Or that calling someone single is an insult.  I was shocked, frankly, witnessing myself respond like this.  Me, who takes such pride in living a full life without the aid of a partner, wanting so badly to defend my friend from… being thought of as single.  As alone.  As less than.

Fortunately, I checked myself and immediately realized why everyone at the office has to think she’s single– admitting otherwise would either mean lying outright or coming out.  So I bit my lip and stewed, wondering how many other negative messages about single life I’ve internalized.


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