Pining & Whining
Recently, a friend quietly confided in me when we crossed paths in Toronto. It was the night of my gig there this past summer and, though our conversation may not have even lasted ten minutes, it was poignant.
She said that returning to Toronto after several years of not living in the city was bittersweet. That the city has a lot to offer but that many of her earlier friends had left. That it’s hard to meet new people now. Differently hard.
There was a sort of stony grace in her eyes that struck me when she spoke these words and then it scraped my heart a little, like stones do to the soles of your feet on a riverbed. I have thought of her often since.
You see, the hardest part about being partnered with a man in my life now has nothing to do with him. It’s about me. It’s about China. It’s about community.
You could say that I came here late in life. I wasn’t a teenager or a twenty-two year old student (even though I sort of pretended I was when I arrived, albeit briefly, because hangovers are really just not my thing!) and I had already built my community before this tsunami of love came along and pulled me across the world.
I miss women. I miss the women’s world. I miss my world in Canada: a community of mostly women partnered with women (and some trans friends too), many with kids now, and a world in which that is the norm.
Toronto is a Mecca. Every time I go back to Toronto, I feel like I have come home to a center in myself and that feeling is really not just about geography. To me, that city is a place to be in queer company while also knowing that there is a whole societal infrastructure there that supports and honours queer (or LGBTQ) identity.
I came of age in that world. It’s where I grew up.
Toronto has no shortage of queer culture. There are gay/queer/lesbian mommy groups (you supply the adjective), “rainbow” softball teams, rock bands, psychotherapists, restaurants, bars, bike repair shops, cafes, doctors, dentists, churches, masseuses, weddings, dog walkers… you name it.
I. Seriously. Miss. It.
Here in China, there are lots of non-hetero people, but the social infrastructure is absent. Chinese culture is very implicit, for one, and there is also no official recognition for GLBTQ people here from the government. They don’t even need to issue a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy here in China; that’s just the way it is and always has been.
There are bars, yes, but very few. There is a GLBTQ organization here, as well, that has recently begun trivia nights and film screenings, etc., but here I am in my thirties with a young child and the opportunities to “go out on the town” in the evenings are few and far between, not to mention the fact that I have less of a palette for the late night party crowd now anyway.
In Toronto my community is already established. We’ve all moved out of the party days together. I return and I’m welcomed and part of an existing network of people having dinner at home after the kids go to bed.
And now, being in a new city, there’s something about this time in my life—the thirties—that makes it hard to make friends. Do we lose the skill? Do we lose our magnetism? Do we lose energy?
Maybe all of the above.
And I don’t want to discredit the wonderful friends that I have here in China, either. While the majority of them are straight, they’re not narrow. I’m really lucky. I am not lacking a social life, don’t get me wrong.
Though, in moments when I miss my GLBTQ world, I think of these Beijing friends and how they didn’t make friends with me because I shared their sexual identity. They made friends with me because they liked me. Now, isn’t that the right reason?
Then, I chastise myself for even thinking about seeking more “friends like me” because I realize that a shared sexual identity is really not a strong enough commonality to form a lasting friendship. If it were, every straight person would be tight with every other straight person, right?! So, I challenge my own narrowness and try to let it go.
The GLBTQ drought that I feel in China is worsened by the returns from overseas, however. The first month back here (which I’m in at the moment, hence this blog), I feel parched all the time. I find myself seeking out pop culture with queer content just so that I can feel less lonely. (Lately, I have to admit, it’s been Chinese-subtitled episodes of “Pretty Little Liars” and my crushed-out fixation on the “Emily” character. She is really pretty, even though her character is supposed to only be 16! I looked her up and she’s 25 in real life, btw! And Canadian!)
And in these times, I sometimes find myself feeling mad at Guo Jian for being a guy. It’s dumb. I realize that. I chose him for all that makes him who he is, and that includes his maleness. I fell in love with a full person, not a person despite his gender. I know that, intellectually.
But sometimes in an immature, emotional zone in my psyche, I still feel mad about it. I have even heard this thought in my head: “Why couldn’t you have just been a woman?”
I know there is privilege in being partnered with a man now. I know that I’m not dealing with day-to-day homophobia, for instance, but sometimes I actually miss that fight, the need for defiant stares with wide grins, the challenge that our hand-holding presence used to offer up to restaurant dining rooms. I miss the regalia of it all. It’s been tattooed on my skin. It’s part of me. Literally.
Now, being with Guo jian means that we aren’t noticed as fellow queers and then befriended, either. Of course, that’s because he isn’t queer! People who see me assume I’m straight because I’m with a man and, yes, I’m one of those feminine queer women who can “pass” as straight, I’ve been told. The result of that is that my identity is now hidden against my will… and also it is hidden because I was willing to partner with this man. I chose this.
The dual face of will.
So, in those moments, I’m really just mad at myself. Initially, as I just mentioned, it’s for choosing a man, I admit, especially when he seems to purposely “forget” to put his dirty socks in the dirty laundry pile, for instance! But then, moments later when clarity kicks my ass, I’m mad at myself for being dumb enough to be mad at myself for this reason. Here are my scolding thoughts:
“I chose to be with the person I fell in love with! I should be so grateful to have met someone I fell for so deeply… at the same time that they fell for me at that! These things aren’t easy. They don’t come around often in life. This is precious.”
So, what’s to be done? Advice?
Just ride out the teeter-totter of emotion until it stills itself in the moonlight in a deserted “fun” park?
I’m not sure there’s anything to be done, really. I read an article about this very topic recently in The New York Times. While it wasn’t specifically about the GLBTQ world, it was about making friends after thirty. It’s interesting. Maybe it will make you think as it has made me think.
And to my friend with the stony grace in her eyes: thank you for your honesty that night in that brief window of connection. I am holding it across the world for you. In moments of urban loneliness, may we both still remember that queer sisterhood is present even when there are tens of thousands of miles between the sisters we grew up (and out) with.
I send you all love.