La­bel queen: a dizzy­ing new set of as­sump­tions

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

“I’m sorry to walk so far in front of you,” I said to a former co-worker as we were re­turn­ing to a wed­ding after smok­ing a blunt in her car. “I just want to make sure no one is confused or doubts that we are both – in­de­pen­dently – fuck­able.”

“Thank you for think­ing of that,” she said earnestly, ges­tur­ing her hands to scoot me fur­ther ahead.

There are ma­li­cious con­no­ta­tions to cock­block­ing, but I imag­ine an over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of it is in­ad­ver­tent, be­nignly per­pe­trated by sis­ters, best friends and, in this in­stance, former co-work­ers who po­ten­tial pur­suers might as­sume is your boyfriend or wife. This was my first time in years be­ing a guest at an op­po­site­sex wed­ding; my co-worker and I came sep­a­rately, but knew few other peo­ple be­side the groom we once worked with, so we spent most of our time to­gether; and we were a dif­fer­ent com­plex­ion than ev­ery­one else at the wed­ding.

It would’ve been per­fectly rea­son­able for any­one to mis­take us for a cou­ple, but nei­ther of us were in the mood for such a mis­un­der­stand­ing. I wish I could re­port that ei­ther or both of us got a phone num­ber or fuck buddy, but the funnest parts of be­ing sin­gle can’t be­gin un­til folks know you’re avail­able.

The com­pany I’ve kept over the past few months has led to amus­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of my re­la­tion­ship sta­tus and sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. I’m most of­ten with my young nephew, whom many peo­ple, most no­tably sin­gle het­ero­sex­ual women, as­sume is my son.

His adorable­ness emits a nat­u­ral light­ing that helps me ap­pear more re­mark­able and pro­cre­ative than I would if I were alone. More than any time in the 14 years I’ve lived here, I’ve en­joyed a friend­li­ness and chat­ti­ness with At­lanta women, some­times fol­lowed by po­lite awk­ward­ness and abrupt best wishes.

My pre­sumed het­ero­sex­u­al­ity is even more pro­nounced when we’re hang­ing with my cousin and her young son, the four of us walk­ing, din­ing and rid­ing roller­coast­ers à la a bi­o­log­i­cal or blended unit. Ei­ther way, we ap­pear to be an in­ter­ra­cial fam­ily, which pro- duces its own cu­ri­ous glances and in­quiries.

My enig­matic lin­eage has steeled me to the ag­gres­sive as­sump­tions strangers some­times make, and how ca­su­ally and un­think­ingly we can ask the most pri­vate ques­tions. I’ve had a life­time to hone a sat­is­fac­tory re­sponse to in­ter­roga­to­ries about my race/eth­nic­ity/na­tion­al­ity/color, but with the new prob­ing into my re­la­tion­ship sta­tus and fam­ily struc­ture, I still strug­gle to ar­tic­u­late the most tact­ful trans­la­tion of, “None of your fuck­ing busi­ness.” Mis­guided hunches are some­times eas­ily cor­rected, but too of­ten it would re­quire way more per­sonal in­for­ma­tion than I want to share with some­one I will know for 10 sec­onds.

There are peo­ple whose ease or at­trac­tive­ness prompts an oral es­say in re­sponse to any ques­tion they ask, but in most pass­ing sit­u­a­tions, I’ve found the best way to avoid an am­a­teur cen­sus in­ter­view is to an­swer with­out ex­pla­na­tion, and al­most al­ways, the an­swer to peo­ple’s as­sump­tion is, “No.” It clar­i­fies al­most noth­ing, and they ei­ther ask more ques­tions un­til they rec­og­nize their in­tru­sive­ness, or maybe they set­tle into new as­sump­tions.

The most un­for­tu­nate con­se­quence of leav­ing things am­bigu­ous is that any­one might be left with the im­pres­sion that I was a straight man. Aside from the po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural im­por­tance of be­ing ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in­car­nate, whether in the gro­cery store or at a wed­ding, it in­creases the odds of find­ing a partner or hook-up when there’s some in­di­ca­tion of what you’re try­ing to at­tract. Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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