It was an unusually chilly night in November. We had congregated at the Shark House, a dilapidated dwelling in Tallahassee where radio station kids held bonfires and played ambient music shows. I had been dating an older boy with dark hair and hazel eyes for a few weeks and had decided to invite him along with my roommates. He was already sloshed on bahama breeze wine coolers and white zinfandel when I picked him up. While we gathered around the fire in leaf-strewn backyard, he started talking to my roommate ... about boobs.
Her boobs, specifically. When I looked over, she was covering her chest. Undeterred, he placed both his hands on top of hers in order to further his point that his tiny hands wouldn’t fit around her sizable breasts. She pushed him off and as he turned away, she raised her fist to defend herself. I held onto her, not understanding why she was so furious, why his harmless clearly non-sexual touching had sent her over the edge. I remember restraining her as she raised a balled up fist to punch the back of his head.
Those boundaries were being crossed every time a girl grabbed a handful of my butt on the dance floor, or when I would poke a friend’s boobs in her new push-up bra without prompting. Everything was a bit too comfortable, and not in a comforting way.
Up until then, I had never thought much about how someone could feel violated for being touched when the touching wasn't of a sexual nature.
I stopped seeing the boy from the bonfire, but my roommate and I quickly grew apart nonetheless. Our little spats escalated one day in our front yard as she stamped out her American Spirit dangerously close to my toes and spat, “You let him touch me, you defended him instead of me!”
She was right. Still, I was confused.
When I'd first come out of the closet, the news seem to spread through my group of college friends like a gnarly strain of mono. Suddenly, girls were approaching me asking to go to the gay clubs with them. They were spanking my ass as they held onto their Bud Lights — and I was letting them. I emerged from the closet with a battered ego and a marred sense of self. It felt good that these new friends were giving me attention. It felt nice to be a commodity for a little while.
Still, I noticed that I had become a token addition to these women's friend groups, assigned a very specific role. I was expected to be sassy and quirky on wine nights. I was called upon to go shopping with them before a big night out, and I was always the one who was pulled into the corner to be sobbed at during house parties. The friendships I was fostering were mere caricatures of the typical gay/girl relationship. They saw my sexuality as my whole identity, and they behaved as though their gender — a hyper-feminine version of it — was theirs. Both parties involved knew their lines, their cues, and when to compliment each other’s asses. We’re so progressive! we would think to ourselves, applying makeup and peeing in a shared bathroom at a dive bar.
I remember the time a girl I barely knew showed me her breasts. She was drunk and kept asking me if I had ever seen boobs before. When I said I had, she proceeded to take off her shirt to show me hers anyway.
What I failed to grasp the night my roommate was groped by my date is that there are boundaries for everyone’s bodies. Those boundaries were being crossed every time a girl grabbed a handful of my butt on the dance floor, or when I would poke a friend’s boobs in her new push-up bra without prompting. Everything was a bit too comfortable, and not in a comforting way.
Shortly after the blowout with my roommate, a friend of mine insisted on taking me to ladies night at a bar downtown. A redheaded woman I had only spoken to a few times came off the dance floor and jumped into my arms, “Hey, skank! how’re you?!” she squealed. She pulled me towards the bathrooms where the bass was muffled enough to converse. Her ex-boyfriend was at the bar with another girl, and she needed me to be her surrogate boyfriend. Before I had time to answer, she had pulled me back on the dance floor towards her ex and his new lady friend. Every time he glanced our way, I found her tongue attempting to invade my mouth, her hands pulling on my khakis like she was trying to rip them off.
I began to understand how my roommate must have felt that night at the bonfire; an object to be positioned and played with. When the song ended, I told the girl I didn’t feel well and left her swaying by herself as strobe lights blazed around her.
Pop culture has taught women that it’s trendy to have a gay friend to do everything their boyfriends won’t with them. Gay men are taught by pop culture to bark “yaasss” on cue while we wait for our girlfriends to saunter out of the dressing rooms. The reality is that we’re undercutting our very identities when we give into these stereotypes unabashed.
Of course, there is comfort in the deep friendships that can blossom between straight women and gay men. There is a joy in connecting with someone so much you hold their hand even though it’s platonic, or that you feel completely comfortable getting changed in front of them. But it is another thing entirely to begin to see friendships between gay men and women as void of mutually-established boundaries. No one’s body belongs to anyone else, and no one can discredit feelings of discomfort — no matter what someone’s intentions or sexuality is.
I no longer let girlfriends of mine call me “fag,” and I no longer jokingly call them “slut.” And I definitely don't touch anyone's boobs or let anyone touch my ass. Because the respect that comes from true friendship doesn’t allow for the misuse or degradation of anyone’s body or identity. It is time we burn the scripts we all think we’re supposed to read from. They're old.
Images: HBO; Giphy