An Eye for the Ladies
Breaking out of the Bubble: Life outside of the Slope Alia Levine
We had decided to spend seven months traveling from the United States to my home country, New Zealand. Liberating ourselves from our jobs and homes auspiciously (for some) on July Fourth, my girlfriend and I began with a road trip through the southwest. The first days were nauseatingly fabulous; we camped and hiked, sang along to country radio, and generally honeymooned our way through the friendly mountainsides of Colorado.
We rolled into Utah and the demographic changed, along with our reception. As we visited Utah’s biblically-referenced national parks, entire families—with hair the color of corn silk and high-collared denim—couldn’t take their eyes of us as we edged our way into stores to pick up supplies. The hand-holding honeymooning ground to a halt, exchanged for quick kisses in our well-zippered tent. Out of Utah and into Arizona, where, fortunately for us at 5:30am, it turned out that the Grand Canyon couldn’t have cared less for our particular proclivities. Las Vegas, similarly, had its eyes on the slot machines rather than us, and San Francisco was just a big Park Slope with more gay boys and better burritos.
Out west, I was more wary of packs of wandering guys than of bears, and the creepy awareness that my girlfriend and I were seen as sinning sexual deviants (or worse, plain titillating), insinuated itself into our consciousness, affecting both our interaction with each other as well as with the locals. You can’t be gay and not hear about the not-so-random hate crimes, but it’s hard to imagine them happening to you when you live in a city with an active gay scene. Living in Park Slope, a neighborhood where being queer was often the (pleasant) norm rather than the exception; I forgot what life in a bubble could do to one’s sense of security and perception of the outside world. I’ve seen Boys Don’t Cry, but I still have to remind myself that the film documents something that occurred less than 10 years ago, and that there are still places where heterosexuals actually spend time getting all worked up in response to our very existence. There really are more interesting things to think about.
Fortunately, in Guatemala and Mexico, despite curiosity surrounding the actual gender of my partner (tall, flat-chested, short hair, but alas, too pretty to pass) we were at least able to hold hands like all the other girls did without any scrutiny beyond the “you’re a funny looking tourist” level. Secret victory. We studied Spanish in Guatemala, where Catholicism is so strong that “love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin” isn’t even an option. Blind faith came in handy, though. One such loophole was the very strict no boys allowed policy in the house where I was staying (we had separated to study). Heh heh. Being a tortillera in this town had its advantages.
We had read that in India, public affection between men and women wasn’t really kosher; I’ve never seen so much male/male intimacy in my life; we were thrilled. We knew they were just straight and affectionate, but we thought maybe this would exempt us from their attentions. However, amidst the beautiful temples, rice paddies, and mountains—even on the banks of holiest of rivers, the Ganges—we encountered the world’s largest male sleaze factor. I discovered that I actually had the capacity to unflinchingly closet myself with comments like, “My husband is sleeping in our hotel, and did I tell you I’m four months pregnant?” (It didn’t work.)
During our last month in India, I made friends with a woman in her mid-twenties. Inarguably gorgeous, complete with Indian classical dance moves that would make your grandmother swoon, she was the subject of the crushes of at least four men working at the ashram. However, no one knew she had a girlfriend of two years tucked away at college. While she considered herself lucky to be both working and in college, upon graduation her parents were waiting to arrange her marriage. “So, what will you do?” I asked, caught up in the suspense and tragic romance of the story. “Oh, just get married, I suppose” was her resigned but surprisingly casual reply.
I couldn’t let it happen. What about her political science degree? What about leaving home, moving to the capital and becoming a revolutionary politician, fighting for gay rights in India? I ran off to the nearest Internet café, looked up “lesbian” and “India,” and jotted down some numbers and web sites. She wasn’t impressed with my efforts. What about me not being so stupid, I thought, as I realized I was more anxious about this than she was. After another week of well-intentioned (and largely ignored) western good-karma hunting, I finally let it go.
After almost six years in New York, and seven months traveling (it really was an incredible trip, despite my lesbionic kvetching), we finally made it home to New Zealand. It’s a relief to be in a country that acknowledges any relationship—queer or heterosexual—over two years long as valid (I hear gay marriage is on the way), has laws that protect same-sex couples who have children, and an annual lesbian fair at our local primary school. It really is nice to be somewhere where most of the local heterosexuals really do have something better to think about.
A staunch lesbian/feminist/antipodean, Alia Levine moved from Aotearoa/New Zealand to her family's native New York in 1997. A Women's Studies/English Literature graduate from Victoria University, NZ, Alia worked in New York in the fields of publishing, education, and women's human rights. In 2003, after five fabulous years living in Brooklyn, New York, Alia realized that it was time to go home. As of March 2004, you'll find her back in the Southern Hemisphere's peaceful, green gateway to the world, plotting her vegetable garden and figuring out how to get around without the New York City subway.