I never expected to enter a lesbian beauty pageant. What happened in the year after I expected even less.
"Let's have a big round of applause for all of our contestants!"
The spotlight is blinding, and a bead of sweat makes its way down my temple in agonizing slow motion, dissolving into my red-sequined evening gown. Following four hours of grueling competition and eight laborious costume changes, it's time to determine the winner. We've performed our various talents, including a tranny boi band, my eighties retro jazz dance, and someone giving birth to a doll. Likewise, we've endured the ever-dreaded swimsuit competition and the nerve-racking interview segment, in which at least one contestant routinely flops. Backstage is littered with wigs, glitter, and silicone accoutrements of varying colors, lengths, and girths. It looks like a tornado passed through a sex toy shop.
"And the winner is ... "
[The MC] places the sash over my shoulder and the tiara on my head. A fellow contestant hugs me, nearly knocking it off. I've won! I've won the crown! Journalists paw at me as my picture is snapped alongside the panel of celebrity judges. I smile and wave at the sea of screaming women. I am the new Miss Lez.
WEEKS LATER ...
My new alarm clock announced the abrupt arrival of morning. I was determined to make early morning yoga a regular practice. The blaring alarm, reminiscent of the bell that announced the start and end of recess, was jarring enough to catapult the heaviest of sleepers out of bed.
After wrangling my hair into a knotty, haphazard bun, I made my way to class. I was nearly trampled as perfectly coiffed women scurried past me to the room. I calmly unrolled my mat in my favorite spot, back right corner by the window. On clear days, the sun would shine in on me during savasana. Also, I could look out the window rather than be distracted by the women around me, stretching, showing off their paper-thin Lululemon yoga pants. I'd seen them for sale in the gift shop and could have fed myself for a month on the cost of one pair.
In walked Dante, with his tattoos, Adidas pants, and freshly shaved head -- a new age David Beckham. I stared at him along with the other women, but while they were imagining ungodly acts, I was admiring his goddess tattoos. He took his seat at the front of the room and placed his hands together in prayer. He flashed me a smile and I returned it, garnering the envy of several students in the room. Dante and I had become acquaintances when one day after class he had announced an event sponsored by my favorite chocolate company. There would be free chocolate. Naturally, I followed him out of the studio to get the details. He'd handed me his card, suggesting I email him for more information. And so we struck up a casual email correspondence, playful and perhaps a little flirtatious, but nothing for Miss Lez to worry about. He was really funny, and I had fun being funny back. Men made great friends, but I was not attracted to them. I had not so much as kissed a man in seven years, nor dated one in a decade, and had no expectation of doing either, barring a shift of tectonic plates.
"Ommmmm." I closed my eyes and placed my hands together, trying to make peace with my overactive mind. "Ommmmm." Oh, I have to stop at New Morning for vitamin D after work. "Ommmmm." And fetch my sweater from the dry cleaner before they give it away. "Ommmmm." And call Sallie Mae to ask if I can lower my student loan payment. "Ommmmm."
Halfway through class, while I was splayed out in pigeon pose, muttering a self-berating mantra at my tight hips, Dante approached me. I was equal parts enlightened and fed up. As the name implies, pigeon is an awkward pose, and it happens to be the most challenging for me. Sweating and silently swearing to myself, I felt him straddle the air around me and place his hands on my back. I surrendered to the weight of him pressing into me. Okay, I can do this. His warm breath inches from my ear, I eased deeper into the pose. At first I felt nothing but the usual throbbing of my hamstring and the release of my breath, opening, as we are taught, "to the edge." Leaning even more heavily into me, his heart beat against my back. My own heart, which was pounding at twice the rhythm of his, skipped a beat. Suddenly, I was acutely aware of his body touching mine, like I'd never been during any other yoga adjustment. Simultaneously suffocating and intrigued, I feared something might snap.
And then it did.
Out of a deep and dusty abyss stirred a strange sensation. I exhaled, which prompted Dante to press down even harder. I let out a whimper and he eased up. But the damage was done. I was drowning in a rush of desire. I couldn't tell which way was up, but I knew where he was, and it was on top of me. I wanted to turn around and tear into him, ripping his little yoga teacher tank top to shreds. I wanted to see all his tattoos.
In a haze, I walked out into the heavy Manhattan air in the same clothes I'd worn to yoga. I was eager to get out of class, for fear of what other unanticipated adjustments might occur. The street provided no refuge, as there were men everywhere. My eyes darted left to right as man after man crossed my path. I ran to my office around the corner. What's happening to me?
Having built my whole world around women, the thought of dating men was absurd.
Scrolling through the pictures of celebrity men on my monitor, I was relieved to discover that they all looked the same, and I didn't find them all that attractive. That is, until I picked up right where I'd left off in high school, when I fell for the taut, just short of scrawny, skater and drug dealer types. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Devendra Banhart. Hmm. John Krasinski's kinda cute. I googled my own secret male celebrity crush, Gael Garcia Bernal. He was hot in his gay sex scene in Y Tu Mamá También. Hey, a girl's gotta start somewhere. To take my mind off men, I actually did some work. I punched numbers into my Excel spreadsheet, relieved that no matter which way you turn them, two plus two equals four. But I still felt fidgety, so I strolled over to [my work friend] Megan's cubicle. She opened her desk drawer to hand me a mini Snickers. I popped it into my mouth, breaking the brand-new rule I'd set for myself of no sugar before noon.
"Meg, something weird happened this morning," I confessed. She shut her eye shadow case to grant me her full attention. As I relayed the yoga teacher incident, my voice echoed across the canyon between who I was and what I was saying. I felt truly disoriented. My vision blurred, and the floor grew too soft to hold me. I gripped her desk for balance.
"So what should I do?" I asked Megan at the end of my story, exasperated and desperate for advice. She flailed her freshly manicured hands in my face, excited.
"Go to another class!"
This essay is excerpted from "A Year Straight: Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Lesbian Beauty Queen" (Seal Press).