Black men love me. Okay, some black men love me. Okay, if ever a man is going to love me he is going to be a black man, and here’s why I think so.
I don’t get hit on by men very often. In fact, barely ever. Men generally see me as threatening, freakish sometimes, distasteful, and disrespectful of the rules of masculinity. I think men see me as undeserving of the beautiful woman I sleep with. They rarely laugh at my jokes, don’t offer to help carry the stroller or give up their seat when the Baby Björn is killing my back.
I have been boyish since forever, a tomboy who never grew out of the urge to reject girl things, run faster, throw farther, be a hero. I only ever saw boys as competition, if I saw them at all, and never considered myself a potential object of their affection. I have, for the most part, definitely not been. But every so often it happens. Some guy will shout at me as I whiz past on my bike, or stop me on the street, or start up a conversation on the bus with anything but innocent intentions.
We are not talking about me dressed up to go out, clothes a little tighter, skin a little more visible. We’re talking about me in army pants and tank tops, puffy coats and winter hats, jeans and T-shirts. Every so often, there is a man who looks at me the way most men look at femme women. And 99 percent of the time, that man is black.
I always think they must be talking to someone else, and when I look around for that pretty woman who is catching their eye they say, “Hey, I’m talking to you. You’re looking fine…” It always floors me. He must be closeted gay, must be really, really short-sighted, must be drunk or high or something.
But he is, every time, none of the above. He is usually polite, gentle in his come-on, persistent in a way that is friendly, not creepy, and not meant to intimidate. Just a guy on the street, hanging out, noticing me just the way I am on an ordinary day and saying so.
What could he possibly be attracted to in me? Because I tend toward self-blame in pretty much every scenario (and I can be super creative about it) I also ask, what is this queer woman doing wrong that results in any guy liking what he sees in me? It makes me want to dress tougher, stop dragging my heels and work on my swagger, pull my hat down, maybe shave my head again. But then again, it seems I get extra attention when my head is shaved, from — you guessed it — black men.
It makes me think black men are less threatened by women who don’t fulfill the stereotypes — or more accurately, women who don’t fulfill white stereotypes of feminine beauty, which are the strongest informers of what qualifies as beautiful in our society in general. It might be, at least in part, about my hair. Black men may be less attached to long hair, given that black culture is more used to seeing women with short hair as glamorous and sexy and every bit a woman. Beautiful black women are also seen as strong, physically and emotionally, and confident, willing and able to speak their minds — which is how I appear, or try to, even if that isn’t really how I feel. I may be, in some ways, closer to the black version of pretty than the white one.
I am obviously also applying a very narrow definition of sexuality to myself and the men, all the men, around me. I am not allowing for the possibility that girls who look like me and men who look like them ever really get together, or that they could be attracted to me not despite but because of my boyishness. How butch/femme of me. How 1990.
I see gay male attention, case in point, as the biggest compliment ever and a definite ego boost. Love it. It makes me feel like I am doing everything right, especially if I attract a softer, more feminine boy. It’s like a victory. Basically, I want to be more boy than you, but not so boyish that I won’t still be attractive to queer women. Lucky for me my partner is particularly, let’s say appreciative, of my boyish qualities, while still being attracted to me as the kind of girl I am.
I should know by now, after this long in the queer community, that attraction is an unpredictable, often inexplicable thing, and that no matter how much of a boy I am, or how many people see me that way, I will always be girl enough for someone else — my partner, for one, and the black men who love me.
Julia Gonsalves appears in every other issue of Xtra.