On straight girls and social spaces

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 2:17pm

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Christine Jegarl/Daily

This past summer, I found out that my Bursley Residence Hall housing assignment had been moved from a mixed-gender hall to a same-gender hall. It really wasn’t a big deal — I knew it might happen and I still had a decent room. But I was still struck with this irrational nervousness for something I shouldn’t have been nervous about.

I’m a girl. I have friends who are girls. I already knew half of my floormates from living with them last year and I knew they were all really nice. A same-gender hall shouldn’t have been an issue, and rationally, it wasn’t. But as the days crept closer and closer to September, I found myself getting more and more anxious about living in that hall. I kept trying to bring it up to friends, subtly, with lines like, “Hey, it’s gonna be strange living in an all-girls hall, haha!” and they’d just respond with, “Why is that an issue?” Which I totally get, because it really isn’t an issue, but there was still something worrying me that I couldn’t seem to make people understand. 

One of my friends even said, “You know, for a lesbian, that’s kind of sexist.” It wasn’t the first time that I tried to explain how my reservations were not grounded in dislike, but rather, I just didn’t know how to deal with girls. 

Women can be awesome. I’d be the first person to say that. I’m the “raging feminist” of my family. I’ve marched, called representatives, and signed petitions for gender equality and women’s rights. The theme of my cartoon in The Daily is “women’s issues.” But there’s a difference between large-scale societal issues and complex personal relationships, and I still couldn’t shake the anxiety of living in an all-girls hall.

I used to be a hostess at this fancy restaurant where I was the only young woman on the waitstaff. It was just me and a bunch of 20-something waiter guys and it was chill. We’d talk about hair gel and salsa dancing and how much we hated our customers. I slipped into my “dude-bro” voice, the one that sounds like every stoned surfer I grew up with. They still treated me differently because I was a girl, of course — it took time for them to warm up to me. But once that initial awkwardness left, I had it figured out easy.

About a month later, another hostess was hired. She was my age, but nothing like me. Long hair, high heels, YouTube-tutorial makeup. We were stuck together at the hostess stand for hours, with nothing to say to each other. It was like we came from different ecosystems, and scientists were just now putting the two species in the same habitat to see how they would interact.

Eventually, this hostess started talking to me, most likely because she realized that she could talk about anything for as long she wanted and I wouldn’t object. Her musing about her personal life was better than nothing. She told me about her college applications, her sisters and most of all, her ex-boyfriend. One day she came in to work and said, “Emily, I’ve finally figured out what I want in a man. He needs to be attractive. Physically.” This mutual rapport lasted for a few shifts, but then it all went to hell. 

One day, she asked me if I ever had any boyfriends, and I responded, pretty plainly, “I’m gay.” My remark was met with a one-word response, “oh.” And then she was silent. I don’t know if it was deliberate, and I want to give her the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t, but she didn’t talk to me much after that.

I’m pretty familiar with the whole straight-girl-suddenly-gets-really-uncomfortable-and-then-the-friendship-is-kinda-over thing. 

It’s been happening since I was a kid, even before I really understood it, to the point where I’m always a little surprised when straight girls are kind to me. It’s really cool when they are, but there’s a part of me that’s always suspecting they’re going to realize they hate me and tell me to leave them alone.

Honestly, that’s a terrible way to think. It’s its own kind of prejudice. I approach too many straight girls with the expectation that they’re not going to want to be around me, or that we don’t have enough in common. This belief directly influences who I befriend and spend my time with. I know, it’s pretty messed up.

I think I’ve gotten better at checking those assumptions since I’ve arrived at college. At least, I hope so. But sometimes, I still get paranoid, and I can’t figure out if it’s me or someone else who has the problem. Is that girl being rude to me because she’s running late, or because I have short hair? Is she avoiding me because she’s busy, or because I make her uncomfortable? I don’t know. 

I don’t make it easy for myself — my haircut and clothes and lack of makeup all signal “this kid never grew out of the tomboy phase.” I know that is not how it works. But that doesn’t stop me from believing people are thinking it. 

My freshman year, I went to an audition for a campus dance group. I had been dancing since I was five, so I had been trying out for a few ensembles, thinking I might have a shot. However, the moment I walked into this audition, I immediately felt every girl’s eyes on me. Glaring. A room of leggings and ponytails and the unshakable thought that every single person there wanted me gone. Like in a staring contest I wasn’t prepared for, I made it 20 minutes before blinking. I sighed. I mean, what was the point? They weren’t going to want me on their team. So I just left.

I’ve been living on this all-girls hall since September now, and it has obviously been fine. Everyone is nice, supportive and fun to be around. Looking back, there was genuinely no good reason to be nervous in the first place.

But that anxiety still sticks around. Despite being a woman myself, whenever I’m in majority-women spaces — whether it’s in a bathroom, a classroom, or a party — I keep catching myself worrying if I’m making someone uncomfortable by being there.

Maybe someday I’ll get over it. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this hall while I’m on it. However, not accidentally, I’m the only woman living in my apartment next year.