“What are you reading?”
I looked over from my book to the man on the treadmill next to me. The gym was crowded and smelled like sweat and machines, a familiar smell in the winter months in Utah. Air pollution was particularly bad today, given the inversion, and I had come inside to shake my headache and get my blood flowing and heart pumping.
While doing a warm-up on the treadmill, stretching my joints out along with each muscle and tendon, I had set my current biography up on the stand, a book I was loving.
“Oh, it’s a book about Sally Ride.”
“Who the hell is Sally Ride?”
The man had his ball cap turned slightly to the side. I wondered if he was trying to flirt in some brash way.
“She was the first American woman in space, back in the 80s. She was pretty amazing. A real revolutionary.”
“Sounds boring as all hell.” He looked at me as if trying to challenge my enthusiasm for the book.
“She was also a lesbian, though that wasn’t revealed publicly until after her death. She was with her partner for 30 years.”
“So how is that supposed to make her special.” He said it like a statement not a question.
“Well, I’ve been researching a lot of LGBT history lately. It’s kind of hidden in our society. Like I had heard of Sally Ride, but never knew she was lesbian. I heard of Alan Turing, but never knew he was gay. I think Ride was pretty incredible.”
The guy finally looked away, pushing some button on his treadmill to slow his speed. “I think lesbians are pretty disgusting.”
I gave him a disconsolate look. “What, why? What makes lesbians disgusting?”
He lowered the incline on his treadmill as well as I kept going. “I like dudes. Masculine dudes. Lesbians are gross. Vaginas are gross.”
I sighed and gave a half-laugh. I pictured all of the gay dating profiles I had seen over the years that said things like Man seeking masculine men. Masc for masc, no fems. I thought about informing this man that he didn’t have to be sexually attracted to women in order to respect and understand them. The hyper-masculinity of male culture drives me nuts, whether in the straight world or in the gay one.
I thought about my sister Sheri and her wife Heather, and wondered how often they faced this kind of attitude from gay men, men who were supposed to be their allies in the fight for equality. I knew the shaming words against transgender people from gay men was even worse. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized by straight men and shunned by gay men. The whole thing just reeks of patriarchy.
“I love lesbians.” I looked away as he stared at me in shock.
“Bull. How could you possibly love lesbians? You’re gay.”
“I know a lot of lesbians, dozens and dozens of them. And I genuinely like every one of them that I know. They are good people, smart, dedicated, talented, genuinely nice people. I could say the same thing about every transgender person I know, literally every one. But I can name a whole lot of straight people and gay guys I don’t like. So I love lesbians.”
He stopped his treadmill. “Whatever, man. Enjoy your boring book.”
I turned back to Sally Ride, eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. Guess I wasn’t masculine enough for that guy.