Thursday, September 23, 2004

Being a Boy

A woman with short dark hair, a little gray, walked lightly over to where I sat on the stage, and briskly motioned me to make room. I obligingly scooted over. She hopped up beside me, nestled up to me, and hugged me with one arm. She said something I didn't catch to her girlfriend, and they laughed. Then she squeezed my thigh and said, "I'm Lori"

"Dale," I said, grinning at her. I liked her faded jeans and jaunty walk; I liked her wire-rimmed glasses; and I liked what she later called her "presumption."

She leaned into me again. "I'm fifty."

I looked at her questioningly. The squares were forming in front of us: the people who really knew how to square dance were going to show us what it looked like after you actually knew what you were doing. I wasn't sure I'd heard her -- the caller was starting to speak.

"I'm fifty. I turn fifty day after tomorrow. I'm trying to get used to it by saying it a lot."

On the floor, Moria was in her element, being a boy again.

"You'll have to decide if you're a boy or a girl," she'd said.

"Is there a difference? I mean, is what you do different?" I asked.

"Not really very much. It's more like, if you're on the left, you're a boy, if you're on the right, you're a girl. Some things are different. Being a girl is a little more... twirly."

"I think I'll be a boy then," I said. I've never been very swift about having to decide which is my right and which is my left, on the spur of the moment; I didn't want to add twirling to my troubles.

So when we arrived Moria was a girl, so she could partner me, even though she's usually a boy.

It had taken some doing to get me here, and she was going to do anything she could to ease me into it gently. For fifteen years, Martha and I have been planning to start folk-dancing. We've written start times into our calendar. And we've always chickened out at the last minute. Too tired. Too overwhelmed. Something else came up. Always perfectly true and legitimate, of course, but it was obvious that really we were just too shy.

And now I was having a tremendously good time. Moria carefully refrained from saying "I told you so."

Gay square dancing. The first time I heard of it, it struck me as irresistably comic. It's a big thing, though. There are scads of clubs, and they have a huge yearly convention. And now I could see why.

It's a grand opportunity, of course, to put on different gender, and a few people were clearly enjoying it that way. But mostly it was two things dovetailing: the relief at escaping hetero hegemony, and the inclusiveness of the square dance.

I'm sure there are square dance competitions and square dance ambitions and rivalries somewhere, but there's something terribly democractic and inclusive about the dancing itself. It's an invitation to have fun as a regular person. Even someone right-and-left-challenged like me can do it. If you're fit enough to walk around the block a couple times, you can do it. And doing it perfectly doesn't mean standing out -- it means exactly the opposite. It means making it especially easy for everyone else.

Add to that all the fun of hetero role-playing, and flirtation, with none of the cutthroat seriousness of its usual hierarchizing into levels of attractiveness, and you get something very lovely. There were a couple stout middle-aged women there, who were radiantly happy, loving the dance, and at the end of the evening I realized, I don't think I have ever before spent two hours socially with stout middle-aged women without once hearing any of them apologize for being stout and middle-aged.

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