Today I met Aebhel and Dorkiewitch in Scranton, Pennsylvania. We had a pretty good time, and we conducted a social experiment with fucking scary results.
Dorkie looks a little dykey. Not flaming, but she's got short hair dyed funny colors and a lot of piercings and tattoos. My look is squarer but not girly; I've got wild floofy hair and I was wearing a leather jacket, black t-shirt, and boots.
(Aebhel is a flaming heterosexual, utterly unable to pass, and her role in this experiment was "invisible third wheel." In retrospect we should've given her a camera.)
So, our big daring experiment: we sat down on a bench in a shopping mall, and Dorkie and I put our arms around each other's shoulders. Nothing inappropriate, not even a PG--the way we were touching would've been downright chaste for a boy-girl couple. Hell, it wasn't over the line for cuddly platonic friends, and if we'd been blondes in skirts people might've seen us that way. But we were funny-lookin' and we were hugging, and people looked.
God did they look.
Almost everyone who passed us did a double-take. The politer ones tried to hide it and moved on. A few cool women smiled at us in a nice way.
The harshest looks came from a very specific type: fiftyish women with wrinkles but dyed hair and dieted bodies. Several of these women saw us and glared. There was real anger in their eyes at the sight of a woman touching the clothed shoulder of another woman. The worst part was when I'd look up and meet their gaze, and they'd keep glaring right into my eyes.
A lot of people acted as if we were behind a soundproof one-way mirror. "Did you see that?" they'd say to each other, loudly, right in front of us. Aebhel got up for a moment and someone asked her "Was that really two women?" It didn't seem like homophobia so much as homomazement: utter shock that there were actual real-life lesbians right here in this town. And I thought they were only in fairy tales!
Some older guys glared, but most men seemed almost unbearably aroused. A few teenage boys in hoodies kept walking by us, five or six times, trying to look casual but making obvious repeat passes. One boy about twelve went bug-eyed and gawked like he was getting his first boner. Several men got yelled at by their girlfriends for looking at us. (I'm a terrible lesbian, because some of the guy-looks really turned me on. I'm not used to getting that kind of lust out of strangers.)
The only person who actually spoke to us was a jolly-looking older guy who looked us up and down and said "Can I take your picture? You've got great... hair." We just cracked up and he went away. It wasn't clear who he was speaking to, we've both got fun hair, but it was clear he didn't mean hair.
One scary mom yanked her daughter away from us by the arm, but most parents were surprisingly nonchalant. One mom smiled at us and told her preschool daughter to "say hi to the ladies" and my heart just about melted.
Yeah, some people were cool, and only three or four gave me that truly chilling "oh shit I'm going to be dragged behind a pickup truck" feeling, but what bothered me the most was just that everyone looked. Two mildly-butch women in slight physical contact was a gigantic screaming freakshow. There were so many eyes on us. Step right up, folks, step right up, we've got The Amazing Women Who Hug Women!
We walked through the food court holding hands. Every head turned to look at us. There was a boy and girl in front of the taco stand making out passionately and kind of obscenely, bodies pressed together and hands all over each other. No one noticed them.