All the blood drained out of my face. A lesbian bar?
How did she—? Did she—? “Why did you bring me here?” I managed. “We can’t go in there!”
Min gave me a look. She very theatrically took a big step inside the doorway, pretended to look down and be delighted at seeing herself still in one piece, and then did a tada flourish with her hands.
I sighed at her. “Neither of us are lesbians!”
She looked entirely unconvinced. “I pass as one for special occasions,” she told me, “and, honestly, Gemma? You’re telling me you’ve never been attracted to another woman?”
I faltered—because of course I had—and her face settled in a look that said ‘bingo’.
My cheeks flushed and I felt an unexpected surge of panic. “Every girl is, sometimes! It doesn’t mean I’m gay!”
“Uh huh, sure. Come on in.” She stepped aside so I could enter.
I didn’t. I just stood there, struggling with a feeling that I wanted to run back down the stairs. I might actually have done it if I hadn’t been drunk and in heels. “You don’t believe me? I’m not! Really, I’m not! I know you haven’t seen me with a boyfriend, but I’ve had them, three of them, I just—”
“I had one, too, Gemma. For years.”
But you’re different, Min, I very nearly said and only managed to stop myself at the last second. “If you think I’m gay just because I couldn’t sleep with that one guy, then that’s ridiculous!”
“Gemma, you’re overthinking this.” She invited me inside again. “Trust me: life is way better when you try not to overthink things. Come on, let’s just go on and see what it’s like.”
I wasn’t overthinking, and I wasn’t going in there! I ignored her invitation, feeling really panicky and really uncomfortable and really restless like I wanted to turn around and run away as quickly as possible. “Then what is it, Min? Why are you so super sure that I’m a lesbian? Because whatever it is, you need to tell me!” So that I can make sure I never, ever, ever do anything like that in front of anyone—especially Sarah!—again.
I didn’t realise how defensive I sounded until Min looked surprised by it. She dropped her arms. “Wow… okay, if you’re that uncomfortable with it, I’m sorry, I just thought—”
Why wasn’t she answering me? “—Please, you’ve got to tell me why you thought I was one! Because if I’m doing it around other people, I need to stop!”
Her eyebrows were basically up in her hairline. She opened her mouth, considering me. “You really want to know what I think? Really?” I nodded, and she exhaled. “Okay. This whole dress thing is nuts, Gemma. You’re so uncomfortable in that thing. You say you urgently need to hook up with a man and it can’t wait a week, but why can’t it wait for—”
“—Because I want to get laid as soon as—”
“—Yeah, but it’s clearly not about wanting actual sex, is it? You’re desperate to have sex with a man, but not because you’re horny. So what’s it about? What do you need to have sex with a man to prove?”
I don’t need to prove anything, it’s about making sure I don’t try to have sex with my straight best friend, I shouted internally. Because I will. I’ll do it. And then I’ll wreck the most amazing friendship I’ve ever had. “You don’t understand, Min, it’s not about that!”
“Then help me understand, Gemma! What is it about?”
Gosh, no one could know! “I can’t tell you!”
“Okay, but it’s something related to this place, isn’t it?”
Yes, I thought immediately, and then felt terrified by that answer, and then sick. My brain was screaming she’s wrong she’s wrong she’s wrong don’t listen! at full volume while I tried to smother my panic by reassuring myself, It’s okay, just like the stats I read, being attracted to Sarah doesn’t necessarily make me gay…
Not necessarily, another voice answered, but there’s a 6% chance it does, and your MO is ‘statistical outlier’, isn’t it?
My head swam from all the alcohol, but I couldn’t ignore the crushing weight inside my chest. I didn’t want to ask myself the question, I really didn’t want to ask myself the question, but it was bubbling to the surface of my consciousness and it was too late not to:
…what if it did mean I was gay?
What if all of this Sarah stuff was because I was gay?
Properly asking myself that knocked the breath out of me. Suddenly, everything I thought I understood about myself—
—no, that can’t be it! I’ve been attracted to men, haven’t I? I couldn’t remember how it felt, so I couldn’t be sure-sure…
But it fit. It fit, didn’t it? I was so picky about men, but every time Sarah touched me…
Was I a lesbian? Was that why I wasn’t married and pregnant at 28.9?
Gosh, it was like suddenly been thrown into a vortex and churned until nothing made sense, and being so drunk made the inertia a million times worse.
Min had to reach out and grab me to stop me from falling back down the stairs. “Fuck, that was close. We are so drunk…” She looked frustrated with herself. “God, what the hell was I thinking? It was a huge mistake to bring you here, wasn’t it?”
Nod your head, my rational brain was telling me, tell her it was a mistake so she’ll leave you alone, this doesn’t have to go anywhere; she’ll never bring it up again. But the problem was that if I nodded my head, I’d have to go home and deal with the question by myself, because this wasn’t something I could ever tell Sarah about. In fact, the only person I’d ever trust with it was right here with me.
Despite that, I couldn’t say it. I stood there, shaking.
She had a look of real pain on her face. “Fuck it,” she said, going to walk back past me towards the stairs. “Fuck it. Let’s just go home. I’m so sorry, I—”
I grabbed her arm so she couldn’t continue down the stairs.
She looked back at me.
We stood there at the top of the dim stairwell for a few seconds listening to the muffled pound of bass through the walls. I struggled to find words; nothing would come out of my mouth.
“I’m not going to force you to tell me anything, Gemma,” she said quietly when I didn’t speak. “I think I’ve fucked up enough for tonight.”
I could barely push the words out. “You don’t have to force me,” I rasped. “I just—I mean, I don’t know what—” I took a breath.
Silent this time, she waited for me to find a way to express myself.
“Let’s… just have one drink here, maybe? I don’t know…”
She took a step back towards me, her eyes searching my face.
I could hardly breathe. “Just—gosh, Min. Please, you can’t tell anyone. Especially not Sarah, I don’t want to have to say why.”
It must have been clear what I meant, because she breathed out in a forceful sigh of relief and threw her arms around me in a tight bear-hug.
I stared into the lapel of her blazer, my eyes wide open.
Min held me for ages; and in that time, several groups of women squished by us to get out.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured against my hair when we were alone again. “God, I’m so sorry, Gemma. Fuck. Part of me wondered if this whole getting laid thing was all a performance to make us not suspect…” She laughed nervously a couple of times. “I wanted to show you that I knew and that it’s fine, I didn’t mean to freak you out.’” She took a breath. “Fuck. Do you want to just go home?”
I didn’t know what I wanted anymore. Maybe this is all one crazy drunk hallucination and I’m passed out in bed already, I thought ironically.
Shit. “I’m sorry, I—” I swallowed, my head spinning. “This is all just—ugh. How did you know about me? Like, am I horribly obvious, or…?” I had a terrifying thought that maybe Sarah had already guessed and was pretending not to notice—
I felt her shake her head.
—or maybe just everyone else had noticed me staring at her cleavage or those long legs of hers? “You definitely didn’t… see me do anything?”
“No, it’s just something I’ve been wondering about for a few months.”
Phew; I hadn’t been thinking of Sarah that way for as long as that. I felt reasonably comforted by the fact Min seemed to have no idea about how I felt for her; but it did kind of make me wonder why Min thought I was gay. Did the fact I pinged her gaydar in general mean that I definitely was a lesbian?
I didn’t even know if I felt like one. How did being a lesbian feel? A voice inside me insisted on reminding me that I most likely wasn’t a lesbian, but was probably just a tiny bit more bi than most girls… That was still a possibility, wasn’t it?
Gosh. My head. “I don’t know what I am,” I blurted out, because I was drunk and hopeless. “I thought I was straight…”
She laughed darkly at that. “Yeah, well, join the club,” she told me, letting me go and then looking me up and down like you’d check a soldier for wounds. “Just do what feels right. You can worry about what to call it later.”
I can’t do what feels right, though, I thought, remembering how I’d lain beside Sarah and thought about sliding across the sheets and pulling up against her, kissing those beautiful lips and that lovely smooth skin and holy hell, that’s pretty damn gay, I realised, suddenly getting a new perspective on it, and then felt so fucking stupid for being like, ‘No! I’m totally heterosexual!!!’ for 28 years.
But… I’d only been like that about her recently, hadn’t I?
…then again it had been years since I’d had a boyfriend…
Ugh. My head was a big tangled mess. I almost wanted to laugh; what a night. “I need more alcohol,” I told Min in conclusion. “Lots more.”
“I know that feeling,” she told me, chuckling. “You sure you want to stay here? Because I’ll go home with you if you want me to. Bree will understand if I tell her you need support.”
The very last thing I needed was to be at home and surrounded by pictures of Sarah while I was wide awake, and I didn’t want Bree asking questions, either. She was just as nosy as Sarah was. “No…” I took a deep, steadying breath, looking at the doorway. “No. Let’s… try this place. We’re here now. How bad can it be?”
She gave me a faint smile and another quick hug, kissing the crown of my head. “Okay. And I’m sorry,” she told me as she escorted me under the rainbow flag and inside the lesbian bar.
I didn’t know what I expected in there. I knew what I hoped I’d feel: different than everyone. I hoped I’d step in there, look around and be like, ‘yup, not a lesbian’, but that wasn’t what I felt at all.
If I thought the other bar was a mixed crowd, I didn’t know the meaning of mixed crowd. Sure, they were all women—well, unless there were other people like Min—but they looked like they had been plucked from literally every category of woman on earth. There were socialites, goths, tomboys, really butch diesel-dykes—was that an insult? I didn’t mean it as an insult—hipsters, 18 year olds, 50 year olds… they all looked like assorted characters dressed up for different novelty TV-shows aggregated in one place. Min and I were swallowed up by the crowd and blended into it.
Min put her hands on my shoulders. “What do you think?” she said beside my ear.
I think it’s hot in here, I mentally answered and looked down at my coat. As I was considering if I should unbutton it around all these strangers, a muscular lady in a chainmail bikini-top and hot pants walked casually past me on the way out to the balcony.
I stared at her for a second: that settled it. I took my coat off and gave it to Min, bracing myself to feel people looking towards me—
They didn’t. No-one battled an eyelid; the most attention I got as we made our way towards the bar was a woman who could have been my mother turning and giving me an appreciative once-over. “Great dress, hon! If you’ve got the body, show it off, right?” she told me, and then kept talking to her friends. It took me a long and painful second to realise she actually meant the compliment literally.
It was bizarre. It was like I’d wandered into an alternate dimension. I didn’t feel ogled or judged at all. I suppose that shouldn’t have surprised me: there were women walking around in actual lingerie in here, why would it matter if my dress sort of looked like it?
Min was getting attention she didn’t expect, too. Not that straight girls didn’t occasionally fawn over her in ordinary bars—but in here they were like moths to a flame. No one was reading her as a man and there was a sizeable chunk of women batting their eyelashes at her despite knowing she was female. She gave me a wide-eyed look. “I’m not used to this,” she privately confessed.
I was right there with her: I wasn’t used to any of this.
We got our drinks and found somewhere to lean against the wall on the edge of the dance floor. The music wasn’t overpowering like it usually was in straight clubs, but there were still loads of people dancing. Well, when I say ‘dancing’, some of them were clearly interpreting ‘dancing’ very loosely and were basically just using the dance floor as an excuse to grind up against each other. I guessed some things were the same in both types of bars…
It was actually kind of shocking, though, seeing it right there in front of me. There were even a few couples who had their hands up each other’s tops or—it’s pathetic, but I gasped when I saw—down each other’s pants. I probably would have been way more freaked out if I hadn’t been super drunk. Those girls have sex with each other, I realised. Or rather, they are having sex with each other. That was bizarre, too. I couldn’t shake the weird lingering feeling that two girls having sex with each other was like eating two entrées instead of going the full three course meal—but I couldn’t really explain why that was?
Maybe I’m not gay after all, I thought hopefully, before I imagined Sarah was one of those entrées.
I felt like I had no idea, though. All these girls looked really happy and comfortable in their chainmail bikinis or their bohemian one-pieces or their preppy polos and meanwhile I felt like I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. If I did turn out to be like all these women, I just had no idea how to be gay. I hadn’t even picked up a guy in three years and they were basically all walking around with their belts half-undone, how the hell was I supposed to figure out if a girl was both gay and interested? How the hell was I supposed to figure out if I was interested in her? And what the hell was I going to tell Sarah, my friends and my dad if I got a girlfriend…?
Maybe I’ll just move interstate, I thought, and then was horrified that it had even occurred to me to move anywhere without Sarah. But… maybe if she was the girlfriend…
Min’s sixth drink had apparently been the tipping point between worrying about lesbians hitting on her and not worrying about it. “I like this place,” she told me, sculling the last of her beer. “Maybe I’m a bit of an imposter, but I like it here.”
I scoffed. That wasn’t a surprise. “Of course you do, there’s at least three different girls who’ve been looking at us and trying to figure out if we’re together so they know if they should hit on you or not.”
Min grinned across at me, eyes twinkling. “Maybe we should kiss. You know, to throw them off.”
Even this drunk, I could tell she was joking and shoved her. “You’re terrible.” She just laughed.
We didn’t end up staying much longer. Without the adrenaline, anxiety and anticipation of thinking I might pick up some strange guy, and without Sarah doing her usual trick of pulling me onto the dance floor to make a drunken fool of myself with her, the alcohol began to make me sleepy. That, in combination with the rhythmic dance music, was like a lullaby.
“I’m getting old,” I said miserably to Min when she noticed my eyelids were drooping.
She chuckled. “Uber or taxi?” was her response and, because it was Newtown and it was full of people, we had to wait for like twenty minutes for either. In the end, Uber won out and Min helped me climb into the back of a huge Landrover and we headed north across the bridge.
I didn’t recall much of the journey beyond a hazy memory of Min telling the driver that she might need to go to Kellyville Ridge where Henry lived after we got to my place, but she wasn’t sure—and for the rest of it I dozed against her while she idly stroked my hair with one hand and messaged someone on her phone with the other.
“Don’t tell them,” I mumbled at one point. “You promised.” She just patted me in answer.
When we got to my flat, she had to help me out of the uber, too; and up the stairs, and through my door. I was so drunk that I didn’t realise I hadn’t been wearing my coat the whole time until Min tossed it on the edge of my bed.
“Are you okay?” She asked as I clumsily sat on my coat, still half-asleep in my drunken haze.
“Yeah, I’ve been way drunker than this and been fine,” I told her, yawning.
She gave me a look. “I mean about what happened tonight. Do you want me to stay over?”
Oh. I shook my head. “Nah, I’m going to pass out as soon as you go. Maybe before.”
“Okay. Well…” She stood there for a moment, watching me for ages before she spoke. “I’m sorry for before, Gemma. Honestly. I hope you don’t regret anything.”
“I regret this stupid dress,” I told her, gesturing at it. “That’s about it.”
It got a smile out of her. “Okay,” she said, sounding satisfied with my answer. She gave me an affectionate kiss on the forehead, and then let herself out.
I had been planning to lie back and just go to sleep in the stupid dress when it suddenly occurred to me I hadn’t seen my handbag since we left the club, and I didn’t think I’d bought anything or checked my phone—Min had ordered the Uber, hadn’t she?—I had this sudden panic that I’d left it there.
I sat up with my head swimming, freaking out, and then saw it hanging on a bed post. I exhaled with relief. Thank goodness Min had been paying attention; I was so lucky she’d agreed to go with me. I took my phone out to text her thanks, and realised I already had a text.
I opened it, wondering if Min had felt the need to apologise again for—
It was from Sarah. “Okay so my place is empty, and since you’re busy working and I could use a break, I thought I’d surprise you with some takeout from that new veggie place on the main road. Anyway I got here with all this delicious-smelling food and I’m peering through your window and I’m pretty sure there’s no one here? On Friday night after dark?! I can’t believe you actually went out anyway!! xD You total hussy, oh my god you have to tell me EVERYTHING in the morning!!!”