Rachel Galperin is a writer and TV producer. She is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and lives in New York City.
i only date women
We skipped down the street holding hands, spoke Russian to each other in public, ate pelmeni and kasha on Brighton Beach, walked the boardwalk until the sun heated too intensely; our feet could no longer push forward.
I picked Natasha up in my Toyota Camry and drove us down there, parking along or near the same street my grandparents once lived, where I had walked thousands of times before as a child. The air crisp with heat, Natasha glancing over and laughing toward me. The lockered brick apartment buildings on streets that rounded into teenage playgrounds. Sidewalks hustling under the above ground subway layered in cheap produce and fruit stands.
Did we hold hands? I think we did and we walked from the car to the beach. Natasha slipped her sandals off and ran towards the sea dropping trou as she moved, then lunged into the ocean. She dried standing under the sun, towel-less, as I stood with my camera and took photos. We lounged some more, got hungry and ate pelmeni at a local restaurant down the block. We sat in a few summered moments of silence and then as if out of nowhere Natasha said, “I’ve been dating someone.”
My breathing stopped as she went on, unfazed. Her lips moved yet all I caught was “… Eric … trans … met a couple of weeks ago.” We continued devouring while she explained to me what trans meant. How the physical body could feel so different from the mind, that inside Eric had always felt like a guy, that he was waiting to go on testosterone for financial reasons.
Natasha never vocalized any interest in dating guys. And when she told me she was with Eric my face must have been static because she stared back with a wicked grin proclaiming how excited she was that he was on his way over. I faked enthusiasm not realizing that the reason behind my lugubrious smirk was that I didn’t want her dating Eric, any guy, or any girl for that matter either. I wanted Natasha and I was a terrible, horrible, wretched faker. My body sank into itself. I collapsed as I finished off my kasha. I collapsed further as she went on about him, surely recognizing my jaded responses.
Pale face, dark sunglasses, short stature, black tee-shirt, hair cut like Marshall Matthers with a cow-licked front. He stuck out his porcelain arm and introduced himself. I didn’t know what to do, where to place my camera, how to look him in the eye or behave without being a jerk. I stood up anxiously and shook his hand. He looked like just another dyke to me and the whole thing felt sort of confusing. I tried being friendly but gave him unintentional attitude in every response. I was shy, yes, but Eric made me feel awkward for reasons I could not explain. So, I sat back down and fingered the remains of my kasha. I could barely look another person directly in the eye and when he gazed back I shivered.
I worked at Jos A Bank, a men’s suit retailer, in Hoboken and one day a twenty something guy strolled in. Light brown hair, cute, smart and obviously successful. I was swimming deeply in the lady pond at this point, but somehow I wound up flirting with him despite my best intentions to treat him like a schmuck and send him on his way. He invited me to go horseback riding with him that weekend and I froze. “Umm, I, Umm.. I uhhh uhh I don’t think so. No.” That was all I could get out. He asked if I was sure a few times and then left. A couple of my coworkers came up to me and asked how the sale went.
“Did you also get a date?”.
“No, I didn’t,” I replied. “I’m gay. I only date women.”
“Well, you were flirting and blushing. So, maybe you’re bi.”
I didn’t couldn’t wouldn’t accept this. I had found my place and I was going to stick by it. “I like women,” I said finitely.
We strolled back to the beach and I felt like somebody was attacking my inners and slowly pulling them out. I knew Natasha dated and had been in relationships before but I had never seen her so happy with someone. We walked along the sand some more and came across a Russian man who had caught some crabs in the ocean. They rested in a sand pail that he had cozily dug a divot for in the ground, desperately trying to abate the heat clawing on each other to get out of there. His head came up as we approached him and he stretched his hands out to show us what he’d caught. My gaze stilled. I reached for my camera and took a photo.
I left my car in Brighton and we took the train up and out to Chelsea. Natasha and Eric gazed into each other’s eyes when they thought no one was looking. Or maybe they knew everyone, I, was looking. Eric sat next to me and I snapped pictures of him and Natasha. She posed, he stood looking cool. I wasn’t sure that he liked my camera in his face. I relented.
Eric was the first trans person I ever met. I had no point of reference for what trans people were like before this. I assumed they were just like everyone else. However, I still had questions for Natasha. By this point I already knew what it meant to be non-binary or gender neutral, as Natasha called it, because one day a few months ago she told me that’s what she was. She didn’t ask to be called a different name or ask that I use a different pronoun when addressing her. Still she/her; still Natasha, but gender neutral just the same.
A week or two later we’re back in her Bushwick apartment, sitting in her studio in the middle of a photo session. I had an interest in being a photographer and we were using a piece of white tarp as a makeshift background taking photographs of each other while sprawled on the floor amidst piles and piles of books.
The shoot took a couple of hours and then we went to hang out in her room by the window. Natasha sat down on the bed as I walked past her white unfinished canvases, doodles, oblong cartoons, and made my way over to the window that looked out to the sidewalk.
“So, if Eric is a dude then like how do you have sex? Cuz he doesn’t have a penis. I mean – do you know what I mean?”
“Umm... Normally. Like everyone else, I guess. He just imagines it. He imagines that he does have a penis.”
This made sense to me and I didn’t see any reason not to accept it. At 19 I was not very sexually active and felt funny asking and even funnier that I didn’t know the answer. I blushed. Then a rush as I suddenly couldn’t get the idea of Natasha and Eric on her bed out of my head. Natasha with a dildo. Eric with a strap-on; Fucking on those unmade bedsheets, asses imprinted and sweaty. Natasha’s down on Eric who’s imaging she’s sucking his cock. No – now Natasha’s topping Eric who’s packing or wearing a harness; Sex toys everywhere.
What the fuck? Did I want Natasha? Did I want Eric? Did I want them both? Was I just desperate for a threesome? Maybe I just needed to be fucked. Surely, a one-night stand would cure my hang-ups. I made some calls to go out later.