First things first: I’m a Virgo femme with a Cancer moon. I have many feelings, I suppose, and I try not to get in their way; they show me how to clear a path for another way to be that I cannot yet see. This story is about a kind of freedom.
When it comes to my queer desire, my favorite feeling is a juicy lack — I don’t have the person or thing and that want tastes like salted caramel, perpetually not in my mouth. And that distance is not only enjoyable, it’s my edge. A playground, but sometimes it feels like there’s something missing. As a bisexual, afab woman I’ve wondered how to stoke my queer desire and also be in love with my partner, a cis man. Perhaps I can make friends with lovers and make lovers of friends.
Mazatl: The Deer. The Crush.
It was noon in a redwood forest. Two women shook hands. One was wearing a beanie, the other was in a halter top. “I’m a poet,” they both said. They sat across from each other past lunchtime. Icy lake water was a few feet away.
Three hours later, they were on a bus or in a carpool; it didn’t matter because the summer had joined them. They couldn’t stop talking. The sun dipped behind the mountains. It was dinner time. Surrounded by at least 50 other people holding hamburgers, the two women did not look at any of them. The beanie listened to the halter top as if they were alone. When their stomachs complained, the halter top finally got up, and walked over to her other friend.
“I think I’ve been on a four-hour date,” said the halter top.
“Oh yeah?” the homie said. “I thought you didn’t know her.”
“I didn’t,” said the halter top. “Yesterday. But now I do.”
The halter top is me and the crush was Mazatl. I was in friendlove for the afternoon. And ever since.
I borrowed a surfboard and paddled out into the lake. I had eaten my burger and watched Mazatl walk around and talk to the other writers. Her shoulders were a little shy, her style a little flannel, and her walk was more of a strut – masculine, protective, unafraid.
In the essay, “Memories of Girlhood: Chicana Lesbian Fiction,” Catrióna Rueda Esquibel discusses a love affair that began in girlhood in the novel Margins by Terri de la Peña. A character in Margins is talking with a relative about her lover who died and the nature of their connection.
“Roni, I’m not sure I understand. I had favorite girlfriends too. We just never — ”
“Joanna and I were so close that loving each other came easily, too.”
“I remember how you girls could practically read each other’s minds…. I thought that was friendship, nothing else…. I never thought of you two — that way. I knew Joanna and you were always together, and had been for years, but I thought she was close to you because she didn’t have a sister…. All the time you girls were growing up, I was always glad Joanna had you for a friend. You’re such a good student, a nice quiet girl — never in trouble.”
For me, this passage means that the friendship between the characters was always queer but was passing as “safe” because they were perceived as straight, because they were women and sometimes in my community, we are desexualized. Esquibel’s essay goes on to discuss friendships in The House on Mango Street where the girls are not novias, but are in love, in friendlove. Esquibel’s essay gave me this: a lens through which I could re-see many of my early friendships as queer, which is a comfort and explanation for my ongoing crushing on women. Being queer looks like so many ordinary loves and not all of them are intimate and that, is okay, beautiful. Welcome.
It made me think of many of my friendships. That we are thinking partners, companions, friendloves, who are so close, closer than some lovers I’ve had. Those relationships are in Nepantla, a place of imagination, difficulty, and transformation. It always begins with friendship, my life partner told me once, when I’d panicked over being on a date with him.
Esquibel asserts that our friendships can be romantic, sensualized, and erotically fulfilling. That shit blew my mind. Oh, so you mean I’ve always been queer, even and maybe especially when I was six years old and my friend and I hiked up our panties to look like bikinis and pretended to take photographs of each other? It was natural to have a friendlove then, and it is now, too. Even if it’s fleeting, love is love and, often, maybe like my partner said, it always begins with friendship.
Mazatl: The Crush Deepens.
We were writing notes. The sunlight made long shadows at our feet. I was sitting next to her every chance I had. It was like when Margaret Cho’s imitation of her mother: “You love your friend SO much, you don’t know what to do!” Like that, exactly.
I was having trouble listening to the lecture. In one of our notebooks, I asked her, “What the hell is an apparatus?” Mazatl wrote something down, “It’s what you use to see something with, to know something.”
I was unimpressed with the presenter’s obfuscation. “Just say the thing, fool,” I wrote.
Mazatl stifled a laugh.
She has a doctorate and loves language in ways I don’t, and describes it with words I crave: fricatives, for instance. I love that she knows things I do not because we will never know everything about each other. We will remain mysterious through language. But not in our notes.
We kept writing each other notes during someone’s long lecture on race and writing. I will lace my attraction for her onto a poem I’ll write later that week: The Apparatus of Love. At night, I’ll scribble verses around the shape of a model in a magazine. This is as close as I get to touching her.
“Being queer and middle-aged means we end up on the Internet.” A fellow bisexual poet said this to me in a van driving to Berkeley from Monterey. I was critiquing myself for watching all the seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race because I wasn’t going out to gay clubs as much anymore. And so it is. I will watch/perform/enact middle-aged queerness on and from my laptop. Mazatl will give me the password to her Starz account so I can watch “VIDA.” This is the kind of sex I get to “have” because of her.
My TV: A femme top straddles a face and gets off when she’s done. The same femme top makes out with a boi-ish bartender in a graffitied bathroom.
Me: [Extreme blushing. Rewinding. Replaying.]
A different episode on my TV: The femme top has a hard conversation with her new friend about belonging in a fictionalized Boyle Heights.
“Relax, New Mestiza,” says Nico. She’s the ropey-armed, smoldery bartender in season two of VIDA.
Me: [I cackle.] “There I am!” I shout. “I feel seen.”
Why hadn’t anyone sexed Anzaldua sooner?
“We should get together, you know,” said Mazatl. “My girlfriend, you and your boyfriend.”
She said this as I peeled off my pants and got into the frigid river water.
“Yes,” I said. “For sure.”
This was the third or fourth time she’d mentioned her girlfriend. I knew what she was doing; I do it when potential beaus show undue interest in me. I drop the girlfriend, husband, partner line casually so they know I’m not into them. But some motherfuckers don’t know what that means or don’t care.
At that moment, I was that motherfucker who didn’t care either. I thought she liked me too. The tension was living in the safety of our relationships, the boundary, the naming of the people we were committed to: the tension was the thing to taste.
The water was too cold for me. I got out fast.
Hold up, though. Why am I still falling for unavailable femmes? Am I afraid to get closer to that desire? I don’t want to hurt anyone.
Mazatl on the phone one night: With men, I don’t have any problems with power or trauma coming up. With women, it’s so much harder. Everything hurts.
Me: [I nod. I wonder why this is true. I’m in my garage and the automatic light turns off over head.]
It’s our last night at poetry camp. We walk in the dark with friends along an empty forest road. The moonlight tells us vaguely where we are. We’ve all had a few drinks except me. I am awake for all of this. Mazatl is walking on the outer part of our group, on the road. A wide pick-up truck, a newer model, barrels up the road in the opposite direction. It comes close, we see it and move away in time. This was not enough for her.
“Hey!” she screams. “Watch it, you asshole! These are my friends!” And she runs after it a few steps, maybe throws a few rocks.
She was really going to fight the four-wheel drive. My heart is racing, both thrilled and terrified. It’s a very old feeling, like the land we’re on. The thrill is a small fire in my chest: yes, bitch, I am protected. And then, my gut speaks up and I know why I love her – she is full of rage and stones, which reminds me of the masculine bodies in my life who loved to fight. Of my own masculinity that will defend everything I have with my bare hands.
My first girlfriend threw a punch at me once we were broken up. She thought I was being slutty by flirting with boys. Another ex liked to punch things when he didn’t get his way.
Hijo de la chingada! A mí no me hablas así. That’s my dad, talking to some fool at a bar in 1972. And then someone has a bottle cracked over their head and is limp unconscious. Dad is in handcuffs. This is his language and field of care. A lifetime of shot-out fuses and cracked glass, a woman always cleaning up the shards behind him.
I had been that person: waiting patiently for someone’s rage to come, or engaging it with rocks and losing. I did not want to let my desire be about that anymore. It does not mean I wanted Mazatl any less. It doesn’t mean that she would be like them. It meant that I had to teach myself to better see the roots of my desire for the unavailable, fiery, eyelined, brilliant femmes and masculine bodies who did not belong to me.
I gently pulled Mazatl back to our mass of bodies. She came. Then I slept in her top bunk bed, awake all night like an owl, my body a window of moonlight into another way to love.
Mazatl is in town. Two years since my summer camp crush first began. How did I get to be queer and engaged to a cis man? Like this: I take my crush to buy a wedding dress, along with my mom who I am not out to.
My deer documents the event: my mom really likes a short white dress with ostrich feathers. “Ay mija get that one!” she says.
Mazatl tells me to walk around in this orchid gown: I obey. My train catches a little wind. Mazatl is loving this too and I am so happy to share this with her: my love with my boo, my love for my mom, and my love with her. She is my witness, my historian. Later, she will even help bake our wedding pies.
I was trying on wedding dresses in a store with my mom, who is surely my first love, and a friend with whom I was making another kind love — a desiring machine. Who and how we love is as tender as we need it to be: intimate as a dressing room with your mom in the next room and a poet adjusting your train, one whose eyeliner you worship.
But that wasn’t the day I found my dress. I was fated to go another day with my ex, Huitzil.
Huitzil: A Hummingbird. My One Ex.
Huitzil and I were on an island once, learning to surf and fighting on the freeway because I didn’t like PDA. For the record, I don’t like PDA with anyone, but she thought it was because we were queer. We are on different islands now: suburbia for her, suburbia adjacent for me. Now, she’s the hummingbird. The Huitzil who also got married to a cis man.
We are leaving our islands to buy me something, because this is how you get married when you’re queer: you take your ex to the wedding dress store to help you pick it out. Earlier that week, we had dug up the dirt on why we broke up. The gayest thing I did that day.
The oaks were relentless. They line nearly every street we walk in Pasadena.
“You always thought something was missing,” Huitzil says. What she means is that a man was what I was missing. But to be honest she was more masculine in her desire towards me, a big top if there was one, than of all the cis men I’ve ever dated.
On the corner we wait for a green light. I touch her arm and slowly move into her vision.
“No,” I say, “I always loved you. I just did not know how I could be queer and just love one person. I didn’t know it wasn’t about who I was with. I didn’t know how to fulfill myself.”
“Huh,” she says, approvingly.
She heard me, I thought. I’ll take it. That’s good because it’s true. The light turns and we continue.
I’m not gonna lie. This ex is hot like a cliffside train ride along the central California coast. But in the wedding dress store, she is totally appropriate. In my fantasy, I keep thinking, Is she gonna come in here and help me with this bustle or what? These satin buttons need fastening and I need some nimble fingers. Pero no.
What she does do is sit on a quilted couch and say, “Ah, Vick, that’s so pretty!” And, “That’s not your style” to the one that had a long circle skirt (which I have to hold on to just to walk). Fine then. I taste the salted caramel, she is far enough away for me to enjoy from an appropriate distance.
“That’s the one,” she said.
I milked the moment: I sashayed in the three-way mirror. Pumped the hair a little. Then she caught me just being myself: awkward and unassuming.
I could’ve drowned in all that expensive hetero wedding finery, and my queerness at times felt as distant as a $10,000 dress. But having Huitzil there was all the reminder I needed: staying friends with your exgirlfriends = so gay.
We dated 14 years ago. Fifteen pounds and six lovers ago. One death that will forever hurt and that is not mine to speak of. Losing all of our common friends to distance and possessiveness, and yet there we were, in a room full of rhinestones, still salty and still in friendlove. It is not the love we had, but one we are in the middle of making, with white streaks in our hair, with less gay bar stamps on our wrists. This is the queerest thing of all: Huitzil and I are re-creating, re configuring, bending and flipping love, friendship, and commitment. And that felt fucking great. That is not going anywhere.
Belgian psychotherapist and writer Esther Perel says that every person should cultivate their own private world of sensuality, desire, and fantasy. In my world, there is a lot of tulle and women who don’t belong to me.
Mazatl: The Desiring Machine.
One Wednesday morning, a few years after we meet, I write Mazatl a note I will not send. Just a few minutes later, my cell phone dings. It’s her, I think. We don’t text frequently, but this happens to us a lot: I think of her, or she will think of me, and then, magic, text materializes. I put the notebook down and walked over to pick up the sound.
On the screen: A series of photos of a sun setting along a horizon of water. There are no trees obstructing the light. The water is serene.
Me: “I was writing to you! You must have heard me.”
Mazatl: “Loves” my message.
Another day, I text her a photo of my presentation title for a panel I’ll be on later: “Friends and Lovers: Queering Latinx Friendship.”
My Deer Mazatl writes: “I love this. Friendloves.”
“Exactly,” I text back. I send malas and hug emojis.
Mazatl: “I am grateful for your desiring machine of a friendship and all of its unique intimacies.” A wink emoji. An XO.
A deep breath in my room from, which you can see the Eiffel Tower.
Then Mazatl: “Also you’re always right about my girlfriends LOL.”
I text her my laughter, a long ribbon of it. I’m always right about how her love interests aren’t good enough, and then they show their ass. Her suitors need to step it up; I’ve raised the bar, dummies.
Mazatl let me use her Starz login so I could watch VIDA’s exquisite sex scenes. In the text above, “mss” means manuscript. I sent Mazatl my second poetry collection to get her feedback. But also ain’t “mss” mean “mess” too? Ethereal, missed-connection, lovely mess.
Apparently, my text persona is the hormonal 12-year old version of myself.
The next week: I make the Deer a playlist. “Happy birthday, Fire Starter.” She’s an Aries (and so is Huitzil. Coincidence? Of course not). I text her the link. On it, breathy women sing about “crying for another” over hi-life melodies. Someone in another song wonders if “you look both ways/when you cross my mind.”
The Deer writes: Very strange. I was just about to text you. I was driving and thought of our park outing and how that was my entire highlight of that trip. Hanging with you!
I get sentimental and dig up a photo of us the first day we met: in the redwoods. There, she also told me about how people fall in love with her without her consent.
I don’t want to be that fool.
I want to be full.
We had walked to the stream mid-friendlove affair. Along the stream there were outcroppings of rocks and nooks to sit in. We passed two young people, who could be girls if that’s what they identify as. I looked at Mazatl and we exchanged knowing looks. Let’s keep going and leave the baby gays be.
I got this figured out, I think. This friendlove feeling is for me. Even if Mazatl is feeling it or not, the feeling I was cultivating in that freezing water was for and about me. Don’t forget you are gay, the feeling said. Don’t forget me, girl. I got you this far and I will punch you in the teeth if you forget me.
Mazatl wasn’t trying to kick it to me and I was thankful for the boundary. She was just interested in what I had to say. Plus when she listened, she smiled like it was her birthday, but it was just me talking in a holey cashmere sweater. She still does: holds the information, the body of my desire in her hands and does not judge me, does not scold me. Mazatl reflects it back to me.
Occasionally, on full moons, I am full of my desire, for which, to which, through which I am responsible for myself.
One dawn, I’m between sleep and the day. On the phone the night before, I shyly asked Mazatl, sort of not really, about whether she was attracted to me, AKA, did she think I was cute? “If we didn’t have partners,” I said. “If we were in another universe, perhaps I’d be in some other kind of friendship with you.” It was beyond roundabout. It was stepping over cracks in the earth that I didn’t want to fall into.
Then she said something about how she had also felt changed by our meeting that summer in the redwoods. She still has my old letter, she said. In it, I had thanked her for reminding me about a part of myself that I’d been ignoring.
She said I’d also helped remind her of some closed off parts of herself, too. So if you read between the lines no, she wasn’t reciprocating a sexual charge with me, but instead a social emotional change and a kind of reenergizing in her life. An exchange of energy. A friendlove charge. I smiled and was grateful. I still am.
What I realized is that I am still only attracted to women who I can’t have. It’s because it’s more romantic. It is safer and easier to love and want someone from far away than finding someone who is available and into me, with an open calendar ready to schedule me in. Perhaps I am lazy, or afraid, or tired, or all three. What I do want is to fulfill that desire as a shy, Catholic/not, to allow myself to be free to try. I know those places in me need to feel safe and loved to experience different or new sexual environments.
How will I get there and what’s that place look like? Vamos a ver.
My Cancer moon had me fucked up yesterday. I asked Mazatl if she would date me if I wasn’t married. She was like, “Stop asking me that. You’re amazing.”
I was like, “No, shit. I mean. What do you wish we had now?”
She wrote: Oh you’re for real. To be honest, I have such a hard time imagining being romantically or erotically attracted to people who are my friends, it’s hard to imagine. I need the clear boundaries/ delineation.
I thank her.
Then, she writes: Girl crush / friend crush right back. Xo.
That is a love in which our friendship can be romantic, sensual, and erotically fulfilling. All of me is welcome at my door.
If I don’t have sex with the women who share their beds, with my friendloves, but there is a romantic tension I enjoy and respect, what do I have today?
From those nights and that text: a radical Victorian corset fire, reciprocal long-distance crushing and monogamy.
And finally, this: I am tending to my queer desire and it’s getting fulfilled in the safest, most sexy way possible for me.
I had a dream Mazatl was walking up to me in a grove of ferns and oaks. I was so happy to see her face. I text the link to her birthday playlist.
Mazatl: How strange that you are texting, I was just thinking of you.
She sends another photo: The deer almost smiles. She is on a ferry. Her jacket is army green. Her eyeliner is immaculate and disappearing.
I send her a photo, too: I lean on the hood of a ‘69 Ford Mustang convertible in a denim jumpsuit, my leg elongated across the body.
I type: I had a dream that you told me I was waiting for a woman to love me. You said, “You shouldn’t have to wait for anyone.”
She writes: I would say that.
She’s right. I should not have to wait for anyone. I am not. I have the love I’ve always wanted, a home in which I can write all of this, to which I come back to.
My editor thinks the real question here is this: What is my desire for women that makes me want to approach them into infinity and never meet?
At the moment, what matters to me is being safe: safe to desire and what that looks like is admiring from afar, respecting and loving limits; to engage in tense textual desire with my friend who loves me and does not want a physical relationship either.
Mazatl keeps her boundaries tight and that is the playground in which I wish to play with her: in notes, in text, in care packages that smell like copal. This enacting on a cloud, in the textual expression of friendship, completes me.
It is and I am, enough.🔮
Edited by Kamala