On my half-broken IKEA dresser sits a delicate cream-colored tea dish with a pink rose in the center and a gold rim around the edge. When I first acquired it in a little thrift store in Headingly (Leeds, England), it made me feel pretentious and fantastical. Now, it’s tarnished, the colors have faded, and there are a few permanent wax stains from the time I burnt a handmade candle in the shape of a naked body.
Over five years ago, when my ex bought it for me because it made her think of me, I clung to the little dish through all our arguments, and eventually, a nasty breakup which ended with me moving back to the States and her staying in England. Throughout the course of our relationship, I got used to waking up to see a growing collection of tea dishes on her nightstand holding various objects: rings, tiny pieces of jewelry, keys. Until I met her, I had never seen someone use these little teatime essentials for such a utilitarian purpose. I guess everyone I ever slept with either left their things around in disorganized chaos or didn’t have a nightstand. I found the whole ritual endearing, so when she gifted me this little £5 plate, I used it to hold my own rings.
I was never much of a ring-wearer until I came out. Up until my gay awakening, rings only held two purposes: marriage and chastity. I begged my parents to buy me a purity ring when I was 14. Super religious and influenced by the Jonas Brothers, I took pride in my choice to show the world I was off limits until the man of my dreams came around to swap out cheap metal for elaborate diamonds. It took me until my early twenties to rid myself of this chastity ring once and for all in a very gay and dramatic burning ceremony I describe in this essay I wrote about rings. Around the same time, I noticed all my gay crushes had one thing in common: atypically placed rings. My very first in-person real-life girl crush I acted on wore colorful minimalist pieces around both thumbs, pointer fingers, and middle fingers. Every time I spoke to her, I noticed these shiny distractions catching the sun and making their presence known in my reproductive organs. Every time she touched me, I felt the rigid pressure against my soft skin and yearned for more. I saw these rings and fantasized about what the fingers inside them could do. Maybe it’s not as clear as bandanas or carabiners, but rings can be an excellent entry point into the “is she queer?” discourse running through your head at the Trader Joes checkout counter.
When I eventually met my ex at a queer coffee shop in downtown Leeds, I instantly noticed the thin silver ring adorning her middle finger. I knew she was queer, of course, because we met on Tinder, but something about this ring made her extra enticing. It didn’t take long for me to learn about her stash of rings, stacked in a messy pile on her nightstand tea dishes. It certainly didn’t take long for me to figure out where those rings had been. The more she switched out her rings, the more I equated them to badges of honor — gold and silver medals to flash for all the queer world to see. Those fingers made her hot, because they were mine.
Just as I carried the ring dish with me from one relationship into the next, so too did I carry my ring theory. As I passed people in the grocery store or on a walk, I noticed a well placed ring always lured me in. To put it bluntly, a middle finger ring, on anyone of any gender, could instantly take a 4/10 to an 8/10. As I started to crush on people solely based on their ring placement, I collected rings here and there so that I, too, could award my own fingers. If I thought ring people were hot, maybe I could be hot too? Maybe what my ex had given me was a resting place for my own sexuality. I made concerted efforts to take the rings from my rose tea dish and place them strategically on my fingers before going to a coffee shop or night out. People needed to know the feats I’ve accomplished with those fingers. The dish reminds me that someone once thought I was hot, and someone will think I’m hot once more.
What used to be an inanimate ode to my ex quickly became the temple for well-earned phalange awards I bestowed on myself over years of dating and hooking up with other queer folks. I’ve lived in five different states and countries over the past five years, and this dish has made it with me through the eight-hour flight where I sobbed my water weight in tears, the four-day cross country drive from California to Florida, and my couch-surfing days in Los Angeles. My intentions in carrying it with me, at first, were sentimental; I kept it because it reminded me of her. After healing from the breakup, the dish morphed from a space of desperate longing to an opportunity to remind myself of my sexual power. I can wear rings. I can be hot.