Take Me To Mars
If the notion of attractiveness stems from the ability to please the senses, one rarely can identify attractiveness within themselves. I had the notion that vanity could exist within a person, but the idea of being attracted to oneself as one is attracted to others strayed too close to associations with Buffalo Bill to sit comfortably in my mind. When I started traveling, I relinquished the idea of finding myself attractive. I figured I was simply too gay, too black and androgynous to be attractive to a foreign audience—too inscrutable.
As I set off to South America, I had no idea of the Queer community that I was flying into, and to avoid alienating myself, I gave up the thought of my self-image altogether. It was certainly easy at the outset to let the rush and foreignness become all-consuming, and as I became enraptured by the verdant tendrils of the rainforest, the idea of sensuality grew even more distant.
With my desires relegated to the background of my mind I checked into the little hostel on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, not expecting much. Naturally I knew I would meet people from all over the world, and I was hungry for every new opportunity, not wanting my self-image to become a barrier to me expanding my experiences.
The first full morning there began with a modest breakfast in the main part of the hostel. With little more than anticipation for the nearest calorie on my mind, I looked toward the kitchen impatiently. Expecting nothing, the person who I saw there appealed to me. I glanced away in fear that my lingering glance would become intrusive. She swiftly glided up the small incline up from the kitchen, tray in hand, to serve the hostel’s complimentary breakfast of empanadas. Her form was artfully draped in a white sleeveless shirt, strung with two large hamsas, and her wheat-brown was hair tied up softly and efficiently, cascading down her back to reveal two piercing blue eyes whose gaze I could not escape. Almost immediately that old familiar knowledge prickled behind my brow. It was that innate knowledge all queer people have, like an extra sense. It’s as if we can detect an invisible boundary that is perceptible only to anyone who knows the consequences of overstepping it. I spent the entire morning occupying myself with the minutia of the trip, but I couldn’t help from picking up a few little details about this woman.
As the day progressed, I learned her name, Mars. She was from Berlin and spoke perfect English, Spanish and German. From what I could gather she was fiercely independent, one of those rare few sorts of unreserved women who are totally unafraid to express the contents of her heart and mind. Knowing I would risk never knowing her at all, I quickly relegated her to a friend in my mind. Later we would share a beer and a plate of fries as we joked with each other about the heat. At every turn I had to stop myself from reading too deeply into every touch, careful not to mistake a look, or miscategorize a blithe platonic smile.
Eventually she invited me to a night swim in the Amazon with a group of friends. I lept at the chance, hoping to experience the kind of adventure for which I had come. On the leafy banks of the river we looked up at the stars in the humid night sky and chased giant toads through warm waters. There I learned that she was waiting for a man that she had met before her arrival. He was a german transplant who drove a motorcycle, and I was thrilled by the idea of learning to ride.
The days that followed were filled with excursions through a monkey-filled jungle to vast, sprawling beaches littered with coconuts. Throughout those days my only concern was the price of rum and fleeing the darkness for fear of being devoured not only by thousands of mosquitos but the searing loneliness. When we decided to go a waterfall I was beyond thrilled; I enjoyed a good hike and the thought of swimming in seclusion with my newfound friends. Me, Mars, and a few others talked and laughed as we made our way through dense vegetation. At one point I heard another one of the German speakers in the group speaking with Mars as they glanced in my direction. I felt they were talking about me, but I chalked it up to insecurity and let it pass. Mars was lovely that day; she moved through the world as if it were all hers. She lay on rocks, and they seemed to turn into the softest cushions just for her. Our eyes met again, and I averted my gaze knowing I couldn’t go to that place in my mind. I appreciated my new friend and I wanted to avoid becoming attracted to her at all cost. I had fallen into that trap time and time again in my youth, entangling close relationships I had formed with straight women with deeply romantic fantasy. These moments were unfair on both ends and resulted in awkward tension and ultimately a loss of the relationships I held in high regard. Being a queer woman in the midst of straight women means not letting hugs linger to long, staying away from the platonic physical affection shared freely amongst women. It is a suffocation of my sexual self that fights and screams as I attempt to silence those parts of my psyche. Its changing in the bathroom of the locker room,and never sharing a bed. It always meant that I had to see myself as woman, but also something entirely separate, existing solely in the internal monologue of my mind.
On our last night this veritable tropical paradise, we had planned to attend a party on a nearby beach. For everyone else, the party was an excuse to partake in rum and weed; for me, it was a chance to see Mars one last time. I began walking the mile to my destination, and as the sun began to set I feared the isolation of that devouring darkness was unavoidable. I concluded I would struggle attempting to avoid situations that usually come in alcohol drenched nights, knowing our eyes would meet again, knowing I was sure to look away ashamed. I arrived around sundown, and everyone was well into the revelry of the night. I figured I should take the time to gather myself before diving headfirst into whatever would inevitably come. Feeling I wanted a moment of solitude, I walked into the waves and looked out into the darkness, attempting to accept my position. This eternal position that a queer woman only avoids by hanging with queer women, and attending only queer events. Sometimes you want to move freely, flirt and be coy or witty. Even in the warmth of company, a part of me felt utterly alone. Everyone around me was straight-identifying, and being queer was another foreign language to them, as foreign spanish. A language not met with hostility, but either with an intrusive line of questioning, or misunderstanding. As I bathed in that solitude, my ears heard someone approach behind me--it was Mars. She asked if she could tell me something.
“anything,” I replied, wondering if that in and of itself betrayed my unavoidable attraction.
“I think you are one of the most attractive people I have ever met.” She said plainly.
I froze, mostly from shock, but also in an attempt to control the urge stare deeply into her eyes knowing now that I could without fear. I could not understand what I had done to be seen in that way, to be seen as attractive. I hadn't thought of myself as particularly alluring that day.
"I find you very attractive as well. Would you like to walk and talk a bit?" I said fumbling for words.
We made our way down a dark beach and sat in the sand, away from the noise of the group. I was taken aback that this woman could see me this way, and I asked her if she had typically found women attractive. I learned her idea of sexuality was open, and that openness freely expanded to fit me inside of it. She went on to tell me that this moment she had already committed her time to the man on the moto, but maybe sometime soon we would meet again, knowing we would both be in Peru later in our travels. In that moment I wanted some kind of physical resolution, but knew that the timing was wrong. The energy of the moment we shared washed over me, paralyzing my body, such that I couldn't muster a kiss, or even a hug.
The night after was filled with recollection that this beautiful woman honestly saw me, and I that I had seen her too. It felt as though that moment was the culmination of a wave swelling in my existence. I was electrified with the feeling of energy surging within this fixed vessel of a body. How could this happen to me? I felt excitement, but also relief; I could exist, there was space for my sexual identity, here at least. There was no need for the death of my queerness, in fact the opposite. I met someone who was herself attractive, and entirely different, yet somehow very much the same. Only here would we ever meet. Only in between the dense jungle and unrelenting ocean waves. Only in the quiet of a dark beach in stolen moments of solitude. Lingering eye contact, or sweet accidental touches. These things are the same as the tide running back into the wave, pulling me without my permission, dragging me into the blue. How fortunate am I to be able to look into those eyes, and smile a secret smile.