by Stacey Prince
On the last weekend in February I traveled with my partner Teri and 12 of our friends to Las Vegas to celebrate her 40th birthday. A decade earlier we celebrated her 30th there, and over the years Vegas has become a fun getaway destination for us, a guilty pleasure where we can eat great food, shop and gamble a little, see a show, and get some sun. This particular weekend was also NASCAR weekend, so lots of racecar fans were in town with us. We knew the hotels and casinos would be crowded as a result; what we didn’t expect was how much homophobia and gender queer phobia we would experience.
Vegas is a very gendered city. The men are men and the women (well, some of them anyway) have heels and cleavage. Under the best of circumstances my partner and I get some stares there. On this particular weekend, the experience was almost constant. On the day we arrived, approaching the hotel registration desk we were called "gentlemen" by a staff member--apparently our short haircuts and androgynous Seattle clothing were too much of a gender violation. Walking from the elevator to a restaurant for breakfast, shopping in the malls, hanging out at a bar, we got stared at so much that I jokingly asked my partner several times if I had toilet paper stuck to my shoe or was having a bad hair day or visibly displaying some other defect. The worst was on the night we were set to go to a very lovely Italian restaurant for her big birthday dinner. We were both dressed to the max (which is a big deal coming from Seattle, land of fleece and skechers). Teri had on a nice pair of dress pants and a button-down shirt, and I was wearing a dress and sporting, well, cleavage and heels. I can honestly say that I do not remember ever being gawked at as much as we were that night, walking the long path through the casino to the restaurant. Much as I would like to think it was just because we were such an attractive couple, I know this was not the case; we were an easily identified, lesbian couple who not only were flaunting our same-sex relationship status, but also were butching and femming out about as much as we ever do. It was uncomfortable. It made me think of all of the studies I’ve read about how threatening gender-atypical behavior is, and how that rather than someone’s gayness is often the provocation for harassment and violence. I found myself staring back at people defiantly, challenging them to look away—or to say something to us, so we could have an actual confrontation instead of this wordless staring.
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