It’s Valentine's Day Eve in a bustling part of Vancouver, and I’m in a lingerie shop close to my home.
I’m picking up some panties -- deep umber velvet, tied and untied from the back -- and the shop is full of men looking frantic, unsure of what they’re seeking other than last-minute gifts for their beloveds.
I notice the man next to me in particular: he’s white, mid-forties, with a kindly and nervous semi-smile, looking a little unsettled in his surroundings and holding a pair of pink fuzzy slippers.
I assume this is a gift for his lover -- his wife or girlfriend perhaps -- although, of course, I could be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. No! I want to say. Please! Don’t get her that! I want to take him to another section, full of stockings and garters, and corsets, and basques, with things that are silky and feel good to the touch. I want to suggest he get these as gifts instead, that perhaps, they will be more likely make his lover feel seen.
I don’t say anything to him because my mind wanders to my own butch lover, for whom my purchase is. She’s coming a long way to visit me, and this will help show my appreciation for her. She will slip them of from under my suspender belt with ease and run her fingers down the seams. She might have less to say than she usually does which I’ll take as a sign of her desire.
My at times obsessive love for lingerie exceeds my sexual relationships but also comes to life through my lovers’ pleasure. When I wear each piece of lingerie I have, the memories of my lover at the time come back to me. Who was on my mind when I bought it? How did the material feel in their fingers and how did they react? How did I feel wearing it? My feelings are consistent, always the same: in dressing up for my lovers and drawing out their desires, my lovers see me, and I feel seen.
If sex is for most people a process of seeing and being seen, then sex can feel especially high stakes for queer people who are not always visible, whose sexual lives are so often misunderstood in a heteronormative society.
My own queer desires, for instance, have shaped my life in fundamental ways; they’ve drawn me to larger cities, to particular friends with whom I feel safe, to certain forms of literature and fields of study, and to the particular people I’ve chosen (and who’ve chosen me) as lovers. Yet, these desires are largely invisible to most people. I’m most often read as a straight woman rather than as a queer femme. As a brown woman, my sexuality is seen as particularly muted -- understated and relegated to the private sphere -- as compared to white women’s sexuality, which we tend to think of as less repressed, more developed and, indeed, more sexual in and of itself.
When I watch this man pick up these pink fuzzy slippers (not wrong gifts of course, though they’ve sparked this flood of thoughts in me), I think about how well my butch lovers see me, how queer sex has been for me reparative and healing, helping me feel connected to others through the seeming strangeness of our desires.
These panties will, I think, fulfill their purpose: they will bring out my lover’s desire and, in doing so, show me that she sees something in me too.