This is not me, but hang in there and you’ll see how Ellen figures into this story…Sometime after my escapade with Syd, I met Sue online. She had no photos posted at all, but her ad was really funny and charming. She described herself as “butch,” and spoke of having been an athlete once upon a time. I was to learn that “I was an athlete in high school” is a recurring theme for many middle-aged lesbians, and there seems to be an overwhelming sense of loss and missed opportunity in the absence of career choices in sports. In Sue’s case, she was a soccer star who traveled to New Zealand for some sort of championship in her senior year, and she won a sports scholarship to university. There, the story took a sad twist because nobody would pay women to play professional soccer in those days. Sue had no aspirations to be a phys-ed teacher. She was devastated when her rising star began its premature (and precipitous) descent.
Dropping out of university, Sue began what would become a lifetime of blue-collar work. But she also had a secret identity…
We spent many evenings emailing back and forth, sharing puppy and baby photos. I saw newspaper clips of her in tenth grade, scoring winning goals. After a while we graduated to talking on the phone. She kept strange hours, and seemed to stay up all night and sleep mostly during the day. This suited my on-call lifestyle just fine, because if I got home at 2am and was too pumped up to sleep, I now had someone to talk to.
And talking to Sue was something special. She was one of those people who possess a completely natural, infectious sense of humour. She could take any story, any anecdote, and turn it into an accent-fueled commentary on multi-cultural queer life that should by all rights be offensive, but is so dead-accurate as to be at once hilarious and astounding. Listening to Sue was a lot like attending a personal comedy performance. One night, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, I asked her if she could sing.
“Why do you ask that?” she wondered.
“Well…you’re so good with accents. You must have a great ear.”
“I have a little something I do,” she replied, “are you sure you don’t know what it is?”
I was flummoxed. How would I know? In fact, she seemed a little suspicious of me…Like I had been stalking her and discovered that she was a famous singer or something. I begged her to tell me what this secret identity was, but she wouldn’t.
“Maybe when I know you better,” she promised. Jeez. Talk about suspense.
Eventually Sue and I decided to meet for coffee at a Starbucks uptown, near her apartment. I wasn’t really nervous, since I felt like I knew her pretty well by then, but I still made a point of arriving first and finding a comfortable place to wait. I recognized her immediately when she walked in; a slightly broader, feathered-hair (in a middle-aged butch way) version of her high school photos.
She bought a coffee and plunked into the chair opposite me.
“Hi!” she grinned awkwardly.
“Hi” I managed. Oh God, I was nervous after all, but I stood up and hugged her across the table, hoping my shirt wasn’t dangling into her coffee.
I really don’t remember much of the date after that first meeting. It flew by, and the nerves we had both acquired seemed to recede quickly. She knew how to command a room, and had come armed with some new stories. In every sense, I felt that she was performing for me. It even had a vaguely rehearsed feel. I wondered if these were stories she had shared with her friends many times over the years, perfecting the punch lines. But I had a great time. So good, in fact, that we made a second date for the next night. Dinner and a movie.
I picked her up on the way to the theater, but she wouldn’t let me come up to her apartment. Retrospectively, that might have been a red flag. But we’d only really met one time, and I could understand her abundance of caution. She met me in the parking lot outside her building. It was a warm night and I was sitting in my car with the windows down listening to Nora Jones when Sue appeared at the passenger side window, resting on her elbows.
“Waiting for me?” she asked, all husky voiced.
“No,” I smiled, “what makes you think that?”
When we arrived at the restaurant, she got out of the car, came around to my side, and opened the door for me. As I unfurled myself from the driver’s seat, I instantly regretted the high heels I had chosen. I don’t often wear heels, but I wanted to try out a new dress, and flats just ruined it. With my natural height and the 3 1/2 extra inches, I was, quite literally, towering over Sue. Her head reached about to my shoulder, and her eyes were in line with my chest. How had I failed to notice how diminutive she was? And what the hell was I thinking when I got dressed?
“Is that a wrap dress?” Sue asked, mischievously, still gazing at my chest.
“Sure is!” I answered, so freaking thankful to her for taking the flirtatious route.
“I like it,” she winked, turning towards the restaurant and taking my hand.
It was a great meal, and we talked and talked, almost missing the beginning of the movie. I don’t even remember what the film was, except that it was a comedy and the theater was half empty.
When I dropped her off at home later that night, Sue took my face in her hands and leaned towards me. She gave me a gentle, sweet kiss. No tongue, just soft lips. I had butterflies.
The next time I saw Sue, my friend Diane and I were going to a local tavern to watch a band play because she was hot for the lead singer, and I asked Sue if she would like to tag along. It was one of those Irish bars with a small dance floor, a few dark wood tables and too many people crammed elbow-to-elbow, in perpetual line at the bar or surrounding the small stage. I was on my summer holiday by then, and the kids had gone camping with X, so it would be one of the few nights where I could have a drink and didn’t have to get home to a babysitter.
Di and I had arrived early enough to snag a table close to the stage, and she was busy swooning over the greasy, balding, bearded hipster singer. I did not understand what she liked about the guy, but, you know, I accept her for who she is and so I tried my best to muster enthusiasm for him.
Then Sue arrived, and damn she was hot that night. Of course, I had had a pint and the music was pounding, but even Di stopped mid-sentence when she saw Sue across the room.
“Is that her?” she whisper-yelled in my ear.
“Oh, hell yeah!” I had found some enthusiasm after all.
Sue kind of floated across the room, and squatted on her heels beside Di, placing her hand on Di’s knee briefly as she went down, then extended her hand in introduction. “You must be Diane…”
Diane blushed, then licked her too-red upper lip slowly and smiled.
“Jesus Diane,” I elbowed her, “tone it down a little!”
“I’m just playing,” she smiled. And she was. That’s just Di. Everything is about sex to her.
“Can I get you ladies a drink?” Sue asked.
“Yes please!” Diane demurred.
“Sure, thank you,” I smiled. I needed time to reign Diane in.
I watched Sue cross to the bar. She seemed taller. Her boots were polished black military style lace-ups with a chunky sole, so maybe that was it. She had on blue jeans…not too tight, but not at all baggy. A black t-shirt. A black jacket with the collar turned up under her puff of hair. The turned-up collar could have really ruined the look, but somehow it was sexy. Her tousled hair took on a kind of artful shag. She was a relic from some other time, and she seemed to be oozing confidence. It occurred to me that I was watching another performance,”Sexy Sue,” or “Hot Butch Sue,” I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I watched her talking animatedly with some men at the bar, clapping them on the back as she glided through the line-up, smiling and nodding. Several women noticed her, and she seized the opportunity to sidle closer to them (and the bar). Within moments she had captured the bartender’s attention, bought our drinks, and begun her return journey.
“That was impressive!” I told her, “you have away with crowds.”
“That’s part of my thing,” she replied.
“What thing would that be?” I asked.
“I’ll show you later.”
Be still my heart.
We drank enough beer that dancing seemed like a good idea. Sue and I were the only obvious lesbians on the dance floor, since, as is the case with most mid-town Irish pubs, it was a mostly straight crowd. But the crowd was happy and indulgent, and everyone seemed intent on not displaying their homophobia. Maybe if we were gay men we’d have seen the ugly teeth of the place, but that night, for me, took on a rosy, happy glow.
Sue excused herself as the dance floor became packed. I assumed she had to use the restroom, and continued dancing. Di gyrated over and declared herself “so happy” that I had found someone nice at last.
“She is cute, isn’t she?” I agreed.
Just then, the music stopped and the guitar player took the mic,
“Hey there folks, I hope you’re having a great time this evening! We have a special treat for you tonight, straight from Memphis Tennessee! Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the one, the only, Elvis Presley!”
The crowd went wild, because who doesn’t love a little Elvis? And then, from stage right, Elvis himself strode onto the platform. Or I should say, “herself,” because Sue was on stage flipping up her collar, grabbing the mic in one hand and throwing the other into the air, legs spread shoulder width apart, posing. Waiting for the band.
Out of that little butch woman came a powerful, perfect rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes,” followed by a foot stomping, exciting “Jailhouse Rock,” and then a slow, sultry “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” When Sue swaggered off stage there was a crowd of women pushing towards her, and she had a perfect Elvis smile and nod for each admirer. She was used to the attention. She thrived on it. She was a performer, through and through, and at that moment I appreciated the act.
I suppose I can claim a unique distinction: I dated Female Elvis. She was sexy when she was in her Elvis mode. Sue was incredibly talented. She could sing anything as anyone. She did Bono and Cher. She was always a laugh a minute. We had a fun month or so of dating before I began to realize that she also had some peculiar habits, aside from the vampiric sleep tendencies. For example, she worshipped Ellen Degeneres. Like, super-fan worshipped. She would send her letters and audition tapes, comedy sketches and ideas. Then, if something on the show seemed similar to one of her letters, she would complain that Ellen was stealing her ideas. And maybe Ellen was, or maybe it was a paranoid fantasy, but Sue kept sending them. She had a rigid schedule of TV shows during which she could not be interrupted, and was in love with two “TV girlfriends” (Elizabeth Shu was one, and I honestly can’t remember the other). She had a deep sense of loss about her squandered athleticism, and hated trans men for “selling out” butches. She never let me into her apartment, and I came to believe that she was a hoarder. Basically, our life goals were not compatible. She was fun and talented and bitter and angry. I was a mom doing my best to support my family and make a calm, happy life for my kids.
In our own ways, Sue and I were both damaged and lonely, but in the end we realized that our baggage was not compatible, and we drifted into our separate spheres. Our paths have never crossed again, but I think of her from time to time and hope that she has found her real life Elizabeth Shu.
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