When I started dating, we didn’t have Grindr, Jack’d, or Adam4Adam. We didn’t have Tinder, OKCupid, or even Craigslist. It was a time before Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace. In fact, we didn’t have cell phones. If you wanted to make a phone call while you were out, you had to have change and find a payphone. Times certainly are different now.
I clearly remember the decades when “queer” was most commonly used as an insult and nobody I knew was using terms such as non-binary, genderqueer, or even transgender. People used many words in casual conversation then that would cause everyone to gasp today. It wasn’t that long ago that the gays were all butch or femme; the latter were often called sissies and queens.
Dateline: The Sixties
The Motown Sound provided the soundtrack to these years when there was very little harmony to be found in the streets. The Civil Rights Movement was making strides. History was being made. Meanwhile, I was learning who I was.
I was a late bloomer, especially in terms of coming out. I was a preppy kid, with glasses and my hair in waves. I was entering high school and dating girls. One who I will never forget was Liz. She was a senior with a big afro and a bigger behind. For our first date, I went to her house for dinner. Her parents interrogated me, but they were no match for my charm, wit, and conversational skills. After dinner, Liz and I cleared the table and washed the dishes, taking our time while we waited for her parents to go upstairs. Young ladies didn’t go “all the way” back then, but let’s just say, lucky for Liz, I didn’t have dishpan hands. Through my freshman year we had some fun times, but by the summer, we had parted ways.
That same year I had met Darryl Lewis, who reminded me of myself in many ways, except he was out and unapologetically gay and femme. It was like looking into a mirror and for the first time seeing a true reflection of myself. Going into sophomore year, I went from an afro to a Press N Curl. I was lucky to have Darryl there, as I explored my feminine side and he became my tour guide to the gay scene of Washington, DC.
Dateline: The Seventies
Soul and Funk music played on the airwaves and soon Disco would take over. It was a new decade and I was embracing my femme side. I was fortunate to have a supportive family who loved me. I was an adult and redefining myself. For me, being femme wasn’t about sex or sexuality; it was about feeling free and being pretty. Sex was one of the furthest things from my mind; I didn’t want to mess up my hair. I just wanted to be glamorous.
I was out on the scene, but I was there to flirt and be social. I had the gift of gab, so men enjoyed talking to me, as I would bat my eyes and toss my hair, now most often in braids. I was often the life of the party, but I would leave before everyone started pairing up for their one night stands. They may have wanted to go home with me, but I’d kindly direct them to one of my femme friends, most of whom were always ready to go.
There was a queen nicknamed Cocktail Connie who wanted to introduce me to his brother. After declining many invitations, I relented. Eric was a sweet, nerdy, tall guy who looked like he was sent by Central Casting to play a Native American in an old Western film. We dated for a year, until I learned he was actually 3 years younger than he had claimed to be. I felted betrayed, and eventually that loss of trust led to the demise of the relationship.
Dateline: The Eighties
Hip Hop and Go-Go music blared from boom boxes on the streets of Washington, DC. Mayor Marion Barry was in office and Ronald Reagan was moving into the White House. Soon everything would change because of a virus that would come to be known as HIV.
I think that being in two long-term relationships in the 1980s saved my life. First there was David M, who was a friend that became something more. He was the elevator operator at a hotel; I would visit him on my lunch break and we would neck between floors. I encouraged him to go back to school and when he did, we mutually agreed to part ways. I knew I would be too much of a distraction.
After David M, I decided I didn’t want to be femme or gay anymore. I stopped doing my hair and just kept it in a ponytail. I went to a straight club, called The Buck Stops Here, one night when a radio station I liked was having an event there. I met a young woman named Pam and I was instantly infatuated. I didn’t know it at the time, but her smooth, soothing voice was one heard on the radio station. As soon as we introduced ourselves to each other, there was an intensity that is hard to describe, but I remember it well. Soon after that, we were hot and heavy. We had physical chemistry and the sex was amazing. I told her that I used to date men and it didn’t faze her. After several months, things cooled down and we stopped seeing each other.
My return to the gay scene was well received. It was time for me to let my hair down! For my “Back in the Life” party, my friends took me to none other than The Buck Stops Here, on its regular gay night. I was in a fabulous red number showing everyone why red was my color. I was dancing with my friends when I was told that someone I knew was at the club. I sashayed over to a booth in the back to find Pam with her date, who was big, strong, butch, and FEMALE. Pam had never mentioned that she was attracted to women. I couldn’t hide my surprise, but I was happy we were both living our truth.
Single again, I would go out with my femme friends. One of our regular haunts was The Brass Rail, which was conveniently located around the corner from a hotel that charged by the hour. Since I did not drink, smoke, do drugs, or leave with anyone to go to that hotel or anywhere else for that matter, I was the de facto coat check girl, being a wallflower and watching everyone’s coats and bags as they came and went. There were femme guys and trans girls, some professional and some amateur, all of whom were ready to show a man a good time. Most are no longer with us, but I remember them fondly.
When it comes to love, I’m in to win it, and the 1980s were no exception. It was in the late 1980s that I met the love of my life, David D. I met him through friends and he was a smart, kind man who accepted me and never took issue with my femininity. We were together for the better part of 20 years, until his death in 2009.
Dateline: The Nineties
Hip Hop became mainstream and something called the internet would soon change how people communicated. Until then, the gays were still in the bars, the clubs, and on the telephone chat lines to get a date. I was in a long-distance relationship with David D.
With the help of a co-worker at Einnub Salon, I went from having braids to a hairstyle similar to that of Janet Jackson in “The Pleasure Principle” video. My new look caused me to get extra attention from men, but I remained faithful. As comfortable as I was with being femme, there would be a shift in the culture for which I wasn’t quite ready.
The Homo-Thug persona became more common. The gay scene became a space where hypermasculinity was embraced and everyone else was no longer as valued. It was as if being femme became obsolete. Around this time, I realized how special David D was and how much I valued our relationship. He would move down to DC and we lived together for the remaining years of the decade.
Dateline: The Two-Thousands
The hysteria over Y2K turned out to be just that and “reality” started to take over TV. My life changed at the onset of the decade when David D moved back up to New Jersey to further his career. I would spend most of this decade raising children, emceeing pride celebrations, hosting LGBTQ ski trips and cruises, and traveling back and forth to New Jersey to see David.
I was back to wearing braids and some of the Homo-Thugs of the previous decade were back to being femme. I observed the people around me out on the singles scene searching; they were being optimists, realists, hopeless romantics, and unapologetically sexual extroverts. Basically, they were the personification of the “Sex and the City” characters.
Dateline: The Twenty-Tens
After David’s death in 2009, I wasn’t interested in dating for quite a while. I focused on other things. I began The Ask Rayceen Show, a free monthly event in Washington, DC. In 2014, I would meet Zar, a fan of mine from Twitter who was interested in creating spaces for single same-gender-loving men of color to meet and socialize – something we hope to revisit in the near future. We created the segment “Rayceen, Fix Me Up!” but soon Zar’s attention was drawn away from that segment to redesigning the show’s fliers, creating and managing social media accounts, and eventually becoming the show’s first production director and creating Team Rayceen. For the past several years I’ve been involved with the show, Reel Affirmations, OutWrite, Capital Trans Pride, and more. Even with having a collaborator in these pursuits, I don’t have much time for dating, which sometimes I feel is for my own good.
The dating scene is very youth driven. There are not many spaces for gay men of a certain age to meet. The men I have met have often not been what I anticipated.
I’ve met some men who seemed good on paper, but still struggle with their self-esteem and issues concerning their sexual orientation. I have met men my age who want to go out to clubs and drink and do drugs with people in their twenties. I have met men who appreciate me from afar, but are not able to handle me when I let them into my world.
It’s hard out here for a femme.
I’m open to meeting someone new. I am still energetic, optimistic, and I have a new hip. I embrace all sides of myself, so I don’t want anyone to box me in or marginalize me. You have to take me as I am.
I’m not waiting for the right man to come along, but if he does, I am willing to give him a chance. But I won’t make the same mistakes again. I have been through too much not to have learned my lessons.
I am single and still ready to mingle. I am still looking glamorous and rocking a red ensemble when I want to be noticed. I’m not on the apps, but you can find me on Twitter, at @RayceenHRH, and slide into my DMs.
Rayceen Pendarvis, known as the High Priestess of Love and the Goddess of DC, is an emcee, columnist, social media personality, and host of various events produced by Team Rayceen, including The Ask Rayceen Show, a monthly free community festival and live entertainment event in Washington, DC. For more information about Rayceen Pendarvis, Team Rayceen, and The Ask Rayceen Show, please visit www.AskRayceen.com
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