August 19, 2010
When, on my first week as a Florida resident, a woman approached me in the local Target and told me I had pretty eyes, I knew it wasn’t southern charm that motivated her to reach out.And in a state whose majority politics border on fascist, I doubted I was being hit on by the same sex in a public arena.That coupled with the fact that I was not, shall we say, dressed to impress – German fashion maybe having sunk in a little too far – I was only mildly surprised to have that followed up with the offer of a make-over.Mary Kay was welcoming me to the south.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at all.After fourteen wonderful and eventually heartbreaking months in Germany, I moved back to the United States jobless and devastated.Berlin changed me in more ways than I can count, and when it became certain that I would return home alone, I knew that New York City was no longer mine.Too much history, too many changes. Twenty pounds heavier, having traded in my stilettos for flip flops, and emotionally broken from the protracted ending of a seven-year love affair, I have no doubt I looked in desperate need of a make-over.
If you’d asked me even months ago if I’d be living in the state voted Most Likely to Secede during the last elections, I’d have called you crazy and kicked you in the shin for even suggesting it.But somehow the sun, the sand, the ease of living, the opportunity to teach the tiny people I love, and the image of sitting on a beach with my wobbly dog and sipping champagne took hold and I started having crazy thoughts like:
“Change happens at the local level!I can really make a difference here rather than just be another voice in the crowd.Florida liberals, unite!All three of us!”
Nine out of fourteen months in almost total Germanic darkness will lead to such thinking.The call of the sunshine was irresistible.
Somehow in my enthusiasm, I neglected to consider how difficult it might be to meet like-minded people in a situation like this.First of all, my hair was not at all big enough to earn the respect of the southern female.Neither did I have enough pink in my wardrobe.In fact, I didn’t have the right wardrobe at all!After years in New York and Berlin, I found myself staring daily at a sea of black clothes I could no longer fit into.Luckily, tight is en vogue in the Tampa area, so even though my clothes are the wrong color, season and style, nobody seems to notice they don’t fit.
My eventual landing was soft.I stayed with close friends for a month while getting settled and was introduced to several more wonderful people in the area.I began to feel on steadier ground and even found a cottage in a liberal enclave affectionately termed “the gayborhood.”
In the quest to restart my life, I started trying to fill in my social calendar a bit.I ventured out to a local club.Why do I never learn?The ultra lounge seems to be it in the Tampa Bay area.I can’t tell you what an “ultra lounge” is, other than filled with young women I can’t distinguish from prostitutes and buffed up, greased up, Ed Hardy-wearing guys, 15 years younger than I am and all ready to grind to the latest techno nightmare.Given my age and the almost allergic reaction I have to midriff tops and spandex, this was clearly not where I would find my Southern persona.
After that, I dragged some girlfriends to a fashion show, fashion being a loose term here as it was largely filled with silk-screened t-shirts we couldn’t see.The models who wore them were unable to find the glowing, orange X on the floor that told them where to stand. Not one of them stood in the spotlights, not one!Seriously?That X fluoresces, girls, I swear.
Since then I’ve tried art openings, wine tastings, a Cyndi Lauper concert – which was fabulous with a capitol F, by the way – a summer concert series, foreign films, opera and theater.These smack so much more of my previous life and I feel comforted to find them available here.But even so the flavor is different and I still end up feeling a fish out of water somehow.Maybe it’s my inability to slide into one category or another; not total crunch, not total chic, big dose of geek.It seems like I’d fit in better trying to don the Florida combination of not total redneck, not total corrupt politician, big dose of flatbed truck, but I’m not there and doubt I’ll arrive anytime soon.
I love my friends here.They have been so welcoming, and truly instrumental in my settling in. But as I’ve begun to heal, I’ve also begun to realize living in a gay neighborhood and having mostly gay friends, while great for my politics, my hair and my wardrobe, does keep me perhaps a bit insulated in some important ways. My first efforts to invent my new Southern self and move forward with my life have come up a little…bedazzled?Don’t get me wrong, I love the glitter, I’m just not totally me yet.Re-entering the community-at-large is something I’ll eventually have to negotiate, I suppose, and taking fashion cues from Trixie, my favorite drag queen, may not gain me the kind of attention I want.(Sorry darling, you know I think you’re fabulous!)What’s a woman to do?
I’m not sure yet how I’m going to redefine my life and my wardrobe down here.Clothes have always been a part of the process for me.Make-up, too.Like Lawrence Olivier, I need to walk in the shoes to understand the time, place and character.In New York I auditioned in Jimmy Choos, in Berlin I taught in Dansko clogs.So far I haven’t found shoes to suit me here.Maybe that’s why I keep buying more?Food for thought.There’s so much yet to figure out.
Ten pounds down, a new business underway, single again and in a brand new city, my life is nowhere I’d ever imagined it would be at 39.But with the help of my new Mary Kay lady, Trixie and St. Pete fashion, it’s bound to be full of color, glitter and big hair.Right now, I don’t see anything wrong with that.