It both thrills me to watch myself as others might watch me in the world, and instills in me a deep loneliness—a grief that reminds me I am so helplessly stuck inside of myself.
“Being invisible can be deadly.”
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
Some days I prefer the ease of the Target self-checkout lane. Each transaction, I am confronted with myself, my small part in the roboticization of capitalism, my antisocial tendencies, and my own face on a screen reduced to a collection of pixels reflected back at me. The pull of seeing myself in these cameras is irresistible. Whether I like what I see or not. The seductive urge of knowing what it must be like to gaze upon myself, to see what others see, is too strong.
Boys Don’t Cry
Something bizarre happens to me in the self-checkout camera. I want Emily’s and my reflections to marry one another. I want to watch them suddenly call each other names like “princess” and “my everything.” So often I oscillate between these two selves, one who rejects heteronormativity, the other who wants to be swaddled by it. Target’s #Pride line makes it seem easy. The consumer co-opting of gay culture erases the trodding it took for people to simply love who they love openly.
And maybe it’s that consumer co-opting that turns phrases like “love who you love” into slogans that make me cringe. There is something overly saccharine in the ways we’re allowed to talk about queer love, if we talk about it at all. Or maybe there isn’t, and I am bashful about being open to the world, I am primed for the closet, for the bathroom stall of the girls locker room where I changed each gym class.
This marriage desire is fleeting, thank God, but it comes from somewhere, and it only shows itself in moments like these. There is nothing cool or alternative about Target, so it is futile even to try and live counter to any culture besides the clean, fluorescent, capitalistic haven of a superstore. What a relief.
Emily and I have a recurring insecurity in our relationship. She scrolls too far back on my Instagram and sees photos of me with my exes. Several of them in the self-checkout camera. Sometimes she compares herself to them, compares me now with how I seemed with them. She fears being controlling or overly jealous, so she does not ask me to delete them, though I know it upsets her. Sometimes she scrolls back to these photos if she wants to hurt herself, and I apologize for keeping them. I do not tell her that I know she keeps a small passport photo of her ex-girlfriend between two books on her shelf. Instead I say, “I should really get rid of them, I just never have the time or energy to sanitize my public presence.” She says she understands, that she knows she’s silly for caring. Neither of us is wrong, though I wonder if I should just delete the photos, keep them in some dusty folder in the ether, and have them only for archival purposes. Yet there is something violent to me about the idea of erasing them, a time the people in those photos shared together, happy once and now doing fine without one another. I do not want to be another queer relationship that hurtled toward fatality. No trace of us left behind, as if we never existed together in queer ways and utterly mainstream ones. I delete the photos that announce the intensity of my former love for those women, but I leave some harmless ones up too. I do not want to watch another lesbian die on a screen.
Today in the camera my eyes look a bit larger and hollowed than usual. Stray hairs fall from Emily’s ponytail and hang in front of her face as she punches in her debit pin. I watch myself reach out and touch the small of her back, and pull her hips a little closer to mine. Sometimes it surprises me that we inhabit different bodies, we feel so entwined. Watching us check out, I feel a stillness I haven’t felt all day. The self-check out encourages nowness—a rare consumer mindfulness. The self-checkout dares us to imagine that we live like this forever.
ALYSE BURNSIDE is a writer living in Las Vegas, Nevada. She is currently a Creative Nonfiction MFA Candidate at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, where she is working on a collection of essays about surveillance culture, the seduction and fear of seeing and being seen, loneliness, and anxiety. She is also working on a memoir about her grandmother, who worked as a typist at Area 51 before becoming a spiritualist healer and channel to an ancient Lemurian shaman.
you can get in touch with her here: alyseburnside.com