Nov 18, 2014

Fall 2003: Straight Guys Never Figure It Out

When I was living in Florida, newcomers from the small towns (or big cities) of the vast homophobic Straight World often went crazy with joy: "You can be open here!  You can be free!"  They found a job in a gay venue, read only gay books, went only to gay movies, and never ventured beyond the magic square bounded by Oakland Park Blvd., Powerline Road, NW 13th Street, and the Atlantic Ocean.

"Oh, you live on NW 12th Street?  Isn't that a little...iffy?"

Most residents of Wilton Manors weren't quite so insular.  But all of our friends were gay.  So were our neighbors.  And, as far as we know, so was the guy on the next treadmill at Barney's Gym, the guy sorting coupons in the check out line at the Publix Supermarket, and the woman browsing among the humorous cards at To the Moon.  We avoided heterosexuals as much as possible.  They were the enemy, screaming "God hates you!" from behind security fences at Gay Pride, or asking simpering, insulting questions, like "What do they think causes it now?"

So my house mates were surprised, and not entirely sympathetic when I befriended a heterosexual.

In the fall of 2003, when I was working at Florida Atlantic University, I saw Josh (not his real name) in the locker room of the campus gym, stripping out of a plaid shirt, suspenders, and a ridiculous red bowtie. I concluded that he was heterosexual almost immediately, through the gleaming, new-looking ring on his finger and his casual references to his wife. Surely Josh concluded that I was gay almost immediately, from my answer to the question " What are you working on now?” (media images of gay teenagers), or from the shelves of gay books, rainbow flag mouse pad, and gay pride poster in my office.

But no, when an attractive girl passed, Josh nudged me so I could look.  "I only look at guys," I said.

That didn't do it.

"He will never figure it out," my housemate Yuri told me.  "Stupid straight guys can never see anything but straights."

"Anyway, why would you want to tell a breeder?" my other housemate, Barney, said with an accusatory glare, as if I was planning some act of treason.  "When he finds out, he'll start screaming that you're trying to molest him."

"He's not a friend, really.  He just comes to my office to chat.  Besides, it's a challenge.  Somehow or other I'm going to get him to figure it out!"

"Impossible!"  Barney exclaimed.  "But why don't we make it interesting?  I'll bet you $20 that you can't get him to figure it out during the next week.  You can say anything you want except 'I'm gay.'"

"I want in on this thing too," Yuri said.  "But you can't cruise him.  Or talk about your old boyfriends."

I spent the next week dropping all of the hints I could think of.

"I can't get married in this state.  It's illegal."
"Oh...still married to the wife back home, huh?"
No, you nitwit, gay people can't get married!

"I can't donate blood.  It's illegal."
"I hear you.  Get a venereal disease just once, it haunts you for the rest of your life."
No, you idiot, gay men can't donate blood!

"My childhood church was totally homophobic.  It blamed gays for everything from child molestation to 9/11."
"That's ridiculous!  Gays are just people, like you and me."
Are you in on the bet?  Did my housemates pay you to pretend ignorance?

Finally in desperation I invited Josh over for dinner with Barney and Yuri.

"Oh, a guys' night!  Leave the girlfriends at home!  Sounds great!"

During dinner, I brought up Wilton Manors' reputation as a gay mecca.
"Yeah, gentrifying neighborhoods often have gay guys fixing things up."

Barney's job managing a gym with a mostly gay clientele.
"It's great that you're so secure in your masculinity that you aren't worried about them seeing you naked in the locker room."

Yuri's quest for the World's Biggest Penis in the Basque country of Spain four years ago.
"Wow, are they really that big?  They must really impress the ladies!"

My housemates grinned at me.

After dinner I invited Josh to select a movie to watch from our collection of 200-odd DVDS. Other than a few classics, they all had gay characters, gay subtexts, or covers displaying muscular guys with their shirts off. Without a word or even an odd look, he selected Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which has none.

Josh sat on the couch, directly behind a coffee table containing a pile of gay magazines. On top was an issue of The Advocate, selected deliberately because the word “Gay” was written on the cover three times, along with photos of the gay icons Harvey Milk and Chad Allen. Surely that would be enough.

It wasn't.

After the movie, we were channel surfing, when an attractive man appeared on the screen. “Wait – go back,” I exclaimed. “That guy was totally hot!”

"What for?"  Josh asked.  "It was a guy."

Finally in desperation, I pulled out my wallet, handed $20 bills to Yuri and Barney, and said, in a loud, clear voice, "I am gay."

"Yeah, right.  Don't be funny."  He turned to Yuri.  "Does Boomer always joke around like this?"

"Yes, all the time," he said, barely restraining his laughter.  "Except when he wants to impress a girl."

I hit him on the head with a pillow.

When they finally assured Josh that I wasn't joking, he was shocked.  "I had no idea.  You hide it so well!"

Hide it?

Then: "I think it's great that you guys are so secure in your masculinity that you don't mind having a gay roommate."

See also: My Relatives Never Figure It Out; Was It a Screen?; and Gay People Do Not Exist