Nov 23, 2015

Spring 1998: Was It a Screen?

Speaking of clueless straight guys, in the fall of 1997, when I was in grad school at Long Island University, the eight grad students in my "cohort" all shared an office.  We hung out there and chatted.  I didn't actually have "The Conversation" with any of them, but come on -- discussions of the guys I'm dating?

Especially when I bring same-sex dates to all of the departmental parties, barbecues, receptions, and other festivities.

And discuss the same-sex dates in detail, especially Jaan the Estonian mountain climber.  I told them about where I took him on our first date, about the gift I gave him for his birthday, about how Yuri and I were competing over him.  I even described his pecs and biceps, and ability to bench press 320 lbs.

Most of them got it, eventually, but Todd didn't.

A 22-year old graduate of SUNY Albany, short and slim with a fragile, wounded face, one of those people we called a "born-again sociologist," someone who believes that sociology has the answer to every question, and every other field of inquiry is worthless.

One day he asked around the office about the quote: "If I have seen far, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants."  What sociologist said that?  He wanted to use it in his paper.

He was crestfallen to discover that it was said by Sir Isaac Newton, not a sociologist. Therefore worthless.

Early in the spring semester of 1998, in the midst of some conversation or other, Todd turned to me, a look of utter shock on his fragile, wounded face, and said “Wait. . .are you trying to tell me that you’re gay?”

“ mean, how could you not know that? I’ve been telling you about my boyfriend for months.”

“You mean your girlfriend?”

“Boyfriend,” I repeated.

“Well, maybe it’s your boyfriend, but you definitely told me she was a girl. Was that a screen?”

We sat around for twenty minutes trying to figure it out. Todd recalled me using the words “girl” and “girl-friend.” He could remember the expression on my face, the intonation of my voice, as I said:  “She was flirting with Yuri last night,” “I gave her a romantic birthday card,” or “I’m inviting her home to meet my parents.”

But I had just come from 13 years in West Hollywood, where passing was a cardinal sin.  I would never dream of transforming "he" into "she," or of using vague terms that left one with the impression of straightness without actually saying it.

Apparently Todd was switching the pronouns himself. Without even realizing it, he had been making mental adjustments, hearing girl instead of boy, she instead of he, her instead of him.

What about the descriptions of Jaan’s hot body, chest, abs, biceps? Bench-pressing ability?

"I figured you also had a male friend with the same name, and you were describing him."

" never commented on this coincidence, having two friends, a boy and a girl, both named Jaan?"

He shrugged.  "What other explanation was there?  You never told me that you know, that way.  How was I to know?"

What kind of mental gymnastics were necessary to avoid the more obvious conclusion?  Why conjure up a screen memory as rich and detailed as those that hide alien abductions?  What was so threatening about the simple observation that Boomer dates guys?