Some straight men are just relieved when you gays don’t try to woo them

Seductive man

I recently attended an event about the life and work of James Baldwin. I knew him only as the author of Giovanni’s Room, which I hadn’t yet read, and as a civil rights activist. But I didn’t know any details about the man.

The event was pegged to the publication of a fancy new edition of Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. The book costs $200, so neither you nor I can afford it. But it contains old and new photographs by Steve Schapiro, who captured some of the most arresting portraits of the civil rights era. In fact, Schapiro was at the event itself, recounting tales of travelling to the south as a white photographer and hanging out with people like Baldwin and Martin Luther King.

The other speaker was Quincy Troupe, a poet and writer who knew Baldwin in the 70s and 80s. He was the last person to interview Baldwin, in his home in France before he died in 1987.

Because of the book publication, the discussion centred on Baldwin’s role in civil rights activism. But to me, it was also of interest that Baldwin was gay, and made such a huge contribution to gay life as Giovanni’s Room, which I knew was significant. (I’ve since read it, and I can confirm it’s stunning and still important.) So I was pleased to hear the moderator bring up Baldwin’s love of men. He asked something like, “What role did his homosexuality play in his activism?”

I thought that was a poor question. It’s not quite clear what it meant, or how one might answer it. The speakers bungled it. The both sorta shrugged and said that Baldwin had never tried anything with them.

I was shocked by this answer—from both of them. Whatever the question was, it definitively wasn’t about that! What on earth made them both think that we’d be interested in whether Baldwin fancied them, or, knowing they were straight, made a pass at them? Sure, it’s fun gossip but we were here to discuss his activism and his courage and his brain. Whether he shared his dick pics is another matter entirely.

I decided to give them a second chance. In the audience Q&A, I raised my hand. I asked: “My question isn’t whether you were worried that he’d come on to you, but whether he worried that his homosexuality would be used against him or to undermine the civil rights movement?”

I don’t think they’d ever thought about that, because yet again they bungled it. They both said he didn’t hide his sexuality but also that it wasn’t on display either.

Hmmm. OK.

What is it about straight guys who can’t give a straight answer like “I don’t know”?

It was clear they hadn’t discussed this with Baldwin. Or at least that he hadn’t confided his thoughts in them. I still don’t know the answer. I will have to read more about Baldwin.

Meanwhile I can amuse myself by picturing these two usually thoughtful and well-meaning guys stumbling over this topic. The story shows that even with gay people in your life, you have to go the extra mile to understand where they’re coming from. And I don’t mean worrying about the angle at which they’ll try to lean in for a wet snog.

I have three reactions when someone says I’m attractive

frttyldldAre you hot? Handsome? Symmetrical? Sexy? Who knows?

Other people know. They’ll tell you. They’ll look at you and their eyes will show what they’re feeling. They’ll text you, they’ll wolf-whistle you, they’ll whisper it in your ear.

For some people, this is how they find out whether they’re attractive: by waiting for others to make the judgement. And even then, they may not believe what they’re told.

But some of us decide ourselves whether we’re good-looking. We just decide one day: you know what, I’m alright. I’m at least 82% of the way I’d like to be, and that’s enough. If that guy doesn’t find me attractive, it’s his loss; someone else will. This is how I feel, aged 31, having spread out most of my teenage puppy fat and having resigned myself to the fact that unless I do crunches I’m not going to have a totally flat stomach with pecs (I choose books over crunches).

Still… how do I feel when someone says I’m attractive? My friend asked me that recently, and I came up with three answers. Here they are. I said it first depends on the person doing the flattering, and the circumstances.

  1. If it’s a guy who I find attractive, I’ll feel pleased with him saying I’m fit. It’s not that it will make me feel better (I’m already happy with my 82%, remember). But what it does make me feel is promise. We both find each other attractive, so there’s the chance, probably slim, that we might be able to snog. Or maybe more. So I have a simple reaction to a fit guy calling me fit: “Let’s hang out?”
  2. If it’s a guy who I don’t find attractive, I’ll feel no different about myself (still 82% loving it!), but I will feel pleased for him. It’s lovely that I’m the source of his pleasure, even if it’s just a simple, unreciprocated visual pleasure that he gets from looking at me. I love looking at people who I find beautiful. You know the feeling: you can’t take your eyes off them, but you’re in KFC and it’s weird to stare too long at anything other than the menu board. So my reaction to this kind of compliment is: “Close, mate, but not close enough.”
  3. This is the most common way that a person says I’m attractive. It’s when a person compliments you on your look. It’s a colleague who says, “Oooh, you got a hair cut, that’s nice.” Or your sister who says “I like you in that shirt”. Or your gay friend who says “I do think you’re hot, I don’t wanna shag you, because it’s you, but other guys will. Love you!” These sorts of compliments always take me by surprise because they’re always so incidental to everything else that’s going on. They sorta don’t really mean anything. Unlike Type 1 (above), Type 3 is completely useless to me. I mean, it’s nice—but I don’t really receive as anything. I’m already at 82%! I’m good. I’m sorted. I’ll find someone to do Type 1 with.

What do you think? Are there any more ways?

In trying to be a man, I missed out on so many friendships

When kids are growing up, they see the difference between boys and girls, men and women. In films and video games, men do the most things—the fighting, the wise-cracking, the hunting, the problem solving. Women generally earn less money, don’t have as many important jobs, and do much of the housework and caring for the kids. So girls and boys pick up the fact that there’s a feeling, usually unspoken, that men have more power than women.

This means that being a girl is worse than being a boy—that’s how kids see it. For a boy, being seen to be a girl is really scary because it means he’d be giving up the chance to be on the more powerful side. I know that some boys support Grimsby Town, but generally why would any little boy want to be on the crap side in life?

Boys really want to have power, so until they can get some real power through having a job or having money, they court it in games. Boys play with guns and magic, worship superheroes, and pretend to do jobs that come with power, like builders or footballers. When I was a boy, I wasn’t too interested in these things. I don’t know why (please analyse me in the comments), but I wasn’t that keen on pretending. I preferred just to read. I just wanted ideas and the chance to peek into other people’s lives—so books were my closest friends. Continue reading

Men: how and where we can touch each other

men touching - Flyboys via Neil Crosby via FlickrI’m not talking about sex. No homo, as the cool lads say when they touch each other for any reason other than a punch. No homo, a guy says to assure his mate that even though he’s touched his mate’s face or arm or knee, it doesn’t mean he wants to touch his willy too. As ever there are ways that men are allowed to touch each other and ways that they definitely aren’t. If you want to keep your masculinity in tact, you’re allowed to touch another guy by punching him in the face—your knuckles pushing into his cheekbones—or by shaking his hand to say hello or to seal a deal.

Continue reading

Am I supposed to coordinate my beard and head hair lengths?

Beard man by ythedarkdays on Flickr

For my day job I spend a lot of time in Shoreditch, east London. Shoreditch is the capital of the hipster culture. It is the epicentre of beard. Shoreditch is to beard what Cornwall is to pasties.

I don’t really have a beard. I have a face with hair that is just as old as the last time I shaved. I mean, I don’t cultivate a beard. I just use clippers to cut the hair every 10 days or so. After day 9 or 10 it gets scratchy and I have to start the growth process again. It’s just a part of my body that grows and then gets cut and then grows again. If I have a beard then Tony Blair has morality: sometimes there and sometimes not. Continue reading

How a KFC advert ruined my coming out

Families and fried chicken. What more do you need?

I’m almost everything my mum and dad wanted me to be. I came so close, and yet I’m so far. I don’t own a car or a home, I not socially conservative like they are—and recently I told them I’m gay.

Uh oh. Well, they had it coming. And they probably knew they had it coming. I haven’t ever had a partner and have basically played the role of an asexual person. So they must have suspected something…

Continue reading

Come off it. Tinder isn’t killing relationships.

My friend posted an article on my Facebook wall. She said it makes some interesting points and that she likes the style of journalism. I can only assume she was trying to bait me. It worked. The article is “This Is How We Date Now” by Jamie Varon. Here’s reply to my friend:

It’s polemic, not journalism. It’s a bit shouty for my liking. I don’t like all those short sentences declaring ‘facts’, rather than thoughtful sentences building up a fair and cogent argument. And, um, I disagree with the argument itself.

The writer makes three mistakes. First, she takes an old-fashioned view on relationships by implying that ultimately what ‘we’ all want is a committed life partner. I don’t want this, so I’m worried that she wouldn’t find me acceptable as a person or genuine lol. Second, she argues that modern life (Tinder etc) doesn’t make the kind of relationships that she sees as the gold standard possible. It’s a classic mistake that ignores all the millions of people who have found what they want while living this modern lifestyle (yeah, people even find ‘true love’ on Tinder). I don’t know who she is to say what the gold standard relationship should be. She implies she’s talking about something universal, which is obviously not true. It’s not true because there are people who don’t need what he seems to think everyone needs. And it’s not true because even those people who do choose what the writer says she thinks they need, ie a conventional relationship, often end up having profound sexual or emotional relationships outside of that anyway.

Third, she wraps the whole thing up in the idea that we’re all empty really and we just need love from another person, a life partner, to make us feel whole. I don’t doubt that’s true for a lot of people. But to imply that the only way we can feel whole is by having one special person isn’t fair on those of us who don’t feel like that. I feel like I can take on the world by myself. I feel that I’m stronger when people stand with me, but I don’t fancy the idea of being expected to lift one person to become the Chosen One out of the pack of my friends, lovers and family members. Yes, we are all empty really and we seek love from others to fill us up, and there are some people who want one person to do that and some who are happy to lean on several people.

To judgmentally criticise technology like Tinder, which connects us to so many people and has led many of us to have deep and beneficial friendships and relationships, is just classic anti-technology claptrap. Maybe the poor gal just needs to get laid?

Fake it ’til you make it by Bryony Kimmings and Tim Grayburn

This is a love story, but not as you know it. There’s a hand whisk and chronic depression. There’s a mambo and suicidal desires. There’s even a really bloody awkward game of badminton.

Bryony and Tim have made an outstanding piece of theatre and performance art. She is an artist and he is, well, now he’s an artist too. He gave up his day job in advertising to go on the road with his partner Bryony. Their show is about how their relationship has dealt with Tim’s poor mental health.

Continue reading

What I’ve learnt since Being a Man at Southbank Centre

A lot has changed for me in the last eighteen months. I’ve had to take control of my nose hair and I’ve had way more sex than before. These things may or may not be connected to each other or to the Southbank Centre’s inaugural Being a Man festival, 31 January to 2 February 2014. On Saturday I’m going to a planning session at the Southbank for the next festival, due for November. I blogged about earlier ideas here. In the meantime I thought I’d recap a few things that are not to do with nose hair but ARE to do with blokes and have happened to me since the last Being a Man. Continue reading

My post for The F Word: Real Men are dodging the reality of manhood

I published a guest post on The F Word! So thrilled!

Here’s an excerpt:

I didn’t feel comfortable at all, despite the organisers’ best efforts to make me comfortable with their soft voices, their candles and their Himalayan prayer bowls. I felt the love in the room, but it didn’t feel real. I’ve been desperately trying to understand why I can’t feel the kind of love that was warming the other men.

The full post is here.