Being queer on a straight night out

busy night out

It can be a nervous condition. That is the phrase used to describe the experience of the colonised in the presence of a foreign, military power. But for me, being the only queer at a party isn’t like being a black person in Rhodesia in the 19th century, surrounded by British soldiers. It’s more like being one of the soldiers, but particularly the quirky one who would probably cough at the wrong moment and get everybody killed.

This week I went to two parties and let me say now that I enjoyed them both. Different people, different drinks, different places—all fun. What I’m discussing here is not quality differences (high or low); just sub-cultural ones.

The first party was for the 4th of July and it was hosted by a guy I know and his two boyfriends (they’re all in a relationship together). They live in a house with a lesbian couple—each relationship has its own flat, but they all own the house together, or at least as much as the law allows. The party was mostly people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. I didn’t know the gender of some of the guests. This is always tough for me initially because we’re all trained to want to categorise a person based on that most basic of characteristics when we meet them. But once you’ve talked for a bit you realise it doesn’t really matter. As it happened, this person and I found plenty of common ground making fun of our mutual friend, the night’s host.

I spent most of my time talking to two or three men who I assumed easily were gay. We had fun sparring verbally, and one of them even gave me a back rub. I said I assumed they were gay, or queer or whatever, and the point is: it was a fair assumption. With three gay hosts, it was safe to say there’d be many gay guests. This is partly why I felt so comfortable. Even if I started chatting up a poor straight boy, it’s not as if he’d punch me. Not there. In a straight pub, there’s always that chance.

So I flirted dangerously. I touched men—just a hand on the arm, that kind of thing. I even hugged strangers. I chatted to one young woman briefly, mostly about the collective house she lives in, and she said she liked me, and I’d have to come to her next party, and then the fireworks started and she put her hand around my waist. It was not a come-on. She’s probably gay and I had probably mentioned sucking dick in her presence. It was just two people—opposite genders!—sharing a moment of human touch and gunpowder.

The next party was a Saturday night. It was thrown by a friend in honour of her friend who’d just moved to New York City. I picked up a bottle of gin, one of tonic, and a lemon, and dragged them up two flights of stairs to the flat. It’s in the West Village—full of bars and restaurants. It’s so expensive, I’m shocked I know anyone who lives there.

There was a decent volume when I arrived. I could hear it from the hallway. When I went to a gay house party a few weeks ago, it was quiet, guests were supping at tiny drinks, and they looked at me when I came in. Instant judgement. I didn’t feel that on the Saturday welcome party. Most people barely noticed the newcomer as I walked in. I did a quick scan: there was no boy I fancied—so there wasn’t even the chance of me making it a queer party.

I set about making old-fashioneds with the hostess. We clinked and supped—delicious. Most of the girls were pretty smart, and the guys were guys, which means checkered shirts or stripey Ts. Clean sneakers. It wasn’t this that intimidated me about the men. It was that they were clustered together. They may not have been talking about sports or women but even if they were talking about something I could join in with, the style of an all-straight-guy convo is usually too much for me. They compete to know stuff and I just zzzz.

So I found myself in the hostess’s bedroom—quieter, cooler, but still open to the rest of the party. I spent most of my time there chatting and joking with the subject of the party, her friend, a hanger-on, and a humourless, superior gloop. The hostess thought the gloop and I might get along because we do a similar job but, god, she was a bore. She just seemed very uptight, unwilling to give anything away or even to try to crack a joke. It was as if she only dropped by so she had someone to tell that she’d just been to such-and-such an art gallery.

So I spent most of my time at the straight party in the company of women, and at the queer party in mixed company. (Straight men, you scare me?)

I did interact with men a little. Most notably with the guy who is kinda getting together with my friend the hostess. He controlled the music for a period just before we all went out. I can’t remember what exactly happened now, but he and I conspired to choose a song—and our conspiracy was felt by both of us to be a victory. We spontaneously high-fived to seal the win, and I jumped up and said, “Oh my god, that was the most masculine thing I’ve ever done!”

Everyone laughed. I punched the air and said, “I’m a man.”

Fortunately the guy didn’t misjudge this as mockery. Even though he’s tall, dark, bearded and handsome—the height of a ‘man’. Did I say well-dressed?

It was my spirit to play along with the game and everyone else’s amusement of me that propelled us all, together, to the nearby pub. We paid $10 to get in (“It all goes to the band,” the door lady said, a little too earnestly.)

The pub was jumping. Up and down in the straightest of lines. More men in checkered shirts and gelled hair. Women wearing straps, their hair shiny as if anyone could really tell in the darkness of a pub that seemed to charge $10 for everything (I got an amaretto and coke). The band was fronted by a chubby guy with a shaved head and a black T-shirt who knew all the words to Summer of ’69. He needn’t have learnt them: everyone in the bar chanted them all anyway. Booze was everywhere, including the floor. Lonely men sat at the edges, and women tried to chatter between songs.

My crowd was fun, so I was having fun. I knew I wouldn’t last long—that pub was a little too much. But then the opening chords of Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run started—and I lost my shit. I know every word, every pause, even the rhythm of the sax solo. One of our party was trying to air-guitar it but I quickly showed him it was a sax sound—and then I played it out. As if I were channeling Clarence himself.

Of course, the new manly friend I’d high-fived knew the words too. Our hostess and the subject of the party were a little lost, but entertained anyway. This was how the guy and I had our second bro-ment: first a high-five and then screaming Springsteen lyrics to each other amid a Village din.

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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