Playing the straight man

So, yesterday was Hallowe’en (officially, as opposed to the week of lead-in events, which were technically optional), which meant that I was up late running around like a fool in my costume.  My outfit this year wasn’t especially inspired (it never is, really; I’m just not enough into Hallowe’en to put much effort into it), but it was generally well-accepted.  I was a bunny rabbit.

The first image that probably comes to mind is a giant, head-to-toe, sweaty mascot costume, with a basket of eggs.  Nothing in the world could make me do that, and as an aside I have enormous respect for the poor sods at Disneyland who have to waddle around all day under the scorching sun basically wrapped inside a carpet.  No, my costume was much less ambitious — fluffy ears (one bent at a “rakish” angle), a poofy tail, a white t-shirt, and the little white bow tie that seems to be required of any anthropomorphised bunny.  The ears kept falling over my eyes, which became increasingly annoying the longer I wore them.

Now, yes, I know — bunny costumes are not traditionally worn by men.  I did it partly because I enjoy the implied subtextual cultural criticism of a man sporting the symbolism of a traditionally female subservient role, and partly because I like bunnies.  Also, I look decent enough in a tight white t-shirt, and it seemed like a good outfit to go dancing in because it wouldn’t be too hot, and wasn’t likely no annoy the hell out of people trying to dance near me (I saw several eye-related injuries from pokey winged costumes last night).

I’ll just come out and say what you’re thinking, and get it out of the way: yep, I looked hella gay.

Now, I’m not gay.  To be honest, I’m not even close to gay, which is actually kind of a shame because I’ve always lived in what could be described with meaningful understatement as a queer-friendly environment.  I was raised in a city with a large and culturally-significant queer population, and I’ve spent most of my adult life living in two other cities with large and very prominent gay (LGBTQQIABBQ) communities.  I was an actor for awhile (probably the gayest profession that doesn’t involve wearing tights), my mom would have been fine if I’d turned out to be gay (although I doubt she was rooting for it), and I have a university degree from a program where queer-theory was ubiquitous and straight men were not.  What sucks is that somewhere out there, some conservative senator’s son is miserable, terrified, desperately-closeted, and feeling driven to unfortunate decisions;  meanwhile, I’m surrounded by family and friends who would support me regardless of my sexual-orientation, and I’m not even getting the most out of it.

But, all of that contributes to put an odd cultural weight on me as the straight man out.  I ended last night dancing at a gay club, in a bunny costume.  The straight guy in that position occupies a small, interesting corner of the cultural continuum.

Why do I put myself there?  Well, why wouldn’t I?  I like dancing (and, no, I’m not any good at it), the club we ended up at had several great dance floors, and some of the people I went with were on the prowl and so actually got something out of a giant building full of drunk gay men.  I danced with my friends and had a great time, just like the women there (who, with only a few exceptions, were not gay men).

And, on a more general note, I’m artsy and a wee bit metro, so I like nicer, fitted clothes, and I’m not a big fan of body hair.  And, yes, even though my general musical tastes lean towards early-80’s arena rock,  Lady Gaga is really catchy.  If someone wants to assume that I’m gay (and, bunny costume in a gay club?  Yeah, I’m not going to say that anyone would have been making an unreasonable assumption), then that’s fine.

So, how am I supposed to behave, when I knowingly toss myself into a place where I’m being seen as something I’m not?  I admit I’m occasionally concerned that people will be offended when they realise I’m not what they perceive me to be, and sometimes that makes me reluctant to be too vocal about my straight-ness.  The problem, though, is that if I’m quiet or non-committal about my sexuality (and really, whose business is it, anyway?) then in a sense I am pretending.  On the other hand, how exactly am I supposed to trumpet my heterosexuality?  I could put it in big letters on my shirt, and people would still just assume that I wore the shirt ironically.  I suppose if I had a proper girlfriend right now I could drop her into conversation, but that just seems contrived and forced, and flat-out mentioning my sexuality is even worse.

“Hey, I’m getting another drink.  Want anything?”

“No thanks, I’m straight.”

If there’s a healthy middle ground there, I don’t see it, so in general I just shut up and don’t bother disabusing anyone’s assumptions unless it actually matters.  I’m not quite comfortable with that, but I really don’t see a more graceful way.

The idealised response to all this is, of course, that sexuality is none of anyone’s business, and someone who has a problem with it is being sexuality-phobic and narrow-minded.  But, it’s not that simple.  When you have an oppressed (some would even say embattled) minority community, then you have people who find comfort and even safety in being among their own.  It can be distressing to realise that your environment isn’t as “safe” as you thought, and I’m aware that for some my presence represents an intrusion.  However, I have no idea how to be respectful of that without also being offensively outgoing with my sexuality.

I’ve even had a few people tell me that I want to be gay, that I’m trying to fake my way inside the community like it’s some sort of exclusive club with a nice golf course.

I was an actor, in a city with a huge gay population, ten years after the infection explosion, at a time when ten years was about how long you got.  I watched friends die, slowly, and an entire community bled.  Just last year I saw an electorate vote for change at the same time as it took marriage away from people who just want recognition.  The gay community (and moreso the individuals out there, who don’t even have that community behind them) have been through enough that only an idiot would want that.  Matthew Shepard sure as hell didn’t want that.  You take it because it’s who you are, and you hope that you’ll be able to see things get better.  I’ll always be there to support my friends, but I’m also grateful to have been born into a place where things are easier.  I think modern society is coming along nicely, but we’re nowhere near the point where anyone would want to be an unequal minority.

That’s a fair bit of thinking from someone who just likes to wear bunny ears and go dancing.  I don’t offer this as any sort of social commentary, and I acknowledge that everything I see about the gay community is ultimately the perspective of an outsider looking in.  But, it’s something to think about that our preoccupation with sexuality — an absurdly trivial personal characteristic, given how little evidence about it even comes up in day-to-day life — engenders (see what I did, there?) self-conscious feelings even in non-sexual situations.  We’ve created a very public set of cultures and behaviours around what is basically a totally private, and ultimately not terribly important, characteristic.  I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I can’t help but wonder why we do it at all.  With the enormous weight of cultural and social convention that’s already out there, why do we need more?

What if I just want to go dancing?

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