Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Okay. I heard from a man who was treated miserably by his straight bosses at a fine (non-gay) dining establishment, but was treated nicely by gay male customers (or at least men he perceived as being gay) who tipped so well that he now wants to find employment in a gay bar. He's annoyed that I -- and many other gay men -- wonder about the true sexuality of straight bartenders in gay bars, although my original post gave plenty of reasons for it. Now I'll continue my reply (although I also intend it to serve as an "open message" to any straight guy who wants to work in a gay bar):
"Working in a non-gay bar with a few friendly gay customers doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy working in an all or mostly gay bar, or that the customers will be as friendly to you – or vice versa -- after you’ve worked there for awhile. (Some gay men are simply irritated by straight bartenders – they just can’t relate to them; I’ll explain why in a moment). And there are as many different types of gay bars as there are gay men; some would really not appeal to a genuine straight guy.
And let me address, hopefully for the final time, this whole business of tipping. I remember the owner of a gay bar that employed a couple of straight-identified bartenders saying that it had to be about more than the tips, because a good bartender can make good money in any popular bar. They don’t have to work in a gay one. Some of your gay customers were nice to you and tipped well, but surely some of your straight customers were nice and tipped well also, no? In my experience (which is, frankly, greater than yours) – I’ve had gay and straight friends for years and go to gay and straight bars – gay men don’t tip any better than anyone else.
I can tell you that my friends and I base our tips on the following: How much the drink costs, how friendly the bartender is (never how "hot"), how many drinks I plan to have and – most importantly – how much money I have in my pocket. I don’t tip gay bartenders better than straight ones, or vice versa, no matter where I am. This whole business about gays tipping better is, in my opinion, nonsense. Often how people tip has nothing to do with their sexual orientation or whether a place is gay or straight, but what kind of establishment it is. And may I reiterate that having a few (I assume obviously or stereotypically) gay customers in a non-gay bar is not the same as working in an all-gay or mostly gay environment where many gay men will be more "macho" and not so "funny and fabulous" like the Queer Eye guys -- assuming that's what you enjoyed about these customers; the "camping," that is.
Some people theorize that straight men work in gay bars for narcissistic reasons – gay men can be more demonstrative in their approval and flirting than some women. But these guys, straight or closeted, have to ask themselves: what is it about them that makes them crave the attention of gay men? (For the record there is nothing worse, in or out of a gay bar, then a cocky straight guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to gay men and expects us all to either genuflect or go all goo-goo eyed when we look at him. Yuck! It’s now considered very old-fashioned behavior for gay guys to moon over a straight guy when there are all kinds of gay guys of every type imaginable in the world to hit on, including very masculine guys if that's what you're after.)
You also need to understand that many gay men – not all – are just not comfortable with straight bartenders in gay bars (this doesn’t mean they’re "intolerant" of straights). It sounds as if you have the right attitude – very different from some (see my post on The Malevolent Munchkin of Christopher Street to read about a really obnoxious straight-i.d.’d bartender as well as other thoughts) and I appreciate your attitude and gay-friendliness, as well as your understanding that most customers will assume you’re gay. Just remember that gay men generally go to gay bars to meet, cruise and hang out with other gay men – we may have straight male friends but we can see them on other occasions.
Gay bars have much more meaning to the gay community than, say, singles bars do to straights. We may in some ways seem the same as straight guys, but never forget that we are also different. We are emotionally, romantically, sexually attracted to OTHER MEN, and there isn’t a gay man alive who wants to get a crush on some straight bartender who can’t even give you an affectionate good-night kiss on the lips, even if nothing else may ever happen, and who doesn’t really relate to, or understand, what it’s like to be gay. Who needs a a straight bartender, especially a somehow attractive or appealing one, in a gay bar when there are so many appealing gay bartenders? Also, straight guys take jobs away from gay men who might feel completely uncomfortable working in a straight environment. (There may be homosexual men working in straight singles bars, but if so, they are deeply closeted. Gay men , of course, are often employed by restaurants, but many of these places are not really gay or straight.)
Another problem with straight bartenders is that their girlfriends come in to the bar, then bring other girlfriends (so that they’re not the only straight woman in the bar, for instance) who then bring their straight boyfriends. Suddenly the bar isn’t so gay anymore, the straight people who come in aren’t always so gay-friendly, and we’ve lost another gay social center. I’ve seen this happen more than once. Most gay men have straight friends, but again, we don’t go to GAY bars to meet straight people, whom we’re surrounded by every day of the week. We want a gay, even a homoerotic, experience. And I know that many gay-friendly straight men are perfectly okay with gay guys as long as those gay guys are not being sexual (I don’t mean hitting on them but hitting on, necking with, each other) or political, talking heatedly about gay rights and homophobic persecution. They just have no interest or even somehow find it offensive. They don’t want to hear about how we’re "oppressed" because some of us make more money or have more career-success than they do, and they’re unsympathetic. They also feel that we can't really be "oppressed" since there are gay-friendly straight people in the world (There are. But certainly not enough of them.)
There are gay men who couldn’t care less about straight bartenders in gay bars – their attitude is "who cares? – they’re just here to serve you drinks and if they’re in the closet that’s their problem" and sometimes I wish I could feel that way but I swear that I and other gay men just get a kind of chill – for lack of a better word – when the bartender reveals that he’s got a wife or girlfriend or only (or primarily) likes women. Maybe it doesn’t matter in a busy, packed bar where there’s no chance to interact with the bartender or get to know him personally, but in a more relaxed, conversational venue I can’t help but think "this guy will just not get me [especially if he’s much younger], I can’t talk about gay rights or hot men with him and I’ll have to put up with his straight friends who may not be so gay-friendly" and so on.
Some of the gay guys who are more or less okay with straight bartenders don’t cruise, may not have an active sex life, are part of an "old married couple," and are definitely not Out and Proud militants like me -- and could even be dealing with a self-hatred that has them deifying straight men (a dying pre-Stonewall attitude but one that persists in some gay men) -- or all of the above. Sometimes they just want to be nice even if a straight presence makes them uncomfortable. And some gay men are so grateful when a straight guy isn’t prejudiced (or at least appears not to be) that they practically fall all over him -- in the figurative sense. Me, I never "thank" straight people for being gay-friendly, any more than an African-American should "thank" white people for not being racist. People shouldn’t be homophobic or racist in this day and age and they don't get points because they're not.
If you’re determined to work in a gay bar be honest with the manager about your orientation – the Stonewall Inn bartender I mention in my original post told the manager he was gay but tells everyone else he’s "straight;" the manager would have been well within his rights if he fired him for lying (or was he?) during the original interview. And don’t cry foul or screech "discrimination" if the manager decides not to hire you; that’s his prerogative as far as I’m concerned. Gay bars are for gay people and there are plenty of straight bars -- or other gay bars -- you can work in.
A straight person doesn’t have to work in or go into a gay bar to hang out with gay friends. Invite a gay couple or single man to your home, or out to dinner. Some, like me, will be perfectly willing to go to a straight bar. And there are lounges which cater to both gays and straights (a better employment bet for you, frankly) where everyone can hang out comfortably. But an all-gay bar, especially a hot cruise bar, is a different matter. At least pick out some gay piano bar or disco into which some or many straight people go – this is often workable. Avoid the hot cruise bars, leather bars, etc. (which you’re really not going to feel comfortable in, believe me, if you’re not at least bi) where the homoerotic atmosphere is extremely important. Nobody will want to see you smooching your girlfriend, assuming she’d even want to go in, when they're trying to get all hot and bothered in a homoerotic fashion. Women are not really welcome in these places by most customers not because they’re sexist, but because they distract/detract from the all-male masculine, homoerotic ambiance. If you were ever in a place like this you’d know what I mean.
Most gay men can get along and have fun with straight men in non-gay environments, as I certainly can (and occasionally even gay environments), but just don’t like straight bartenders in gay bars and that’s that. That doesn’t make us mean or "heterophobic" – we want an all-gay ambiance and frankly we’re entitled to it after all the shit we’ve put up with from most straight men. Even gay-friendly straight guys can have opinions and attitudes that don’t sit well with us. Who needs it? I don’t go to gay bars to educate straight people about gay life. And I confess I resent it if some people – gay or straight – claim that this is "reverse prejudice." Gay people are entitled to their spaces. And this business that "gay men of all people" must always be accepting of everyone – or at least accepting of what they say their sexuality is – seems a little ridiculous to me. Why should we be? Because some people supposedly accept us when most people don't? Sorry, that doesn’t get any points from me, either. Does the fact that we're discriminated against mean we always have to be tolerant of everybody else no matter what they do or say or we're at risk of being labeled hypocrites? Nuts to that!
So you can try to find work in a gay bar, but ultimately you may piss off some of the customers and not enjoy it as much as you think. A lot of it depends on your attitude and behavior as much as the gay guys’. Sadly, some gay men will put up with a lot of crap. I’m sure you would never behave like the "malevolent munchkin," although his problem was more that he was an immature asshole than that he was either straight or conflicted, although that certainly was a contributing factor. It’s hard for any straight guy to be entirely sensitive to or understanding of what’s going through the minds of gay guys (who are a very diverse bunch), especially in a world where it is still perfectly acceptable behavior among most people to tell "fag jokes."
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that many straight people are comfortable enough with gays to want to go into or work in gay bars, and I get that you’re possibly just a perfectly nice, open-minded straight guy, who thinks "I’ve got nothing against gay guys, why can’t we all get along?" Sadly the world just doesn’t run that smoothly, and most straight men (and some gays) have no idea of the level of homophobia that still exists – rarely do they know that you can still get fired just for being gay in 31 states in the U.S., or that there’s a virulent "ex-gay" movement throughout the country that claims gays are sick and which has garnered a massive amount of financial support, and so on. Perhaps I'd be more comfortable with straight guys in gay bars if gay people and straight people were considered equals in this world, and if I hadn't met too many "gay-friendly" straight people, who deep down (like white people who think they have no racist feelings) have homophobic thoughts that come out at unexpected moments. Let me also make it clear that while I may go into straight bars on occasion, I go with straight friends and never while on a date with another man. On some occasions I will tell other people in the bar that I'm gay if a.) I feel it's warranted and the person can deal with it, b.) it will shatter a few stereotypes, and c.) if I feel I can "take" any homophobes in the vicinity. While I often see straight couples necking in gay bars, gay men can not hold hands or make out in most straight bars without inviting abuse. [And let me also say that if a straight man feels "persecuted" because customers in the gay bar where he works think he's gay, it in no way compares to the persecution faced by gay men -- and if he thinks it does he should definitely quit!)
This is hopefully not the case with you, but I’ve discovered that most straight men get angry if you suggest they’re gay not because you’re saying they’re in the closet, but because you’re saying they’re gay. There may well be legitimate 100% – or maybe 85% – straight guys working in gay environments, but I’ve encountered enough gay/bi closet cases drunkenly cruising/making out with guys in other gay bars on their nights off to know that gay-friendly closet cases do exist. Some men simply can’t get past the shame and stigma of being attracted to other men, even if a gay environment is stimulating to them. No, I’m not saying this is the case with you. But the more straight-i.d.’d bartenders in gay bars, the less likely it is that these poor conflicted souls will ever come out of the closet.
Remember, having someone think you’re gay or hitting on you once in a while is one thing – having it happen on a much more regular basis is something else again, and that’s generally when the buried homophobic attitudes that even gay-friendly straight bartenders can have come rising to the surface, and it’s never pleasant for the gay guy who just wants to get away from it all and be in a safe environment where he can totally relax and be himself. So maybe he hopes that the bartender is gay like him. What's wrong with that? So he asks him about it now and then in a nice way. Deal with it. If you can't ask whether or not somebody's gay in a gay bar, then where the hell can you?
And let's remember that the thing you should worry about the most if you work in a gay bar isn't that most of the gay customers will think or hope that you're gay -- but that the gay-bashers who hang around outside some gay bars on occasion hoping to beat up "fags" will think you're gay! It's straight people like that you have to worry about -- not gay men.
Does this sound like I’m trying to discourage you? It’s more that I’m being brutally realistic. It takes a very special straight man to be entirely comfortable and cool in a gay bar and, while you may or may not be one of them, I think they’re a very rare breed.
I thought at first that the documentary wasn't doing much to illuminate the "downlow" lifestyle -- if that's what you want to call it -- but later on I realized that in its low-key (downlow?) way it did illustrate the attitudes that lead many men (of all races) to live on the downlow.
Producer/director Abigail Child interviewed four African-American men from Cleveland, Ohio. Most of them identified as bisexual, but of course they all just came off as gay men, some more stereotypical than others. I was surprised that these particular individuals were chosen to talk about the DL, because I'd always thought that guys on the downlow persisted in their insistence that they were "straight." None of these guys said they were straight. However, since the DL is supposed to be a "secret" lifestyle, I can imagine that guys who are actually on the DL would never participate in a film like this. Still, you did obtain some insights, unsurprising as they may have been.
It's no secret that men on the downlow -- as well as many "straight" and "bisexual" men -- do not want to be labeled gay. Some African-American men on the downlow claim that white culture is more accepting of gays than black culture. (Of course, the whole point of Gay Lib and Gay Pride is for you to accept yourself no matter how others in your particular community feel about you). Most of the men on the downlow seem to have extremely stereotypical notions about gay men. "I don't present myself as a soft guy," says one man, "as a real gay guy." Another man says that he has to deal with enough discrimination as a black man, why would he want to come out as a gay man -- pardon me -- bisexual. (Although there are many, many openly and happily gay African-American men.) A third man claims that he prefers to sleep with women because they're "cleaner than gay men" and less likely to give him AIDS. Apparently he's completely unaware that AIDS is not a "gay disease" and that heteros get it all the time.
In other words, men on the downlow are mostly homosexual men who can't deal with their internalized homophobia. The term "downlow" may be new -- but the situation certainly isn't (there are plenty of homosexuals with wives and girlfriends) -- and it certainly isn't limited to the African-American community. They can't see other men as anything other than sex objects because the thought of living an openly gay life with another man is anathema to them, not because they're basically straight or even necessarily bisexual.
Two of the four men seemed to have girlfriends -- the documentary bounces around a lot and can be confusing. One man says that for him to be with a woman she has to be, more or less, drop dead gorgeous (implying that male lovers don't necessarily have to be "tens," which pretty much indicates that he's much more attracted to men than to women -- there have been gay men who are only "attracted" (somewhat) to uncommonly beautiful women, although the women they wind up with may not be so magnificent. This guy was a 7 or 8 while his actual girlfriend or gal pal or desperately-hoping-he's-basically-hetero lady friend was about a 2 or 3. But this seems to happen a lot when gay men have wives or girlfriends.)
Filmmaker Child offers no commentary or point of view; she just lets the men -- and some of their friends and relatives -- talk. On one hand this device works well enough to help us understand them, but as a couple of them seem somewhat inarticulate and not that intelligent (and none are exactly advocates for gay life), you have to read between the lines. Some narration or opposing points of view -- maybe some comments from Out and Proud Black Men who think the "downlow" is bullshit, of which there are quite a few -- might have provided more balance and given the film more perspective -- and sent a more positive message to those who are not in the know.
But there are positive signs in the film which indicate that these four men are not typical DLers. One man comes out to his military father with some trepidation. "I mean I am his only son," he keeps saying, which becomes irritating -- he's only telling him he's attracted to men, not that he's going to throw himself out of a window. He comes out as "bisexual," but as sometimes happens, the father doesn't react much differently than if he said he was gay, and his reaction is essentially positive, if guarded. "I love you." [However, it should be noted that many people tell they're parents they're bi -- whether they really are or not -- to soften the blow, giving parents the hope that they'll opt for hetero marriage and babies and the whole conventional nine yards. No it's not "pc" to say this and I don't give a shit.]
On an even higher note, the film ends with one of the four men talking about his boyfriend, describing how he's the first person he was ever in love with and how he wants to stay with him forever and grow old together "We're gonna be rockin' on that porch," he says.
Now this guy -- no matter where he was before -- is not on the "downlow" any longer. He's gay, and you find yourself hoping that he and his lover do wind up on that porch many, many happy, proud years from now. He's quite a contrast to the pathetic "macho" guy who thinks gay men are all "unclean," has knocked up his girlfriend, and will probably be confused, conflicted, and self-hating for his entire life.
Child could not have given her film a more perfect ending.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Just as it was no surprise that the bi-identified Tila Tequila ultimately chose a man at the end of the idiotic reality series A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila -- you can read more about it here -- it's also no surprise that she and her chosen one, 25-year-old film student Bobby Banhart, have broken up. Even if anyone had seriously expected that Tequila and Banhart would stay together, the fact that MTV quickly announced a second season of the show should have made it clear that our Tila had not found love -- especially not with a guy.
Tequila and Banhart tell opposing stories. She says that he couldn't put up with her exhausting "work" schedule and dumped her, breaking her heart. He says "she never called me after the last show and no one would give me her number." Somehow I get the feeling that Banhart is telling the truth, but if he decided he didn't want to make a life with a wannabee lesbian who could blame him?
A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila was one of MTV's most popular shows. Straight men and lesbians (none of whom were informed ahead of time of the show's "bisexual" premise) competed for the heart of Tequila. Make no mistake -- the program had nothing to do with Gay Pride or even Bi Pride.
As H L. Mencken once put it (more or less), "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste and intelligence of the American public."
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
My buddy Jack came over the other day and told me he was thinking of joining the Gotham Knights.
"The what?" I said. It rang a small bell but I didn't know what it was.
"It's a gay rugby team," Jack told me. "Well, predominantly gay."
"'Predominantly'?" I asked. "What does that mean?"
"They supposedly have some straight players."
I chuckled, then said. "Why do you want to join a gay rugby team -- or any other rugby team?"
"Oh, really?" I said. I went to my computer, turned it on, typed "Gotham Knights" in the search box, and sure enough up came their web site. I read on the site that you could join the group whether you were attracted to "men, women, both, or neither."
Very pc, I thought -- they not only include bisexual men and straight men, but asexual men as well -- and told Jack, who came over to look. Although I wondered why there wasn't one single woman on the team. I figured it had to do with "male bonding" but actually there are men's and women's divisions in rugby as there are in most sports.
Now, I may be a bear, but the only kind of sports I really enjoy are bedroom sports. My father used to take me to Mets games and I would read a Justice League of America comic book just to have something to do. My father and mother also went to the theater, the opera, concerts -- both were also voracious readers, which may be why I became a writer -- and I grew up with a love of art and culture over athletics. That doesn't mean I don't have my own brand of mindless pleasure: comics, monster movies, James Bond. In truth I probably have more low-brow tastes than high-brow, so I'm not putting anybody down, but watching a bunch of guys knock a ball around pretty much is guaranteed to put me to sleep, unless the guys are really hunky and maybe even then.
As Jack and I looked over the individual profiles of the members of Gotham Knights, I had to admit many were pretty hunky. Unfortunately, most also appeared to be in their thirties or younger. Now I've dated men in their twenties (no, not just when I was in my twenties but recently) but generally the guys who like me are around my own age, and vice versa. Jack is older than me -- don't kill me, Jack, baby -- in his mid-fifties (but I hasten to add that he looks a lot younger than that).
Looking at the photos I said, "so this is why you want to join Gotham Knights."
Jack laughed. "No, no -- I mean, that's a bonus, but I thought it might be something different ..." His voice trailed off.
"Come on," I said. Jack is also a masculine bear but he's watched only one football game in his life, and that was only because his boyfriend at the time was a football fan and Jack was in bed with him while they watched. They had a lot of fun at half time.
He continued to peruse the profiles. I don't know how many straight members they have --maybe they're mostly coaches or staff members -- but you really couldn't tell who was gay or straight. Clicking on name after name, I kept waiting for someone to declare himself Out and Proud, but it was a long time before I saw the "gay" word. Finally someone identified as "queer" and another man wrote about his "husband." Under "most embarrassing moment," one guy wrote that during a game he "screamed like a big queen."
"I sure hope a straight guy didn't write that,"I said, about to bristle with indignation.
"I think it was a gay guy," Jack replied.
"Is he putting down queens?" I may be a bear and I may roll my eyes at Carson Kressley and the like but I really don't like it when my femme brothers are put down (not that we can't kid each other). Or any gay man.
"No, I think he's just being self-effacing."
I concurred. "You're probably right. Gay and self-effacing." And not bad. We both laughed.
I didn't go over every profile. One man said he was an operatic baritone. Neat. I recall seeing some Asian-Americans and Latinos, but I can't recall seeing any African-Americans, but to be fair I didn't click on all the names and there were a lot of them. There is at least one black man in the photo of the team above. Good; I hope the team is ethnically diverse.
The Gotham Knights seems like a very interesting sports team. And not because of its predominantly gay designation. Apparently you can join (I think you have to get through a one day "boot camp" first) even if you're out of shape, nonathletic, and haven't been to a ball game since your father dragged you when you were ten. On their profiles the team members are very enthusiastic and talk about how they've met a "great bunch of guys," "the butchest gay men in New York" and the great camaraderie that the group fosters and encourages in its members (although many of them seemed to concentrate on the drinking and partying that goes on after the games more than on the games themselves -- but what the hell -- everyone likes to carouse). In any case, it's very persuasive. If you go to their web site you can learn the origins of the team, and its relationship to Mark Bingham, the young gay man and rugby star who bravely and tragically died on United Flight 93 on 9/11.
"By the way," I said. "Rugby is described here as 'tactile, interactive violence.' I mean, it's basically football with some differences. You're not in bad shape but you could still bust a nose or an arm. Are you enough of a masochist? Is your health insurance paid up?"
Preoccupied, Jack didn't answer but instead asked: "Why do you think a straight guy would want to join a gay rugby team?"
"Maybe because there are no straight rugby teams in New York City?" I wondered. "Maybe because the straight guy thinks he stinks at sports but he's bound to look good if the other players are all 'fags.' Y'know, gay men can't catch a football crap. A kind of gay-friendly homophobia or condescension. Or maybe the straight guys aren't so straight. Or they're completely straight and completely cool and just love playing sports with whoever. Who knows? Maybe they think if they play with gay guys and they fuck up on the field at least no one will call them a "fairy'."
Jack and I both recalled how we got called homophobic slurs like that a lot as children because we weren't that interested in sports and therefore weren't very good at them. "What do gay athletes call a guy who fucks up on the field?" Jack wondered. " A 'breeder?'"
"Hopefully they're too advanced to call anybody anything. This group sounds serious, but it also sounds like they want everybody to have fun. Shouting at somebody that they 'stink' and calling them names is counter-productive."
Jack wondered if opponents snidely -- if privately --made reference to the straight team members if the Knights won a game against a straight rugby team, as in "Oh yes, they won, but it was their straight team members who saved the day." Let's hope not. Or maybe they just play other mostly-gay teams. I wondered if some dumb people (gay and straight alike) would simply assume -- wrongly -- that they let heteros play because the straight guys could actually play the game while the gay guys just minced about -- stereotyping of the worst sort. There are plenty of strong, skillful gay athletes, although an exclusively gay team would, of course, immediately put paid to this theory, as well as the idea that "it's the straight guys who are carrying the load."
Many gay men -- and I've no doubt many straight men as well -- grow up with a hatred of sports because of the way sports are deified -- almost to the exclusion of all else -- in our society. It's understandable why quite a few gay men don't even want to acknowledge that there are many gay athletes and sports fans. [Even at Gym, the gay sports bar, I've had to tell some customers that, yes, there are gay sports fans!] In some cases, it's not hatred, it's simple disinterest. I've met men, both gay and straight, who played and watched sports in their youth and simply lost interest as they grew older, "growing out of it," as one referred to it. There are just other things that interest them more. (I occasionally go to Gym bar because I like the atmosphere, and even if I don't like sports I can like the guys who like them.)
"So you want to join?" I asked Jack.
He shrugged. "How about you?" he asked.
"Well, I can only think of seven reasons why anyone would want to join this group.
"First, you're a serious sports fan, a former professional athlete or Sunday amateur, you love competitive sports, and want to play with guys who won't put you down for being gay.
"Second, you want to meet some hot, mostly butch guys. Or at least make some new friends."
"Three, you're into 'male bonding.'"
"Four, you're out of shape and this will definitely take a few pounds off."
"Five, you want to prove something to yourself or somebody else -- and I've no doubt this applies to some straight guys as well as gay ones -- that you can take the rough stuff, survive a mini-boot camp, take the punishment, play competitive sports without getting killed, whatever..."
"Six -- you want a new challenge. Or a new experience.
"Seven -- lots of drinking and carousing."
"So? Jack said. "What do you think?"
"Jack," I said, "why do you keep asking me -- you were the one who wanted to join!"
"Yes, but what do you think. Does this appeal to you?"
I sighed and said, "Well, like I said, guys knockin' a ball around -- or knockin' each other around -- don't really stimulate me (I'd rather make love than war); I'm not an athlete or sports fan, so reason number one is out. (I love getting all hot and sweaty with guys but not on a rugby field.) I don't have to join the Gotham Knights to meet hot guys -- most of whom look like they're out of my league in any case (and with my luck I'd probably develop a crush on one of the "straight" or "bi" ones, and that is a pain I never fuckin' want to go through again) --or make new friends, so there goes reason number two. I'm not especially into male bonding, unless it's in the bedroom -- in fact, I think of "male bonding" as something done by straight guys who are trying to get in touch with their feelings or their sensitive side -- so there goes reason number three.
"I don't need to lose a few pounds, thank you very much -- I've never been in better shape --"
"I thought you wanted to build up your upper chest and arms a bit more," Jack reminded me.
"A bit more and I don't have to play rugby to do that, so there goes reason number four. I don't have to prove anything to myself or anyone else. I'm a man, I know I'm a man, and I always will be a man, whether I play rugby or not -- so much for reason number five."
"I don't think the Gotham Knights would argue with that," said Jack with a sly grin.
I laughed. "The butcher ones might. Then there's the partying and drunken carrying-on, which I do once or twice a week anyway, so there goes reason number -- where was I?"
"That was number seven I think. You skipped six."
"Ah, yes, six -- a new experience, a new challenge. Hmmm. This will be a little tougher..." I said.
Jack's eyes brightened. I don't think he wanted to take on this particular challenge alone.
Finally I said: "I love new challenges and experiences, but they have to be things that really interest me, and if that's the case, I can give it as much time as I need -- within reason. It sounds like once you commit to this, you're in for the long haul, it will take a lot of hours, and it won't just be about parties."
"No?" said Jack. Did I detect a quiver in his voice?
"But rugby?" I said. "I mean, that's not even on the list of Things I Want to Do Before I Die. I mean, rugby?" For once I was at a loss for words. "Jack, what do you think?"
Jack didn't actually say anything just then but he looked a little relieved. I think he was mentally reviewing my seven item check list and coming to the same conclusion I had.
"Look,"I said. "If you want to do it, do it. If you're honestly interested, think it would be fun -- and I've no doubt to a large extent it is fun -- then go do it. But it is going to be time-consuming, and we all have a right to spend our precious time on the things that interest us the most. I mean, I'm not going to tell a sports fan -- rugby or anything else -- that he has to attend the opera, read An American Tragedy, or collect every classic issue of Justice League of America he can find on ebay or he won't be a well-rounded individual." [I do like some physical outdoor activities such as swimming, walking and bun-perusing, and I work out on a regular basis.)
Jack said, "or watch Attack of the 50 Foot Woman or Beast from 20,000 Fathoms thirty times."
"Yes! I mean, I genuinely think it's terrific that there's a gay -- pardon me -- gay, straight, bi and asexual rugby team, it just isn't my cup of java. It's not that I can't take it, I just don't want to."
But to tell you the truth I'm glad there's a (mostly) gay rugby team called Gotham Knights, even if I thrill more to the voice of tenor Mario del Monaco or the sight of Ray Harryhausen's prehistoric rhedosaur rising from the Hudson than I do to guys in Jerseys bouncing around on a football field. They probably are a great bunch of guys and I wish them all the best. Allow me a little Gay Pride (and no offense to their hetero members), but I hope the Gotham Knights -- my gay brothers -- kick straight ass every time!
HOWEVER, Jack wondered if there was any age limit to playing with the Knights. I looked at the contact page on their web site and sent an email asking about age requirements. Three days later I still hadn't got an answer so I emailed somebody else, then just used the info link and hoped for at least an anonymous reply. Still no answer the next day. I emailed yet another person and finally heard back from a board member named Alex Fallis. Fallis' response was butch and terse: "You have to be at least 19 years old," he said.
I laughed. What -- were they afraid of age discrimination lawsuits? I emailed him back: "No, come on, LOL, I meant is there an age after which you are no longer allowed to play? Since this is not a 'traditional' team I assume age restrictions are lifted somewhat? Let me know."
Fallis came back with a more informative reply: "There aren't any limits imposed by USA Rugby. The coaches will play people if they feel it is safe for them to play. We do have men start playing in their early 40's, but they are usually people who were athletes previously. Men older than that typically have a difficult time trying to learn due to the high impact nature of the game. It's different for experienced players, and it's different for 40+ rugby, but we play adult men's rugby."
The handwriting was on the wall. It was unlikely they'd let Jack-in-his-mid-fifties play. I gave Jack the bad news. He honestly seemed quite disappointed. I think he had been completely taken in by the "gosh, everyone can play, even if you've never played sports and previously preferred singing show tunes (not that Jack does)" and was honestly thinking about signing up.
"You can always join the armory," I told him.
"What's that -- the cheer-leading squad, the camp followers?"
"Fans of rugby who serve in other capacities but don't play the game.That's one way to sort of be part of it all. "
"That sucks. From their web site you get the idea that anyone can play. I mean, that's what they deliberately make it sound like. I'm probably in better shape than some paunchy guys in their thirties who join their team to lose weight." (He is.)
"But they must know what's what," I reminded him. There might be some exceptions, but they probably were guys who'd been playing rugby for years. Still -- just as some men do have this attitude that all gays are big sissies, even gay men can think older guys are weak and decrepit. Stereotypes die hard. "In any case," I told Jack, "this Fallis guy wasn't exactly mean but he didn't sound especially welcoming, either. Let's face it -- no matter what they say on their web site, they really don't want the paunchy, the old, the opera queens, the effeminate -- they want the typical sports types and it's foolish to expect anything else. I'm sure to them it's just common sense."
I pondered the thought that guys in "macho" groupings, be they athletes or astronauts, always think they have the "right stuff" that no other guys possess. To most straight guys, having the "right stuff" basically means they aren't "fags." To gay guys with the right stuff -- who knows? They aren't "fags" while other gay guys are. Who knows?
"So how old is this guy you heard from?" Jack said as he looked up the man's photo on the website. Checking it out he frowned and said: "I'll tell you, he ain't a youngster."
"Hey, Jack. He was only reporting the situation. He doesn't even know you. And he's probably been playing sports all his life."
Although he later accepted the bad news with his usual life-goes-on heartiness -- sort of -- Jack was too disappointed then to be anything but bitter. "After all that build-up. Anyone can play rugby with us. Sure."
"I reminded him that competitive teams -- gay or straight -- want to win, no matter how much they go on about "it's all about the game and having fun." I told him that if some of the straight team members were better players, they would undoubtedly get more action -- on the field at least -- than some of the gay guys, which is probably why the Knights made such a big deal about letting in all guys no matter what sex they slept with. Cynically, Jack wondered if they had probably always intended to go after straight guys because they might have been afraid they wouldn't -- for whatever reasons -- attract enough decent gay players; the thought was disturbing. I shrugged and said, "It's always about winning," I told him. "Or why bother?"
Jack hasn't said one word about the Gotham Knights since.
I guess if you want to play rugby with the Knights you can be gay, straight, bisexual or neuter.
You just can't be "old."
UPDATE: I heard from John Dent of Gotham Knights who said: "There is no age limit for Gotham Knights RFC, either for playing or membership in the club or the Armory. Though physical fitness does play a role in securing a playing spot on Gotham. Regards, John Dent, Gotham Knights RFC." Sounds reasonable to me. Thanks for the info, John. Talk it over with Alex.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
It's like this. There seem to be a lot of gay advice columnists out there on the World Wide Web, but most of them are -- bless 'em -- "femmes" who give women advice on how to dress or wear their hair. I'm a bear and I couldn't care less about that. Even the gay advice columnists who answer serious questions about the gay community seem to be coming from a very different perspective. And some are just "sex columnists" who even answer questions for impotent straights, gals with boyfriend troubles and the like. There are plenty of straight sex therapists who can answer those kind of questions.
I wanted to give advice to and for the GAY community. By Gay, I don't necessarily mean GLBT. What I mean is, I can certainly tell someone the difference between a homosexual and a transsexual, (just as I can give at least one man's gay viewpoint on bisexuality), but I'm not an expert on transgender issues. I have been openly gay for more years than some younger gay people have been around; I was an active member of the New York's important Gay Activists Alliance for many years; and I have written about gay issues in many gay and straight periodicals. I may not be an actual "doctor" but I don't know who else is more qualified to answer questions about the gay community and gay life for my fellow gays and other interested parties.
I am always giving advice to friends (occasionally unsolicited, admittedly) and to people on message boards, in bars, and the like. Some unbelievers might think "if Bill gives advice it will be like the blind leading the blind" but most people think I'm on the money more times than not. Why not give my good advice in an online forum where it may actually do some good?
Hence the new blog, Ask Gay "Dr. Bill." It's already up and running (only a few days old as of this writing), and I'm already getting questions. Send your questions to email@example.com -- put DR. BILL in the subject line -- and I'll try to answer them on the blog as soon as I'm able to. I'd like serious questions, but I don't mind a funny one now and then. Comments are primarily for follow-up questions from those who contact me for advice, but you can leave a comment on a post if it's respectful and intelligent, and maybe a little funny. (All comments are subject to approval.)
Hope to hear from you!
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Okay, I'm not a meanie. I often find myself liking the more "fabulous" or colorful members of our community. It's just that I do get tired of this whole image of gay men, as one bright person on a message board put it, as "accessories" for straight women (for some reason these guys always seem to cater to straight gals, perhaps out of a disturbing anti-lesbian bias, who knows?), their sole function being to advise them on their hair, clothing, and make up. Guys like this not only don't seem like men, they don't even seem remotely sexual. It's the gay male as eunuch, the court jester. And it's so out of date and inaccurate that it isn't funny. [The very worst "court jester" is Ross the Intern on the Tonight show. He's such an absurd caricature that he hardly seems recognizably human let alone gay.]
They seem to be popping up all over, "queer" guys who will tell straight women how to maximize their assets and minimize their flaws, mix and match cosmetics, where to shop, and how to throw the best dinner party, and -- Enough! Like I said, pass me a barf bag.
Of course the "fab" gay boys have a right to do their thing and carry on in their own stereotypical style. If only they weren't considered "typical" gays. If only straights -- and even many gays -- didn't think that "being fabulous" was the only way to be "gay." If only the bear and leather communities, the butcher guys, or at least gay guys who were different (not so "fabulous" but great in their own way) from the stereotype got a little more visibility in the media. I don't think even bears realize how fuckin' huge the bear community is.
Look, I'm not a super-butch Charles Bronson and I'm more of a city boy at home with a martini or at the concert hall than a back-packing, camping type, but I think most gay men have more of a purpose in life than advising women -- or anyone -- on their hair (of course, being bald, this is really not an issue for me). If only the gay community could be seen in its full diversity now that we're in the 21st century, for crying out loud.
I'm not against "fabulous" gay guys, believe me. Ironically, just the other night I was sitting at my favorite butch gay bar feeling -- and this was really odd -- bored out of my mind. I looked around and had the oddest sensation that I was not in a gay bar in the West Village but in a straight bar out in Brooklyn. There were no willowy young queens in sight, but rather middle-aged, often paunchy [not that there's anything wrong in that!] macho guys who looked for all the world as if they had just come out for a beer to get away from the wife and kids (of course, there are a lot of men with wives and kids who are also gay, but that's another story) and were busy watching sports on the TV. I almost longed for a big campy drag queen to walk in the door and shake things up. I later realized I was only temporarily "bored" because on either side of me were guys, clearly on dates or with their lovers, who I sensed were not really open to outside conversation (I'm rarely bored in a bar because I'm friendly with everyone). Everyone in the fuckin' bar seemed to have a lover (how dare they?) What was a poor guy who wanted to cruise to do? (Luckily a whole pack of single guys came in a little while later and I was bored no longer.)
Of course, the fact that it felt like a "straight" bar for a time is just the point. The world -- and even members of the gay community itself -- should know that gay men like this exist, and while some can seem as comparatively dull (not to be "heterophobic") as some straight guys, many are a hell of a lot of fun, even if they'd no sooner don a dress or give hair advice than order a syrupy drink with a cherry in it. They're "average" guys only in the sense that they don't have an "outrageous" or campy component -- and what's wrong with that?
Butch or femme, we're all gay brothers, and all discriminated against by a homophobic society, which is why we should all get along, regardless of our personal styles.
But please -- enough with the gay man as straight woman's "accessory."
Many of these advice gurus are big on personal style. I say, if a person's style is to be a slob, leave them be. They tell everyone how to dress and wear their hair, but they sure as hell wouldn't like it if someone told them to tone down their act or put on something a little more masculine or just a bit different.
If you truly believe in personal style, why tell everyone else how to dress?
As for those of us who are not so "fabulous:" We're here, we're men, and we are definitely not eunuchs!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
UPDATE: The week after this episode Law and Order had another somewhat "gay" episode inspired by the Larry Craig men's room incident. When several male roommates are murdered -- one of whom is gay -- the investigation closes in on a closeted married man who was involved with the lawyer. But then it turns out that the lawyer wasn't the target and the investigation goes in an entirely different -- and less interesting -- direction. There were some real dumb moments in this script. A young woman who lives near the murdered roommates tells about how the gay guy "baked them a cake" to welcome them into the building. Why the hell did the writer have to have him baking a cake? Because the other guys dated women everyone assumes they're completely straight, even though the main suspect is a homosexual man with a wife! Then there's the ridiculous idea that this handsome, slick Out and Proud young lawyer would have an affair with a comparatively unattractive man who's not only middle-aged but in the closet and married. No, it's not impossible, but highly unlikely. Out and Proud guys rarely have an interest in becoming some closeted guy's "male mistress." After the married man is outed in a sort of men's room sting but is also cleared of murder charges, one of the detectives says (I paraphrase) "we played 'smear the queer' for nothing." It isn't seen as what might be a positive step in helping the guy accept his true sexuality. Dumb. Presumably a gay writer wouldn't have made such stupid mistakes.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Friday, January 4, 2008
Okay, there may be worse blogs than this one I ran across today, but I haven't come across them yet. I was searching for forums strictly for gay men (or gay men and lesbians) -- as opposed to GLBT forums -- and came across something called "about.com" which had forums for gays, bi's and the like. I was curious -- "bi-curious?" -- when I saw a link about the "best bisexual blogs." Now what would this be, I wondered. [Let me make it clear that I'm gay, not bisexual; and I find the notion that every gay man who might once upon a time have had relations with the opposite sex is actually bi to be not only stupid but downright homopobic.] Jeez, if what I saw when I clicked the link were the best bi blogs, I really feel sorry for bisexuals. Generally they were about men who had been -- or still were -- married to women but also had sex with men (formerly we used to call these guys "married homosexuals"). I've seen quite a few blogs on this theme, but generally the men identify as gay, being bi only in the technical sense. This one blog -- One Life, Take Two -- concerned the life of a self-described bisexual and "pervert" (whatever that means) whose wife sent him packing. I just can't figure out why the powers-that-be at about.com (whatever that is) thought that this was one of the "top bi blogs" and would help people understand the bi lifestyle better. The blog consists of nothing but photos of sexy, scantily clad females (not a guy in sight) and the only halfway meaty post I could find had the blogger quoting a female friend about what a hot time she had when she went to bed with the guy. I mean, is this pathetic or what? I've heard of testimonials, but this is ridiculous. Is it just me or is a guy pretty much a total loser if he has to post what is probably a made-up story written from the pov of one of his female lovers just to prove how hot he is in bed? I mean, what exactly is "bisexual" about this blog -- it seems more or less straight to me, even with the alleged "bisexual" tag. It isn't well-written, doesn't illuminate the "bi lifestyle" in any manner whatsoever, and doesn't seem in the least "GLBT." So what's up?
Don't moderators, administrators, whatever you call them, even bother to read the blogs they link to?
I mean, this is a joke, right?
In a desperate quest for supposedly scandalous stories, the supermarket tabloids frequently come up with "gay"-themed material, quite often of the "this is really dumb" variety. The National Enquirer recently ran a story about how the actress Kirstie Alley blames lesbian rumors about her for a "rotten love life." According to her -- or at least the Enquirer -- no man will date Alley because he figures what's the point -- she's gay! Alley blames the gay Village Voice columnist Michael Musto for years ago intimating (without naming anyone) that Alley and her then-husband Parker Stevenson were involved in a sham marriage to hide the fact that one or both of them was gay. (Stevenson appeared in The Hardy Boys TV show and in the first film version of A Separate Peace, which many people now see as essentially a gay love story, as author John Knowles finally acknowledged. This, of course, does not mean the actor is gay.)
First of all, I don't know how wide a readership Musto has, but with the steady stream of gossip being generated day after day, year after year, I doubt if this blind item made much of an impression. For heaven's sake, there are straight-identified people these days working in gay bars and they manage to get dates with the opposite sex, so it makes no sense at all that Alley can't get a date because of these years-old lesbian rumors. Maybe it was because until recently she was pretty fat and there are "superficial" guys out there who won't date a chubby gal. Maybe off-screen she's too much like the neurotic, annoying characters she's played on TV.
I don't know, but somehow it seems like we gays are getting blamed for something else that isn't our fault.
As for Alley, I thought she was funny on Cheers. I thought Veronica's Closet was essentially unwatchable and Alley barely bearable in it. I thought she gave a surprisingly good dramatic performance in the remake of Village of the Damned, but generally is better at comedy than drama.
Maybe it's not that guys think she's gay. Maybe they just find her -- like a lot of actors and actresses -- a little overbearing?
Just possible, isn't it, perhaps?