Wednesday, January 9, 2013

CHECK THE LABEL

During my final years in Texas, I may have technically come out.  A conversation, a few gay friends (even though we never acknowledged anything gay), even an unsolicited male-on-male kiss that landed squarely on my nose.  I wasn’t really out of the closet, but the door was ajar.

After I moved to Malibu, it still took me two months to inquire where the boys are.  It wasn’t something you could Google back then and I had to resort to a gay helpline listed in the old L.A. phone book. Yes, I officially came out the same year Harry met Sally.

Early on a Saturday night after I was sure my roommates had left, I dialed the number and a friendly male voice answered. I got right to the point, worried that someone in a real crisis might be hearing a busy signal. “I’ve been here for two months and I haven’t met any gay people.”

Friendly Guy’s response: “How is that even possible?”

I mentioned I was attending law school in Malibu.

“Haven’t you gone to the beach?”

Many times. I told him about this stunning beach north of Malibu where nobody went. Even then, I made bad decisions, expecting to meet people where there were none.

“You need to go to a bar,” he explained. “What do you like?”

I was utterly naive. Texans did not talk about anything gay aside from news stories about AIDS deaths and a Texas Monthly article I’d read about vigilantes killing local faggots.  What did I like? There was only one clear answer. “I don’t know.”

He chuckled, not to be mean. I sensed my call amused him. “Do you like leather?” he continued.

“No,” I said. “I’m a vegetarian.”

He laughed harder. I didn’t realize I was being funny. And that’s when I also realized that coming out would only leave me more confused. I had thought the entire inner fight to accept my sexuality would be the final hurdle. Now I could celebrate my individuality. Yes, mom, I am special. Like you always said. (But probably not like you meant.)

That night I learned that just being gay is not clear enough. You have to find your niche. During my years in L.A. and Vancouver, I heard many labels such as leather guys, twinks, daddy chasers, bears, femmes, fatties, sex dwarves, circuit boys, gym rats, rice queens and drag queens. Vancouver further segregated itself based on gay sports leagues—the softball guys rarely mixed with the volleyball guys. I always seemed on the fringes. Not buff enough to be a gym rat, not quite swishy enough to be a femme, past my prime as a twink and too square for the circuit. While I played in a gay tennis league, my skills weren’t competitive enough to be welcomed into the tennis social clique.

The labeling has always reminded me of high school, a time of conflict, angst and bullying for many a gay teen. Why did adult gays need to recreate this system of separation? It has never made sense.

That is why watching “Happy Endings” on ABC last night amused me. Max, one of the six central characters in this sitcom, is the gay one. But he is the antithesis of the gay TV character stereotype. No repressed/fastidious Will, no effeminate, shallow Jack, Max is an overweight lout, straighter than the two straight male characters on the show. Max’s problem of the night: he didn’t have a gay bar where his type could hang. So Jane and a Jack-type sidekick joined Max on a tour of Chicago’s gay club scene on a quest to find Max’s place. The gay categories came on screen in rapid succession, all spoofs of real categories. Ginger snaps, chameleons, Broadway queens. My favorite?  Sitcom gays.

In the end, Max created his own niche: optimistic red-velvet walruses. Inspired. If I decide to conform, here’s hoping the walruses will have me.

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