For someone who prides himself on punctuality, I’ve always been late to the party. Fundamental problem is that I don’t even recognize the fact that there is a party.
I came out at 21. Sort of. When you come out and don’t actually do anything about it, it’s sort of like that tree falling in the forest that no one sees or hears. It happened—or did it?—so what? Back then I had no gaydar and I continued to spend my time fixated on pretty straight boys. (Yes, there is such a thing.)
I would imagine that my cluelessness remains unmatched to this day. When Tim, a waiter at a Fort Worth restaurant where I worked, invited me into his apartment after a group of us had gone for drinks, I did not see the point. I was too polite. We’d just had a drink. He should save his booze. Besides, I was too practical. Why would I want my bladder awakening me in the middle of the night? Seriously, it only dawned on me a few years later that he may have been interested. Yes, years. (To be fair that’s when I ran into one of the waitresses and she told me, to my complete surprise, that he was gay. “How could you not have known?” she said incredulously. Way back then you couldn’t buy gaydar on eBay. There wasn’t even “Will & Grace” to help me out.)
After my stint as a waiter, I supplemented my meager private school teaching income by working part-time in the men’s department of a department store in Dallas. On occasion, the guys would get together after the Friday night shift. I was happy to tag along, but I was confused whenever we wound up at a gay bar. I figured it was just that the music was better. After all, that’s what we all said. (In my defense, it was Texas. In the ’80s. Okay, there was Steven Carrington on TV’s “Dynasty” but any insight about being gay was diluted by the fact the character was played by two different actors. Confusing!) I think I felt so alone and vilified for being—gasp—a homosexual that I assumed I was the only one in the Lone Star State.
So flash forward three decades and I still find myself bewildered from time to time. I have an old version of gaydar (Version 2.0 instead of 5.0) but no Grindr enhancement. It’s a work phone. No way I’m downloading that thing. I am even more technologically unaware and I assume the IT guys will get pinged if I have such content. Hence, I remain a naïve, moderately clueless gay man. This helps explain why I only realized yesterday that a guy at the gym may have been hitting on me six weeks ago.
On a Friday night in January, I arrived at the gym uncharacteristically late. Don’t recall why. Perhaps I was just trying to avoid the crowds from everyone resolving to lose weight, gain muscle and don an epic six-pack. (Such is the delusional thinking that comes when the sugar coma of December’s cookie season is finally broken. What-do-you-mean-there’s-no-more-chocolate-dipped-shortbread?!) To my delight, there was a smattering of people, but I could almost hear an echo as the odd clod dropped his barbells to the mat. (Novice!)
I was taking a short rest on a quad machine—not peeking at a YouTube cat vid on my iPhone—when a guy hiding under a bulky hooded sweatshirt and shorts over a pair of Lululemon leggings asked me to spot him on the hamstring leg curl machine. No doubt, I frowned and looked around. Isn’t there anyone else? Here’s where I missed the crowd. But I was perplexed, too. In all my years going to gyms, I’ve seen spotters on bench press and occasionally on bicep curls but never on any of the leg machines.
Let me say that I hate spotting. I suddenly transform into that cartoon image of a ninety-eight pound weakling. It’s never a guy needing an assist with thirty pounds of anything. It’s always a weight I wouldn’t dream of trying for fear of ripping a limb right out of its socket. And then there’s the part where I don’t really know when to help and how much to help. My personal feeling is: DUDE, WHY CAN’T YOU JUST PICK A WEIGHT YOU CAN HANDLE ON YOUR OWN?! (There. It felt good to get that out. Let me take ten deep breaths before getting back to this.)
Having never seen someone spot a person on leg curls, I asked what he wanted me to do. Oh, my. He gave me a five-step instruction, with lots of qualifiers. I responded with a look of Huh? and he repeated his vision. No clearer, but I consoled myself in the fact I must have shed a dozen calories in nervous sweat. I will fail him. Why didn’t I get here at primetime? Crowds aren’t so bad.
During the set, he called for a spot with me having to push his feet so they hit his butt. Weird. But done. I went back to my quad spot and he proceeded to watch and correct my form, saying he was a personal trainer. It should come as no surprise that I hate unsolicited technique advice perhaps even more than spotting. But he kept on talking. I shrugged and tried to be as dismissive as possible so he’d leave me alone. “Leg work is just filler between chest or arms work,” I said. “I don’t expect results.” (Truth: I’m resigned to chicken legs unless there’s a magic pill that buffs up, well, everything. A little drooling as a side effect wouldn’t be so bad.)
The guy hit me up for another spot and this time he grunted loudly during the set. More nervous sweating from me. More post-spotting conferencing about how I could do it better. I made a beeline to the far end of the gym. Why bother finishing quads anyway? Chicken legs, no magic pill, blah, blah, blah.
Later he approached me again, but this time showing off his barrel chest. No shirt in sight. To be clear, in the two and a half years I’ve gone to this gym NO ONE has walked around without a shirt. He was chatty and said, “Look at us here on a Friday night. I really need to get laid.” Eww. An overshare from the underdressed. I dodged and again readjusted my workout. A good excuse to try something new.
Hadn’t seen the guy again until last night. There he was, a new haircut and a beaming smile, looking right at me. I quickly stared at my shoelaces and he moved on. A couple of minutes later, he passed by again, same grin. And then,…slowly…slowly…wait…for…it:
Had he been coming on to me? Was he actually gay?
No matter. Same reaction. Eww.
God only knows if there have been other gay men I’ve brushed off, guys I might have found interesting. Maybe I ignored them, simply from failing to connect the bright pink dots. I’m not sure if that serves as any real consolation when I consider my miserable track record with gay men. All this time I’ve been certain I’ve been consciously overlooked. Maybe the overlooking was
all partly mine.