|Jan/Feb 2006 Nonfiction|
I should be more specific—I love ebulliently gay men. The men who carry their heads high and walk with their asses out, who talk with a thin, sensitive tone, who pronounce their s's like a th, and aren't afraid to let their hand drop below their wrist when they're excitedly explaining something—"You must be kidding." While I'm pretty sure I'm not a homosexual, I can't deny my love for this particular breed of gay men, and I can't help but wonder why.
Maybe it's their uncanny vesture, the way they can put any two articles of clothing together and make them match. Gray dress pants with a hunter's orange vest and a green beanie tilted sideways on the head? Not a problem. They wear everything with such verve, I imagine they look at their outfits in the mirror as a painter looks at his painting—tilt of the hat, final brushstroke. Maybe it's the way these men's aura froths across the room. Where they run their hands through their hair and down their neck, flickering their eyelashes so that their eyes cut through like the slides of a languid filmstrip. Or maybe it's their overall demeanor, their extroverted zest for life and drive to be either extremely happy or hedonistic—the way they can push the words "Oh my god" from their mouth in a fountain of excitement over something as small as a finely placed logo on a belt. "Isn't that wonderful?"
But maybe it's not their actions that I pay so much attention to. Maybe it's my actions, especially those times when I find myself acting "gay," or maybe more accurately, effeminate. Maybe it's when I find myself looking at another man's shoulders or forearms and wishing they were mine. Maybe it's when I realize I enjoy cuddling, and I have always cried at the end of a relationship, even if I was the one ending it. Or maybe it's when I go to a professional baseball game, cross my legs and sip lemonade from my thighs, rather than a beer from my gut, that I feel as though I'm acting "feminine," and therefore homosexual. When the umpire makes a bad call, a drunk man behind me stands up and says, with an alcohol induced slur, "That was bullshit, blue," and I slap my knee and think to myself, "Darn. What a preposterous official." With the way I project myself, I sometimes wonder, Should I be a woman? Can I act effeminate sometimes, and still be a "masculine man" not a "gay man," or would it be so bad if I were a gay man?
I know not all gay men act effeminate, and that not all straight men act masculine all the time. So then why do I feel as though I'm acting like a homosexual just because I occasionally act effeminate, because I occasionally cross my legs? There are still those nights when I participate in the traditional "Guy's Night Out," the beer commercials proudly advise. When I get together with three or four of my guy friends, go to The Main Street Bistro, get drunk, and sputter at women. We stare at the ones that look too egotistical to talk to, and while I never take part in my friends' sexist remarks—"Damn look at that ass, or "How'd you like to squeeze those all night?"—I never say anything to stop them. I allow my eyes to rove over the women's bodies, fastidiously attacking their curves from each angle.
Afterwards, we stagger to the strip clubs where Bart and Dylan spend their entire paychecks on lap dances, and occasionally take some of the women home for free. I end up sitting next to the ventripotent man with a Bud and stogy, who flagellates as the women wrap their legs around his face. Some of the sweat on his brow is his, some theirs. I drink bottle after bottle of Corona, and at this point in the night I'm so drunk I take to squeezing the lime slowly, watching the juice slide down the walls of the bottle and into the beer with a fizz. I drink partially because my friends cheer me on to "be a man for a night, dude," but also partially because the alcohol in my system is making me melancholic about my actions throughout the evening, about how I've spent the entire time trying to be a particular type of "man" that I am not. While Dylan is in the VIP room, verbally coercing a woman into fellatio, I lean against the bar, cross my legs, and try to drink myself happy again.
On these unruly nights, nights where my friends and I mistakenly drink beer to help us become more masculine, while the alcohol plummets our testosterone levels—our hormonal maleness—I sometimes question our mentality. Is that really what being a man is all about? I ask myself as I crush another lime into and down the sides of a Corona bottle. If they were sober enough to notice me sitting at the bar with my legs crossed, maudlin and dismal, sitting amid four or five strippers, yet not beckoning any of them to my lap, certainly they would call me a "fag," as they do when I admit their ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend has nice eyes. Does my lack of male aggressiveness mean I am acting homosexual? Am I acting like a "fag?"
It's difficult to make such judgments while sitting with a group of males in a strip club, especially a group of close male friends, a group that forces me to show my "manhood" through particular "masculine" actions. If my sense of self is a result of my construction as members of a social group, as Patrick Hopkins claims, and if I'm gauging my sense of self in the same way my heterosexist friends do, I might be inclined to think I am a homosexual. In their minds, as with many other people's minds, there are just some things a grown man should not do, like cross his legs. If he does, he is acting like a homosexual. But am I gay, just because I cross my legs? Wouldn't that be a ridiculous assumption?
One evening even one of my friends that I think is more open minded sees me sitting with my legs crossed and says, in front of a group of four or five people, "Dude, you can't sit like that." I blast back without hesitation. "Why, does it turn you on?" His reddening face shows he didn't expect such a witty response, and a few days later, when I agree with one of the girls that our waiter is an attractive man with particularly well-shaped cheekbones, he doesn't say anything.
With one of my elbows on the bar, I bounce my legs a little. I take a quick but deep swallow of my Corona with my free hand, and the mix of citrus and alcohol stings the few blotches along the back of my throat that have yet to go numb. I watch Dylan return from the VIP room—his eyes dilated and bloodshot, his pants in need of adjustment—and I return to the question, Is that how I understand a man to act? I also add the question, Is that what I understand a man to be?
As I grow up, I emulate my father. He is my guide to manhood. He is a southern man who takes pride in his masculine activities—shooting shotguns at clay targets, hunting deer and chukar, fishing. On the rare occasions I join him, he often accuses me of being a "sissy," a "wuss," because I do not want to hike up the rocky edge of a canyon or chase the deer. He tells me he needs to feed me gunpowder to "toughen me up." Acting effeminate—or even just not manly enough—even in the slightest amount, is not acceptable. If I turn my wrist down in disgust he tells me I am acting "queerer than a three dollar bill," or that he doesn't have time to buy me "panties with a pink frill today," but that he'll buy me some when he gets a chance.
Throughout my childhood, my father is a thick man—over six feet tall and two-hundred pounds, with an accent to match—and that's how he thinks I should be. I should enjoy the gift of being a man, he thinks, which includes social power, my right to date as many women as I like, and my gift of natural strength. When I'm working in the garage, helping my father build a set of shelves so he can reload shotgun shells, he tells me I should strike the nails firmly, and that with one firm blow I should impale the nails into the wood, the head of the hammer hitting the wood with a loud thud. I shouldn't drive the nail into the wood the way I am, with quick flickers of the wrist, a brief motion of weak force that slowly dips the nail through the wood with a bell-like ting, ting. Thud, thud, he hits. "That's how you drive a nail," he tells me. "What are you, some kind of sissy boy? Hit the shit out of that nail. Be a man."
I take another drink of my Corona and set the empty bottle down on the bar. I shake the bottle to get the bartender's attention. The defiled lime rings around the edges, vibrating against my numb hand like my heartbeat has begun vibrating through the rest of my numb body. I'm not normally a drinker, but on nights like these I let myself succumb to the fugue of the ferment. The bartender nods that he will bring me another, and I stagger to the bathroom. As I stand, one arm against the wall to prop myself up, another hand directing the stream, I think about all the stories my father has told me about the inebriated year he spent in England. About all the traditions and customs he learned, the women he had, the different beers he drank. "When you have to hold your entire bodyweight up yourself just to pee," he told me. "That's when you know you're drunk."
While I zip my pants and lather my hands, I think of all my father's footprints that I have wanted to follow in, and all the ones I haven't. I am standing in the steps of my father I would have rather stepped around. I never wanted to have the drunk, belligerent, sexist nights my father had in England. I never wanted to hold a shotgun up to my shoulder and shoot twenty-five clay targets, or to pull the gizzards from a chukar's flayed body. Those were the things I did to make my friends and my father think I was a man.
Possibly that's why I've been obsessed with having a dense, muscular body my whole life, why my body has periodically oscillated between gaunt and slim, and brawny and huge. At one point, I was two clicks away from buying legal steroids, all just to give myself a more manly presence—my testicles would shrink with my natural testosterone production, but I would project myself as a man's man, as barrel-chested and vascular as Superman. If I was thinner, I thought maybe I would look more like a homosexual. A man couldn't carry over 200 pounds of rippling muscle and be gay, could he? I think on that for a minute and decide maybe he could. Maybe instead of trying to be "huge" to be more of a man, I was really trying to be huge to be beautiful. To flex my biceps in the presence of both men and women, pronouncing, "Hey, look at me. I am beautiful. I have beautiful arms."
As I sit back down at the bar, my body devoid of testosterone and water, my stomach devoid of food, I imagine my body turning on itself for energy. I imagine my sixteen-inch arms deteriorating, and all the mass I've spent years and thousands of dollars to build, vanishing with each drink I take. I imagine that by getting drunk to make myself look like a man, I am taking away the physical ways I tried to make myself look tough and manly. Or is it proportionate and beautiful?
I take this next Corona without a lime. The bartender gives me what he calls "The Corona Special." After he takes the lid off, he fills the remaining few ounces in the bottle with vodka and charges me two dollars to do so. A six-dollar beer. I don't give a fuck, I tell myself as I put my thumb over the bottle's opening, turn the bottle upside down, and then right side up. I can feel the pressure of the carbonation on my thumb, and as I slowly take my thumb from the bottle, a few sprits of the alcoholic amalgamation spray into the air. The stripper exiting stage presses herself close to the stripper entering the stage, but as much as the men cheer them on to kiss, they hold back because as the sign says, they get paid "to tease, not to please."
A few hours earlier, at the Bistro, Dylan spent five minutes convincing two girls to kiss. I'm not sure they weren't that interested in the first place, but I think they liked to get him worked up before they licked the inside of each other's mouths. They kissed long and lustfully for a minute or two—one even grabbed the other's breast—but by the time they were finished, it wasn't just my friends and I cheering them on, but quite a few men from the bar had turned around and begun giving their support too.
I flip the bottom of the bottle up towards the ceiling again, and notice how smooth the beer goes down with just a soupcon of vodka. The new stripper is now by herself on the stage. What if two men were kissing, or even about to kiss, I wonder. Why is it two women can kiss in public, and men will drool over it, but yet if two men kiss, they're berated and called derogatory names? I could think of no reason besides people falling prey to the same social constructions my father had pressed upon me. I thought of the lives of Greek men, our predecessors, the fathers of the Western world. When a Greek man was young, and fighting in war, he was encouraged to become intimate with his partner. What better reason to fight harder for your fellow soldier than if he is also your lover? When he returned from the wars, he turned his attention to forming a family, and found a woman to suit his needs—children—not necessarily his desires. Some believe that in the Greek society, as with many other societies, there were "homosexual activities," but no "homosexuals." I think I don't even know how to define heterosexual, let alone homosexual, and that maybe my language, as well as the alcohol, is skewing my perception of what a homosexual is.
I pause before taking another drink. A man and his wife are sitting side by side, Dylan is to their left. The man puts a dollar in front of his wife and she smiles and kisses him behind his ear. When the stripper crawls, cat-like, towards the woman, all the men around the stage clap and caw. The stripper rubs her breasts in the woman's face, lays her hair between the woman's legs, and pretends to kiss her way up. Why can a woman, even a wife as in this case, let another woman put her legs and body all over her (and maybe enjoy it, maybe not), just to make her man happy, but a man cannot do the same? Why are lesbian activities encouraged but gay male activities not?
Dylan leans over and says something to the husband's ear. They both lean back and turn their heads to the two women feigning intercourse with one another. Is Dylan trying to parley a threesome? I know Dylan has had threesomes before—I have often heard him bragging about how he and one of his friends had "plugged up the two holes between her legs"—but did he really want to partake in an activity such as that again? As he was bragging one time, I asked him how'd it feel to have felt another man's penis against his when the two collided during the threesome. "Doesn't that make you a fag?" I had asked him, succumbing to his language. "You're just jealous because you've never had a threesome." And while I'm not quite sure if I am jealous, I shake my head because he entirely evades the question.
The DJ changes the song to ACDC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," and every time the guitar hits a note below the fifth fret, the chords sting my ears. The song seems fitting, and I sit at the bar screaming with it, raising my beer towards the sky as I tout: "Done dirt cheap," pounding every word from my mouth as do my foot on the floor. I can't concentrate on anything any more. The alcohol is smoldering my mind. My ears have probably been ringing for hours, but it takes a band like ACDC, with high-pitched screaming and distorted guitars, to italicize the pain.
I toss my head back and finish off what will be my last Corona of the evening, and as my head comes down it bobs on my neck and I can tell I'm going to wake up with a hangover tomorrow. I turn towards the bar and from the artificial lure of the stage. Bobbing up and down through the Jack Daniels and Bacardi bottles on the mirror, I see Dylan approaching. He pats me on the back as he fumbles onto a barstool. He body is pungent with the scents of sex and vomit. From the looks of his eyes, I can tell he got his hands on some marijuana in the VIP room or out back, and he must notice me looking at them because he says, "The chronic. Some bomb ass shit," and then he turns around and falls asleep on the bar, drops of vodka in his hair, gin on his chin. I nod at the bartender, tell him to ring out my tab, and to make sure the fainéant passed out on the bar doesn't fall to the floor while I go find Bart.
I can barely walk, and the smoke at this hour is thick, but I find Bart quickly, just where I expect him to be, in a fat chair, with a girl wearing nothing but a thong and pasties hovering over him. "Dylan's passed out on the bar," I tell him. "We're leaving when you finish that dance, so hurry up." He nods and places another dollar bill in his mouth.
I sit outside the strip club for ten minutes or so. They're not in any hurry. Dylan, I assume, is still passed out, and could sleep comfortably on the bar until morning. Bart, on the other hand, has credit and no will power. It's a nice night, and I'm starving, so I walk across the street to the Chevron station to get some snacks. I fill my arms with Snickers bars and Doritos and a caffeine free Coke and head to the register. Before the grizzly man rings me up, he says, "My God, to make a decision like that. Beats me."
Until I see he's looking at the door, I have not idea what he's referring to, and when I look, I see a man in his mid twenties, skipping to his car.
"Hm," his lips hum. "Fags. What'd you think?"
I'm too drunk to want to think about an answer, so I just shrug my shoulders.
"Well," he starts. "If I would have tried to make a decision like that, my daddy'd a whooped my ass. Seven forty-one."
I throw a ten on the counter and think about what he had said. I'm not sure what he said was true, and I don't want to make him think I agree with him. He puts my change on the counter, and I slide it into the paper bag. "Maybe it's not that simple," I say, and walk away. I don't mean for it to sound like I know something he doesn't, because I'm just as confused—especially being that intoxicated.
But it can't be that simple. Nothing can. And while it certainly isn't a utopian life for gay men in America, there are always these few—the ebullient—that tend to demonstrate that they're getting by just fine, thank you. That are willing to flaunt what they got in public, baby. That are willing to risk it all by kissing their partners not only in public, but in the presence of overall-wearing, concealed-weapon-toting rednecks. That—even though they are so brutally oppressed—are willing to be open about their sexuality. And here I am, behind the counter at a convenience store, noticing my fascination with them, with how they openly express their sexuality, even when it is socially unacceptable. Noticing that when I express my own sexuality as it is socially expected, I feel remorse. Why can't I just throw my hands up in the air at a strip club and yell, "Hell yeah, take it off baby!" just like I'm expected to do, just like the guys in all the movies and beer commercials? Why am I not so sure I'm homosexual or heterosexual? Is it okay, I ask myself, to be a type of man that is not easily defined? To be something even more difficult to understand, something that shuns definition?
Each chip tastes nearly sublime as I swallow it whole and push it down with the Coke. The interaction at the Chevron station sticks in my head, and I probe for an answer. I think about the time I was bored and poking in and out of the journal articles in the library, when I came across an article that claimed the sex of a baby may be determined by the hormones in the mother's womb. Say, for example, a baby was a female, but at some point in the pregnancy the mother had a rush of testosterone. This stream of testosterone could possibly cause the developing female fetus to develop a penis, and thus be born a male, even though it is, or was, genetically female. I asked myself if that could have been what happened to some of the gay men I've met and known.
I finish my chips, crumple the bag into a wad, and throw it at the sewer drain. It falls short. My stomach feels better, but the rest of my body feels desiccated. My parched pores shriveling up. I pick up my Coke but I no longer have the consciousness to hold it up straight, let alone guide it to my lips, and I nearly drop it. A few ounces splash onto the concrete. The door to the strip club creaks open, but it's not Bart or Dylan, so I cross my legs and lean back onto my arms, getting comfortable. I doze off indefinitely, until Dylan and Bart slap me on the shoulder. "Look at this," Bart says.
"Fuckin faggot," Dylan cries.
I lug myself up and into Dylan's car. "Where've you been all night?" Dylan asks. I tell him I've been at the bar.
"D'ya get any lap dances?"
"Spend any dollars."
"You must have got some titties in your face."
"I just drank."
"Not even any titties? It's just a buck."
"You gay or somethin?"
I tell them no, and that only people like them misconstrue my actions that way. But then I remember the few homosexual men that have, in "straight" bars, approached me. I remember in junior high when people said I either needed wrist surgery or was gay, because I sometimes let my fingers flop when I walked. Maybe, I think to myself, I'm just going to always be homosexual to some people. Maybe it's in my persona, my aura, aroma.
Dylan pulls around the corner and I slide between the seat and frame, out of his car. The ground feels like ice under my feet, but I make it to my door, and eventually to my bed. I fall onto the sheets without shutting the door, without turning off the light, and I lay, gazing at the freckles on the ceiling. I kick off my shoes, rub my feet together, and pull the blankets and sheets over my head. My heart rate bounces heat through my head. A ringing that feels like a thin film, tries to press from my eardrums. I wonder what it would be like to be a homosexual male, or even to understand my own sexuality, and I hug the pillow tight against my throbbing body and fall asleep.