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Do You Know How I Know You’re NOT Gay?

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Growing up, people often thought I was gay. Based on gay stereotypes, I could see why people thought that. I grew up in a house of women so I’ve always liked feminine stuff, I still love fashion magazines, I know the songs from most of the major musicals, I can sing-a-long with Disney movies, I like shopping (at thrift stores), I enjoy a champagne brunch, and I know how to pronounce Givenchy. But as a teenager, I didn’t like it when other dudes on the football team called me gay. It was clearly meant as an insult. Then I thought about it. And now, I don’t care if everyone thinks I’m gay. Why? …Because gay people are rad. And if I’m mistaken for being gay, I take it as a compliment. Based on the stereotypes, I must look good. And it seems like our whole culture is starting to unconsciously sense this switch in stereotypes.

Guillaume Paumier
Guillaume Paumier

Gay is kicking all kinds of ass these days. Not necessarily being gay, that’s a personal trip filled with all the ups and down everyone experiences on a daily basis. But the idea of Gay, the perception of it, and even yes, the stereotypes of Gay are enjoying some shine right now. Gay is the cock of the walk. It’s the talk of the town. It’s the one you want around your dinner table. Or maybe I should say Queer, I don’t mean to leave out lesbians, bisexuals and transgender folks. Reversing a western trend that dates back to fall of the Roman Empire (or the French Revolution), in the world of modern public opinion, it’s way cooler to be queer today than it was yesterday. And if you don’t see that, well, then you’re just not paying attention, are you?

Everything’s changing so fast. It’s like how Ferris Bueller urged us, “if you don’t stop and look around you might miss it.” Scripts are flipping. Values are rearranging. Food is the new porn. Porn is the new Sex-Ed. Gays are getting married. And don’t worry conservatives, Queer isn’t the new Red Menace… it’s the new black.

The definition of queer has certain connotations, but in essence it means to be different, or odd, to be the outsider, the one who’s out of the ordinary. And you know, in today’s overly marketed, hyper-advertised, trend-obsessed world, to be different is very desirable. It suggests you’re special, unusual, rebellious, those qualities that connote “cool.” Even more than hipsters, Queer is cool. Queer is ahead of the curve. Queer leans into the future and is redrawing the roadmap we all use.

Remember the Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd riff on gay/straight stereotypes in 40-year Old Virgin?

Imagine if we reversed that. Like, for instance, if I said to some straight dude, “Do you know how I know you’re NOT gay?”

And he’d say, “No, Zaron. I don’t presume. How do you know I’m not a homosexual?”

…You just pulled a Tom Clancy book out of your fanny pack.

…You look like a blind man taught you to shave and then picked out your wardrobe.

…Is that a Jimmy Buffet song on your iPod?

Yeah. …You’re so not gay.

Like Missy Elliott rapping backwards, Queer has put down its thing, flipped it and reversed it. These days Queer is more associated with our best and sexiest social assumptions. One assumes Queer knows what’s new and cool. Queer dresses better than you. Queer reads more and loves culture. Queer knows where to enjoy a good meal, where to have a good time, and definitely is more fun on vacation than you. We want to travel the world with Queer. At least, that’s the growing cultural perception of Queer.

Of course, not all queer folks fit these new stereotypes, and that is what they are. There are plenty of queer folks who have dumpy bodies, could stand a wardrobe update, a good shower and makeover, and should really put down their Xbox controller and get out their house- but the stereotype is what we’re addressing, not the individual realities.

And don’t read this with any mind to get offended. I’ll tell you now, I’m gonna throw around a few stereotypes. You will get offended if you have a mind for such things. My whole point is predicated on the fact gay stereotypes are radically improving. No longer are lesbians generally imagined to be tomboy, book-clubbing, cat lovers. Today, Portia deRossi and Ellen DeGeneres are two halves of the most famous lesbian couple. Gone are the days of the lisping, prancing hairdresser as a common gay male stereotype. Now, it’s more like he’s a well-built, well-groomed dude, who can buy a great steak, cook it and still have time to help his neighbor pick out heels to match her handbag.

Gay men in particular are benefitting from all this positive social momentum; but men tend to benefit first in American social politics, so that’s to be expected. And obviously, not all stereotypes are totally switched up. There’s still plenty of work to do. We haven’t reached the end of the road. But for America, these new gay stereotypes are a sign of progress. It’s sad we can track social progress with stereotypes… but I’ll take good news wherever I might find it. This is American progress.

At the most recent Pride celebrations, I saw firsthand how queer culture is now one of the happier places in American life. It’s rad to see the word gay be re-associated with its original meaning of lightness and laughing, good times, the gaiety of life. It’s been a long dark road but the rainbow seems to be shining brighter.

Attending school in San Francisco and now, living in West Hollywood, I’ve been immersed in gay culture most of my adult life. Sadly, I still don’t know how to say I have lots of gay friends, coworkers, bosses and former roommates without somehow sounding like that lame-ass who says, “One of my best friends is black.” I guess I could say, “I’m the black friend of a lot of gay people.” There, that feels equally awkward. People are people. You know what I’m saying. But because we’re humans, there’s always a paradox. We’re all the same. We’re all very different. Both statements are true. And they don’t necessarily disprove each other. You can be the same and different congruently. Sameness is not total. It’s a matter of degrees. Two Fords are similar. Two Ford Mustangs are the same. Two 1969 Ford Mustang Fastbacks are nearly identical.

When it comes to people, no one is identical to you unless they shared a womb with you. We can all be similar, which leads to stereotypes. We can all be the same, which leads to identity. Yet, we’re also very different, which provides variety. And if we’re all the same and yet different we ought to embrace those similarities and learn from the differences. Wouldn’t you agree? It’s what we tell kids. Maybe adults should try it. And with that in mind, in celebration of the new school cool of queer life, here are a few things I learned from an immersion in gay culture, some aspects straight folks could borrow from queer stereotypes. We’re turning lemons into iced lemon daiquiris.

Be emotionally honest with yourself

Many folks struggle to be their truest self and find it equally difficult to be happy. For many young gays, lesbians and transgender folks the boldness of “coming out” is met by what seems like a series of hammer strikes, both destructive and constructive. It’s a painful time of razing and then erecting a new “you” in the minds of others. But when you commit to being yourself despite the objections of others you become free. First and always, you must be honest with yourself. It’s one of the golden rules of good living. You can’t hide from the Truth because the Truth is all there is. The rest is lies, fabrications and faulty memories. So be you.

Develop an adult relationship with sex

My straight friends don’t seem to get tested for STIs with anywhere near the same regularity as my gay friends. And that’s not because those straight fuckers are clean and don’t need to get tested, they do. The thing is they just don’t seem to share the same sense of responsibility. The idea one of them could be a disease vector is a foreign concept. And on the fun, healthy side of sex, most straight folks I know couldn’t recommend a good place to buy a sex toy online. What’s up with that, straight people? Can’t you say vibrator without giggling? We need to work on that.

Get out of the house and do something supercool

In queer culture I find a greater general emphasis placed on having a damn good time. Like, I’m invited to way more interesting events and occasions by gay and lesbian friends than I am by my straights. I’m just saying. Step it up, straight people. Life’s too short not to enjoy a champagne brunch now and again.

Keep up with new culture

Is queer culture more inquisitive? I don’t know. As much as there is an exhilaration that comes from living well, there is also a certain exhilaration that comes from being the first to experience something, the one who recommends things and shares their experiences. Gay men, in particular, seem to have this down to a science. Not just in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses contest of materialism, but instead I see it all over the place, mentioned in social interactions, in travel plans, in name-dropping designers, in having seen the latest movie, eating at the new restaurants, knowing which galleries to go to on a Saturday night and which to avoid. It may be motivated by social competition but, straight folks could really benefit culturally if they started making each other more awkward and nervous socially by finding new things and cool experiences to make each other feel awkward and nervous socially.

Dance!

Speaking in terms of stereotypes, if I want to go dancing I don’t ask a straight man where to go… unless he’s Latino or West Indian. When I wanna go dancing that usually means with straight women and gay men, at gay clubs, because I’ve found gay men and straight women like to dance. And you know what? Lesbians dance, too. I’ve been swept off the floor by an Oakland grrrl who pop-locked like it ain’t no thing. So get your ass out on the dance-floor. And not just at weddings.

Find inspiration in female cultures

I could just point to drag queens. They sure made me see women differently. I know how that sounds. But I mean it in the best possible way. And not all drag queens are gay, but it was a six-toed gay drag queen I knew who showed me defiance and boldness as strong female traits. Generally speaking, queer culture celebrates and incorporates far more female values. They value the female experience more so than say, young straight men do. We straight dudes would be wise to imitate drag queens and find deeper inspiration in female cultures.

Have an active social circle

I don’t mean go to a party. I mean throw a dinner party at your place. Host a film festival or game night or host a theme-party, invite others over for a YouTube Greatest Hits sort of an evening, pick a cabin for a group camping trip, or rent a sailboat, or if you don’t have “rent a sailboat” sort of money organize a meet-up at the beach or maybe a lake picnic. Want the world’s cheapest party? Throw a costume party where the costumes must be made of items purchased at the 99 Cent store. Ask yourself: What can I offer my social circle? Be a host not just a guest.

Obviously Queer isn’t all rainbows, champagne brunches and street parties. It’s also a lifestyle still rife with domestic violence, family alienation, depression, substance abuse, suicide and addictions of all sorts… but we’re all the same on that score. That’s modern life. It’s a sad state of affairs. We have lot of work left to do in reality. But at the illusory level of perception, at the street level of stereotypes, things have really changed. Queer values are now family values, healthy values, positive values.

“Gay, you’ve come along way, baby.”

When we joke about these stereotypes, it’s a subtle way to affirm gains in equality. Queer is no longer generally, passively assumed to be less desirable. We now live with the reasonable hope some day soon young gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks won’t have to “come out.” They’ll never experience that phase of gay life. They’ll grow up free from those anxieties and fears. That would be equality. And the stereotypes show we’re getting closer to that reality everyday. TC mark

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