Why I Reject Popular Gay Culture (Or: What to Know Before Setting Me Up With Your Other Gay Friend)Stephen Milioti
There is a problem with being-gay-and-dating when most of my friends are straight. More than a few of those friends—thinking that I am a “catch” so why am I single?—have attempted to set me up with what I have termed their OGF, their "Other Gay Friend."
The supposed point of connection would be laughable, if it weren't so often assumed: Their OGF is gay; I am gay. Proving what, exactly, I don't know. Because we both pleasured ourselves under a woolly blanket while lounging in our respective family rooms as pre-teens watching Tom Selleck on Magnum P.I. doesn't mean we're a match.
It's easy for me to tell when people are setting me up with an OGF, rather than with their CGF (coolest gay friend), HGF (hottest), or SGF (smartest). The latter three groups are described specifically: “He has strong cheekbones and jet-black hair;” “He has won awards for inventing ecologically-sound water bottles made from plastic alternatives;” “He wears vintage Rolexes and can also discuss comparative religions”—and so forth. But the description of one's OGF is always vague: “He's very nice”—“He's sweet”—“He's a good guy”—anything that can be used to describe a soggy puppy or a scented candle.
Frequently, the OGF isn't even an "F," but is more of a "C"—a colleague. It seems everyone where I live in New York has an entertaining gay officemate and water-cooler conversations revolving around dating, where the OGC routinely delivers the wittiest bits of interpersonal disaster. My well-meaning friends invariably get into set-up mode: “You should go out with my friend!” Then they tell me they work with this great guy, who's interested in going out, and the momentum builds, and next thing I know they give me the guy's email address.
The problem is people relate on a superficial level at work. You know your gay colleague is lonely; he just doesn't tell you that he is lonely because he has seasonal affective disorder, or a Madame Alexander doll collection.
So, why do my otherwise thorough friends not ask more thorough background questions? Because, by heterosexual logic, just being gay is enough. (See Magnum P.I. reference above.)
I suspect by now the straight reader might be saying “The nerve! Where does this ungrateful bastard get off?” Let's begin with where I do not: popular gay culture. This affects my dating life because the person I date may or may not understand my gay-culture separatism, and may or may not be a part of that culture themselves.
If you own a television or surf online, you know the culture I speak of. In case you don't, it's the one where you have to buy certain stuff and act a certain way to sashay past the velvet rope into gay—A-lister-media-darling—dom. I reject the far-side of that rope.
The gay culture I renounce is fueled by commercialism. For example, the other day, I walked past a store in Hell's Kitchen that had a huge awning that read in big lettering: AS FEATURED ON ‘QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY.' I understand the economy's bad. I understand people are just doing what works, and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a little advertising. But that particular TV show troubles me. Apparently, getting the approval of a commercial cross-section of gay men requires buying just the right stuff—then you're “in.”
Even more problematic, the show is organized around the fact that a person's sexuality dictates their ability to be fashionable. The straight guys are coached and clothed in the very stuff required of fashionable, cool gay men worthy of the modifier—“gay.” The implied message is that gay men had better buy this stuff lest they fail to be the kind of “gay” that is regaled by the culture at large. I don't buy into this, literally or figuratively.
It's not that I don't love fashion and style. I just want to love it on my own terms. And I need to know that my friend's OGF is a similar Gay Separatist, otherwise the date might as well be between a bulldozer and someone chained to the blade.
I'm not only a separatist from commercialized gay culture, I also don't want to be a part of the gay social “scene,” a big part of which is known as the “circuit.” This is a bunch of thematic parties (from black leather to Sesame Street fetishes) in major U.S. cities that are packed with gay men. No matter the theme, the result is the same: a lot of gay men, wearing very little clothing.
But don't take my word for it. The best definition of the “circuit” comes from CircuitNoize.com, the website for the magazine, Circuit Noize (yes with a Z), that regularly chronicles—what else?—the circuit: “The Circuit is a series of gay dance parties that are held around the world. A circuit party gives us the chance to escape the pressures of our day-to-day existence and to enter the altered world where friendship, dancing, love, spirituality, and self-expression are celebrated.”
It continues: “When The Circuit comes to town, that town becomes an instant gay ghetto full of men.”
Note the vagueness of that description. It uses fittingly empty words for a scene that is similarly devoid of substance. All the guys adhere to a similar look, whatever is dictated by the particular event, but generally running toward short military hair, copious tattoos, tight jeans, and large muscles—i.e., the homo-eroticized symbols of masculinity. A room full of gay men isn't somewhere I'd be even if they're all different. A room full of clones is downright unbearable. I don't want to be a part of a gay “ghetto.” I want to live in the larger world, where some of the people in it happen to be gay.
For further evidence of how self-limiting gay culture can be, click-through the ancillary links of CircuitNoize.com. You find that self-expression is fine, but only within a strict code of physical and psychological parameters. For example, the homepage prominently features a significant section entitled “Free Boys Pix.” These “boys” are grown men, and they all look essentially the same, all plate-like pectorals thrust outward in perfect correlation to a desperate attempt at grotesque masculinity.
But it's not just niche publications like Circuit Noize that perpetuate this image. The national gay magazine Out, which is much more mainstream in its look and newsstand placement, has a stereotypical website too (Out.com). At the time of writing, the top of the homepage—above the story links—featured a “Hot Guy of the Day.” Then again, maybe it's better the stories come a bit lower. The top offering is on love handles. The description reads: “One man's ongoing journey from flab to fab.”
Of course, fitness and hot guys-of-the-day aren't a bad thing, in and of themselves, but they become a bad thing when paired with Out's prominent, proudly displayed coverline, “Gay Culture Defined.” Above anything else on the actual cover of the November print issue, above anything else, sits this: “Gay Nudists: A Revealing Report.”
Well, that's awesome PR at a time when homosexuals are trying to gain traditional marriage rights!The inside of magazine regularly includes groupings of guys who might not be nude, but are close. Again, the trend is short military haircuts, smooth tanned chests, and luminous teeth: a commercial ideal.
This image isn't only found in the media. There are plenty of gay clubs and bars in New York that are filled with gay clones: beefy, pierced and tan, or, waifish, thin and hip. I fall somewhere in between. I'm into physical fitness and I rarely leave the house without Bumble & Bumble “SumoTech” in my hair. But I refuse to deplete my bank account by commercially predicted increments: $300 a year for the tanning salon, $125 for hair shaped by a former ice sculptor, $60 for salmon and teal striped gym shorts, and so on.
What does this have to do with me going on a date with someone's OGF? Well, first dates are like diagnostic exams for compatability, and if a matchmaker doesn't know their OGF well, then they don't know if the guy is a believer in gay culture—and if he is a believer, there won't be any compatibility for me.
I can discern a gay-culture believer in the first 30 minutes just by asking a question: “Where did you go on your last three getaways?” Possible answers: all-male party in Palm Springs, booze-cruise around Fire Island. Or by listening carefully: do all the friends they talk about seem to be gay men, or do they gab excessively about going to the gym to get fit for Saturday night?
I'm not saying I want to date someone with the bland, flabby comportment of the "Man in the Gray Flannel Suit." No. I have my own brand of shallowness. I just don't want it to be the same brand as that of every other homosexual.
Ultimately, it's a matter of priorities. Being gay is obviously a requirement for a guy I date (unless he's bisexual, but that's another essay). But sharing a preference for the same sex is not an ipso facto point of connection. Of the many ways I define myself, “gay” is low on the list.
So, if you have an OGF to set me up with, please remember this: “Also Gay” isn't a good enough reason to go on a date. I'm not going to have a successful dating spell with a guy who defines himself by his sexuality. Because I don't.
Stephen Milioti is a freelance writer and editor based in New York. He's written features, essays, reviews, and cultural criticism for publications including New York magazine, the New York Observer, Time Out New York, Salon.com, Publishers Weekly, USA Today and the Boston Globe. He has also recently worked on freelance editing projects at Time Inc., Conde Nast Publications and The New York Times Company.