By: Christopher Eckman
The Funny Gays
You were never the class clown in elementary school, instead you were mostly bullied. But now that you’ve come out as gay in High School, you have carte blanche to say scandalous things about sex which will make your friends howl with laughter. You take full advantage of this, especially after you date a few people who are really into stand-up comedy and you learn about famous comedians—Gallagher, Mitch Hedberg, Margaret Cho, Lisa Lampeneilli (briefly, and offensively). You repeat the things you hear them say and you get away with it because, just like Jack on Will and Grace, gay people are supposed to be funny. And you enjoy making people laugh, though you wish you could do it without being so offensive.
It won’t be enough for you to be out. That will just be the start of it. Sure, there will be offers from those looking for not just any kind of best friend, but a gay best friend. And yes, you will receive a sudden influx of invites from every which person. But they will be specific invites, that is, they will require something of you that you may not be prepared to offer. You will accept anyway, for acceptance is the one thing you feared you’d never get.
One day after you’ve graduated college, before you’re married but with the man you’ll marry, you overhear Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me on NPR and listen to Paula Poundstone, Peter Segal, and Mo Rocca say hilarious things that aren’t all based on stereotypes or vulgar language. After that day, you only want to be funny without all the shock and scandal and stereotypes.
One day in graduate school you hear the teacher say “Rembrandt’s gays” when discussing On Looking, an essay by Randon Billings Noble. Your teacher says, “separate gays” and you think: well, that’s offensive. Then she starts talking about “the gays of the art” and you realize the whole time when you look down at the reading she’s been saying gaze the whole time and you choke back the giggles. She keeps going on about “the gays of animals” and “independent gays” and you can’t handle it. You write on your friend’s sheet of paper, “GAZE=GAYS,” and as she talks about “being under someone’s gays,” he starts cracking up. The jig is up, and when you tell the teacher about how she keeps saying things like “What do you read in someone’s gays” and “flicked our gays away” and “dropped my gays” and “gays skimming” and “outside of our gays” and “my gays is different from your gays” and “gorilla’s gays,” the entire class cracks up and she laughs so hard she has to leave the room for a moment.
You like being funny. This humor will guide you to your voice, the one that you’ll use to write an essay about confusing gaze and gays, and then gay expectations, some of which you will gladly meet, but others which will leave you feeling like you are coming up a little short on your gay agenda. It’s not your job to please everyone, even if you want to. You’ll feel better just being yourself. You’ll learn this in time.
When you graduate High School and move to a new city a fourteen-hour drive away from your old one, you’ll have to come out as gay to everyone new you meet all over again. Except your new boss at the flower shop, because right after meeting each other you’re just sort of out.
He will expect that as a gay man you know certain things. Most of which have to do with popular culture. This means you will have to admit you don’t know who Star Jones is and that you’ve never even heard of The View. He will look as if you have slapped him across the face. “Didn’t you hear she disrespected Barbra Walters?” Pretend to know who Barbra Walters is, for your sake.
You don’t really know anything, it turns out. You’ve never seen The Sound of Music (Julie Andrews sings), or The Bird Cage (Robin Williams plays a gay man), or Steel Magnolias (Gal pals and gay icons like Dolly Parton and Julia Roberts). You don’t know who Anderson Cooper or Cathy Griffin are. You watch TODAY on NBC every morning on the little TV that sits up on the shelf at work.
You make a new friend online, Sam, introduce him to Douglas, and he agrees to teach you everything he can about the gaze.
Sam tells you what to love. You learn to love the comedian Margaret Cho (who loves the gays), the youtuber Liam Sullivan (who dresses up as a woman named Kelly and proclaims her love for shoes) and the band Dresden Dolls (who do a music video with Margaret and Liam). He also gives you all kinds of quippy little things you might say if you’re out and about and feeling sassy such as:
“That boy is CFFBFFC,” (cute from far, but far from cute).
“Every time that boy opens his mouth a purse falls out,” (His voice sounds gay).
“That boy is dumb as a box of hair,” (Don’t believe me? Urban Dictionary).
Sam loves to shop for clothes; you just tell him everything he picks out is cute. You’ve learned better than to give your honest opinion. Besides, you feel insecure about your opinions around your new friends.
The Closet Gays
In High School you will be asked to help your friend go through her closet. She will try things on for you, and with a critical and discerning eye you must try and give her the answers she either is searching for or needs to hear.
Spoiler Alert: you have no discerning eye. You aren’t Tim Gunn from Project Runway. The closest you can get to him is plugging your nose and saying in a low tone “DESIGNERSSSS.”
Your friend hates your suggestions. The invitations to go shopping are now shopping for you; it’s clear you’re the one who needs the fashion advice so from now on you’ll be fashion chaperoned. You’re sort of glad about that, anyway. There’s nothing very daring about Khakis and polo shirts. You’ll get button down shirts, an expensive pair of jeans that were on sale, and a leather wristband / hemp necklace combo. I mean, you really should have been to Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle by now. Still, you start to curate a look.
One day your sister comes to visit you in Colorado and you take her to the outlet mall to buy a pair of snow pants. This should be easy, but you still feel that sense of unease as you enter the store. There, in the back, two pairs of snow pants, identical except for color. This should be easy, you think, a fifty percent chance of getting it right. Salmon, or teal? You point to the salmon colored ones, say how they’ll stand out against her black coat, say they’re bright and maybe like a fun lipstick color. She looks to you, wanting to please you as little sisters do, and then to the snow pants. She picks teal. Oh well—you’ve learned you can’t be good at everything.
In college you go to work at a flower shop owned by a gay man. You should be able to design beautiful flowers, he tells you, it’s in your DNA. But after several failed attempts you’re relegated to washing buckets and trimming stems. Still, the least you can do is learn the names.
First you learn which flowers not to use: Baby’s Breath and Carnations. They are over-done, and the favorites of a generation long passed. Instead, you learn to use modern flowers. You trim the stems of lilies, Peruvian lilies or Alstroemeria, Anthurium the flamingo flower, purple tri-tipped irises, bright yellow daffodils, gerbera daisies (your favorite, come in every color and look great in your graphite Volkswagen beetle), big lettuce like hydrangeas, soapy smelling lavender and lilac, white and violet orchids, bright orange oriental poppies, loose-lipped snap dragons that speak when you pinch their buds together, bunches of pastel colored tulips every Easter, red and white roses for Valentine’s Day, bits of pine and poinsettias for Christmas. You measure your year in flowers.
You learn which flowers you like, learn how to describe the types of arrangements that create a “wow” factor, learn to hate the phrase “simple yet elegant,” learn that even years after you’ve left the flower shop, you still can’t design an arrangement to save your life. And what’s worse, now that you know which flowers you like, you’ll be unable to stop yourself from saying something about every arrangement your husband has delivered to you. You feel like criticizing a gift makes you a terrible person, but you do it anyway. You aren’t afraid of your opinions anymore.
The IT Gays
Tim Cook becomes the first gay major CEO. He is the head of Apple, and so you should know how to help your friends setup their new phones, decrypt their forgotten Wi-Fi passwords, and restore their failed hard drives. Luckily, you actually have this one under control since you got your BS in Computer Science and Math before you got married and stopped working to be a stay-at-home puppy Dad, which you love, for now. You still have time to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.
You can solve almost any problem, but not with the bedside manner you’d prefer. Your answers are short and frustrated, and no one feels especially flattered when you explain it to them in the simplest of terms. Your mother isn’t sure what to tell people who ask her what you do for a living (nothing), so she tells a few people you are starting your own computer repair business. This embarrasses you, and you wonder if she would say the same thing if you were a stay at home mother. Besides, she should know better; you always get frustrated trying to provide technical support for her, how would you ever do it for complete strangers every day?
When you’re living in Denver, you’ll learn all about Capitol Hill where the gays live and, how before they moved in it was sort of neglected and not quite the shining jewel of the city that it is now. You’ll hear all about how “the gays moved in” and remodeled the homes, cleaned up the yard, gentrified the area. So, naturally, you’ll be expected to know how to do those things as well. You wouldn’t mind being able to design a space, and for a short while you even consider going to school for interior design. Why aren’t you interested in any jobs that make money?
HGTV makes everyone a little more design savvy, which just puts more expectations on you. Just like with Tim Gunn, you’ll be compared to male interior designers (they won’t even have to be gay) and half of your friends will become interested in or start selling real estate. Should you get your real-estate license too?
A friend will ask you over to help her decorate her new room. She’ll show you some colors and ask you about her curtains, and you will make a suggestion. Then, your other gay friend, who you had tag along so you wouldn’t be the only gay at the party, will jump in and start making more and better suggestions, like replacing the orange curtains which are giving the room a strange tint. He’ll recommend a floor lamp to go in the corner and some plants to give the place a more lived-in feel. You’re happy for the back-up, but also wonder if it’s not design you should be doing, then what is it? You start to feel like you’ll never find “your thing,” never have a career.
The Wingman Gays
Both your gay friends and your female friends will hop on the Craigslist / Tinder / Grindr / Bumble / PlentyOfFish / eHarmony romance app-train. You will be expected, on demand, at any moment or location, to be ready to rate an infinite number of nameless faces on a screen. You should possess the ability to identify true love between those on the app and your close friends at a glance, and more importantly, to identify any red flag suitor and help shut those down immediately.
At the club on days when you’re tired from work and just want to hang out with your friends, you will still be prepared to go home alone. After all, you can’t expect them to make time for you when they have that tall guy who they met at the bar waiting to see them. Especially when you told your friend the tall guy’s bag looked like a purse. What are friends for?
You put up with more than you should sometimes, because you feel guilty about being gay. Your church told you that you were making a sinful choice, even though you didn’t choose anything. Your parents didn’t understand at first, how could you do this to them? You apologized for coming out, for being different, for needing extra attention, for having to explain the way you are to everyone you meet. You think maybe, if you can be good at things, that will make up for the way you are. You try to be a good neighbor, a good friend, a good student. All those things are good, but you have nothing to apologize for. Your gaze is special.
The Kitchen Gays
If your friend is hosting a party and invites you to come, be prepared to show up early and have something unique to contribute. Be able to name all the cheeses, both hard and soft. Know how to make a mixed drink, because once in the presence of the gay man all your friends will forget how they ever made a cocktail for themselves and will want your signature cocktails and will want you to keep them coming.
How many shitty cocktails will you have to make before you can confidently bartend? You will make the mistake for a long time of using store-bought lemon juice instead of freshly squeezed lemons (you had it right as child eating them in the restaurant that way). For a while you’ll try new and exciting recipes, but your friends will dump them out because they’re too sweet, too bitter, or too strong. Later, when you start nailing the whole cocktail mixing thing, they’ll ask if you went to bartending school, so try not to worry too much about it.
You start thinking about cooking school, but after a move across the country you start to doubt it. Being gay, even though it hasn’t defined you, has taught you and changed you. You aren’t just one thing, you’re an entire cast of Queer Eye in one person. You sit at your desk, alone with your thoughts—but not lonely—and you see if hiding behind second person “you” will help you figure out what to do next. Even if it doesn’t, you stop worrying about it so much—you’ve made it this far, right?
Christopher Eckman is an MFA Graduate of Creative Non-fiction Writing at Rosemont College where he was managing editor of the Rathalla Review and recipient of the College Presidential Medal. He holds a Bachelors Degree of Science in Computer Science and Mathematics from the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and has been published in their arts and literary magazine, Metrosphere. He has lived in Colorado, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. He currently works as a stay at home puppy dad in Colorado with his husband, Tim, and their two dogs, Dexter and Jordan, where he cooks, blogs, and plays guitar.