Bill Roundy

June 1998

The Gay Community (hey, there IS one)

This month, I was planning to write about queer poets, and my own process of coming out within my writings. Which could be pretty cool, but instead, something's come up. So I'm going to abandon my usually rigorous intellectualism (yeah, that's it) and just tell you what I've been up to lately.

I've been hanging out with gay people.

This probably seems like a really obvious step. I mean, I'm a 24-year-old gay male, living near a major metropolitan area. According to my demographic, I should be hanging out with lots of queers. But I have almost no close gay friends. Those that I have are mostly ex-boyfriends. (I'm always on the lookout for a future ex-boyfriend). I'm misanthropic anyway, and I don't like techno music or bars, so there goes most of my opportunities for meeting gay people. Even when I was in college, and the president of the campus gay rights group, I didn't actually hang out with any of those people. Many of them, I didn't even like. So I've always been the Token Gay Man in my circle of friends.

But for the last month or so, I've joined a really cool, mostly gay crowd, which meets once a week at a local restaurant. I got introduced through the friend of a friend, and that's how the group grows. It includes some computer techies, some writers, one of my ex-boyfriends, some club kids, one or two straight people -- the ages range from 16 to mid-forties. We talk, we eat, we drink heavily (as long as we tip well and don't get too rowdy, they'll serve the underage kids). Last week I went to a really excellent, extremely wild party at Craig & Mike's house. And I liked it.

Mostly, I like it because I feel connected. I love my straight friends, but sometimes I feel like they just don't get it. They don't quite understand how I feel about the closet, or about seeing gay people in the movies.

Well, here's an example: at that party, I was sitting around with a couple of guys, and one of them, a cute high-schooler, was talking about a straight boy he had a crush on. He was saying, "And he's so gorgeous, and he's so straight, and when he smiles, I just...rrrrgh!" And the rest of us just exchanged glances, grinned a little, and shook our heads. Because we'd all been there. We knew what he was talking about. And it was a relief to know that we were all thinking the same thing. That's what a community is about -- having a body of shared experiences. We'd all been through the same things, and we didn't have to explain or explicate it. It was so nice. I've never really had a chance to do that before. We could just look at each other and think "Yep, he's gonna have to learn the hard way."

I hope none of the people from the group read this, because I'm gonna be really embarrassed at the way I'm gushing here.

I also like the group because I recognize it. I've read about the gay community. I've thought about it. But I've never really experienced it. It's like the afternoon I spent walking around New York City: I spent the whole time thinking "So this is what they were talking about. In those Woody Allen movies, on Seinfeld, in those Frank O'Hara poems...this is where it happened, what it's actually like." Settling into the group a new experience, but it's also familiar. I can recognize the archetypes of Artistic Queen, Sugar Daddy, Club Kid. Here's a minor example, but it's typical: poppers. I've read about them, in Dancer from the Dance, or the Unofficial Gay MANual ˆ I knew that they were butyl nitrate, which causes "increased heart rate and disorientation." But now, I know that they come in a small bottle about the size of a contact lens case, and I know what it really does (not much, don't bother).

Last, I like it because it gives me a chance to test some of my theories. It's forcing me to examine some of the beliefs I've held and see if they really hold up in the real world. For instance, I've said that I always want to keep love and sex together. But there's a gorgeous young man in the group who's slept with pretty much everyone there. I could probably have him if I wanted to. Do I? I've never wanted to be a ho, but I've never really had much of an opportunity before. So it's been a false choice. I don't think I'm going to stray from my ethical standards, but now I find out if I have the courage of my convictions. It's not just a theoretical position anymore. And remember my column about age differences in the gay community? Most of those positions hold true, but I've been talking to some actually cool older gay men. They're a lot more complex and compelling than they come off when they're writing articles in The Advocate.

See, the problem with Oasis is that it's a virtual community. It's great in it's own way, but it's not REAL. We're physical creatures, and all of this -- the Internet, chat-rooms, web-sites -- it's all an idea, it's all in your head. I'm never going to the visceral look of connection that I had at that party from e-mailing someone. This is intellectual, but ultimately we have to come back to the practical, to see what things are like in the real world.

One more anecdote: Last Saturday, I wound up making out with someone in a corner of the party. This is not wholly unprecedented (see last June's column: Why I Hate Straight Men), but it feels like this time, it can actually have consequences. I got his phone number, and I've been so giddy about meeting him that for the last couple of days, I've been stupid -- I've been calling my friends and saying, "Wow. I met a boy. He's really nice. Gee." I LOVE THAT. There's potential for a real relationship here, one that's reinforced by other gay people. I want to see what that's like -- NOT being the only gay couple at the party, being jealous for a good reason. I don't know if it'll work or not, but I want to see this play out in the real world, not as a fantasy, not insulated from a larger group of friends.

So, I guess I advocate going out and finding your community. I'm almost glad I didn't have this handed to me when I was 18, because now I'm comfortable, and I didn't have to adjust to accepting my sexuality and a new culture at the same time. But when you can, when you think you know who you are, plunge into the real world and try it out.

Okay, that's all. Thank you for reading this far, and I'll see you next month.

Any comments? Accolades? Chastisement? E-mail roundywc@hotmail.com



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