The Final Fight | 08.2014

Close-up mid section of a shirtless muscular man with arms cross

Passing for Straight

I recently dated someone who would definitely be considered a “fem” guy. The experience opened my eyes to a lot of different things I hadn’t experienced before.

BY ROB SMITH

There are few things in modern gay life that are more prized than masculinity.

Politically we may desire to create the illusion of one big umbrella. Though we support the transgender movement and know that a party isn’t a party without at least one good drag queen, when it comes to dating, masculinity seems to be—for many of us—the ultimate goal in a partner.

And, of course, why wouldn’t it be? For the most part images of gay male desirability in the media is that of a masculine man with big muscles and big arms, which is all the better to combat gay shame with, I suppose.

Although we are a community of many types of people—of varying levels of masculinity—it seems like the total package is that of a man who can “pass,” someone who we can proudly walk down the street with—hand in hand—and declare to society “yes, two men can be together and this is what it looks like.”

While I am usually attracted to the more “masculine” types of guys—I recently dated someone who would definitely be considered a “fem” guy. The experience of dating “Derek” actually opened my eyes to a lot of different things I hadn’t experienced before.

I’m a big, black man. There’s simply no other way to say this. I work out a lot. I eat like a pig. I have paid actual money to see more than one Fast & Furious sequel. Suffice it to say that when I go about my daily life in New York City, there isn’t very much about me that screams GAY to casual passerby. Whether it be from a subconscious attempt to project masculinity or the result of my socialization from five long years of military service, I read as heterosexual to the untrained eye.

Derek is not a big, black man. He’s a lean blonde kid from Connecticut with blue eyes, a delicate way of speaking, and soft features. Derek does read gay, and there’s simply no other way around that, either. That didn’t really bother me for two reasons. First of all because Derek is a sweet, smart, and special guy. Secondly, I never felt that Derek’s femininity was some sort of socialized act that was put on for the benefit of others. Everything about Derek was very natural, and there was something very appealing about being with someone who was completely comfortable with himself.

During the month I dated Derek, I started to notice things that I never noticed before. When Derek held onto my arm while walking on the Upper West Side, it wasn’t only a visual indication of our coupledom, but also a safety mechanism for him. I had 65 pounds on him. We spent more than one night with him wrapped in my arms. He felt protected by me, and in turn I felt more protective of him than anyone I’ve ever dated. I knew that if we were to run into some homophobes or if anyone wanted to start any trouble, I would have to protect both of us. After one particular date I noticed his visible discomfort with taking the subway back downtown alone.

I realized that in his daily life, he lives with the constant threat of harassment by people who deem him an easy mark. Even though it didn’t work out between us, I came out of the situation with a great deal of respect for the gay men who aren’t able to “pass.”

Yes, there is a certain level of privilege that comes with being someone who doesn’t instantly read as gay, but what are we gonna do about it? I have no idea how to answer that question, but now that I notice the sneers that are directed at men who present themselves as a bit more feminine and have become a little bit more aware of their challenges, I realize that they are much bolder than I.

Even though my presentation is fundamentally who I am, it’s much easier to throw on a t-shirt and jeans and blend into the proceedings than it is to go out into a world that believes who you are isn’t right, throw caution to the wind, and be yourself at all costs. Derek and the millions of other guys just like him are doing that every single day, and they definitely deserve our respect.