Andrew Sim recounts an encounter he had with a closeted, married man.
OPINION I’m sitting at a bar in the East Village of New York after playing a lovely gig to a packed room of comics, tourists and a few true New Yorkers. The adrenaline is still spiking my brain as I sip on my ten-dollar wine that I had to purchase to get the gig. This had been my first gig here that wasn’t to a room of only comics, all of them forgetting to listen to who’s on stage cause they’re all in their heads thinking about their own material. Instead, I was buzzing from this one. I played to the room, executed my set perfectly and loved my audience the way a mother loves her child. However, before I could mentally crown myself the King of Comedy, a young drunk guy approaches me at the bar.
He’s not your usual drunken audience member as he’s wearing a flamboyant salmon coloured shirt with an unnecessary amount of buttons open, tight skinny black jeans, gelled brown hair with bleached blonde tips and clearly moisturised skin. He stumbles towards me and leers over me like a pissed up flamingo. He spits at me the kind but common phrase, “Good set, man.” I politely smile and say, “Thanks.” He reaches out his hand to shake mine and I reciprocate the gesture. “Love the bisexual shit!” Again, I take the compliment and smile politely. Technically, I’m pansexual but I don’t want to confuse my primarily straight audiences too much with that. Most of them have only got used to bisexuality. Don’t want to have their beady little hetro eyes staring back at me thinking, “Pansexual?! Does this guy fuck kitchen ware?!” So instead I keep it simpler for the stage, don’t want them thinking I masturbate into woks at Ikea.
“Technically, I’m pansexual but I don’t want to confuse my primarily straight audiences … Don’t want to have their beady little hetro eyes staring back at me thinking, “Pansexual?! Does this guy fuck kitchen ware?!”
“I think it’s really cool that you’re so open and stuff,” he continues. Again I smile and say thanks, but before I can add anything he asks, “Are you single?” Oh. Suddenly I realise that this guy might be hitting on me. I mean that must be it. He’s clearly gay and I’m hot shit, so obviously that’s what’s happening. (I must make it clear immediately that I do not think I’m ‘hot shit’ as I have a certain amount of insecurity when it comes to my looks. A genius, yes. ‘Hot shit’, no.) I answer his forward question with a calm yes and tried my best to have a cute glint in my eye. I hadn’t received any sexual interest in New York yet, so my time was now. “That’s exciting!” he says, “You’re travelling the world, doing comedy and you’re single. I could never be that brave. I mean my marriage defines me.” Marriage? “I’ve been with my wife for five years now. Can’t leave her now!” Ah fuck. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t flirting with a free affluent homosexual in the Big Gay Apple, I was listening to the confessions of a closeted Republican.
“Ha, I’m only joking,” he said with deadness in his eyes, “I love my wife.” Again, said with a very subtle cold bitterness that only someone with ears could hear. “I mean when you get to my age – “ He looked no older than late twenties, “ – you stop thinking about urges and concentrate on responsibility.” Oh god, what straight hell is this? I decide I need to question him on this. I choose not to start with screaming in his face, “HAVE YOU TRIED FUCKING A MAN!” Instead I go for the cautious approach with an even-handed, “Responsibility?” Passing back his statement with a question, pretending to be naïve to his meaning. “Well yeah, I mean like, as you get older you can’t just go with your weird urges. You have to fit with what society expects of you.” I was speechless.
I had to sit back for a second to comprehend what I had just heard. This is 2018. Granted I’m in Trump’s America, but this is New York! I couldn’t believe the prison this man I had made for himself. I start playing back the events that have just happened. When this man had seen me on stage, deep down it had signalled something to his brain that my freedom of identity was significant to him. I’m not loud about it, but I’m bold, aware and unashamed. Things that he cannot find in himself. Furthermore, he probably wouldn’t have had the courage to approach me if he hadn’t been drunk. So I pitied this man’s ignorance and decided to settle in to what else he wanted to say to me; his new cool bisexual friend.
“I mean you can do what you like. You can sleep with anyone!” Oh my goodness I wish. “You could sleep with three girls and two guys tonight if you wanted.” He seemed to overestimate my level of game. Also, the logistics of such an encounter frightened me. “I mean I would never be that adventurous.” This is when he uttered the saddest sentence I’ve ever heard, “I’m happy with getting drunk and doing missionary.” Wow. I tried so hard not to burst into laughter at this absurd notion. I forced myself not to breakdown crying at his ignorance of real sexual pleasure. But primarily, I had to not hug him tightly while shouting at the top of my lungs, “I am queer, and I am here to show you love!” Instead I just had to stare blankly at him while thinking about the fact he just admitted to getting drunk and forcing himself to have sex with his wife. How do I respond? What does his wife think of this ritual? She must know right? Or maybe she’s just as ignorant to the female orgasm as he is. All these ideas flashed through my mind as I stared at this lost, slightly effeminate, pissed up flamingo. I have all the answers to his problems. I have every solution to his gay searching, urge exploring, ball tickling problems.
“I mean you can do what you like. You can sleep with anyone!” Oh my goodness I wish. “You could sleep with three girls and two guys tonight if you wanted.”
But I froze. I could see in his kind eyes that he already knew what he was saying was wrong and I couldn’t find myself to say, “Sweetie, you’re heavily lacking in vitamin ‘D’” because I knew nothing would be achieved. I could sense that all he needed right now was someone to listen. Not scoff at his stupidity or agree with it either, but just listen. Looking into his eyes his pain was palpable. So many lies, excuses and arguments all connected to this falsehood. I decided to sit back and simply say a generalised version of the truth for his comfort, “Well sex doesn’t have to be adventurous. If you’re both happy with missionary then it’s fine. As long as you’re true to yourself, and your partner, then you’ll have no problems.” He knew I could see through him, but I was sparing him the dignity of working it out himself. He smiled sweetly and said, “Yeah. Exactly. Anyway…I should head back to my wife.” We shook hands once again, and he headed back downstairs to the club.
I dodged a complicated bullet. Although, sadly, I think he will be dodging many more as the years to come. I sat at the bar for a moment with my financially crippling Pinot Grigio, contemplating what had just occurred. Doubts start to enter my thoughts. Maybe I should have pressed the issue further. Breaking down every ignorant comment, teaching him self acceptance and finish my lecture with a rendition of ‘I Am What I Am’ while waving a rainbow flag at his sexually confused face. Or maybe I played it right. Maybe in three years time I’ll bump into him at another gig, hand in hand with his new gay lover Steven. I have no idea. All I know is that this is not an isolated incident.
Toxic masculinity takes many forms. It does not always have to be the bender bashing homophobe who physically assaults homosexuals and sexually assaults women. Sometimes it just has to be the pressure from within that stops a kind, young, pissed up flamingo from exploring his true comfort zone and not the one laid out to him by society. All I hope is that one day he finds love for himself, so that he can share that love with others. Also, maybe this will be the last time a married man indirectly comes out to me. It’s unlikely, but I can always hope.
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