The Golden Rule

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When I first came out to my mom, she repeatedly expressed concern for my safety, as if the villagers were waiting outside my door with torches and pitchforks.

“Lots of people don’t like the gays, you know,” she said, referring to “the gays” as their own species. “Why would you want to put yourself in danger like that?”

Like any experienced Jewish son, I quickly disregarded my mother’s concern as paranoia. This is a woman who would triple-lock her bedroom door living in a convent (probably to ward off any lesbian nuns). When I became a lawyer, she suggested I change my last name and pretend to be gentile, because “law firms might not like the Jews.” I informed her that in fact many of the most prominent law firms had Jewish names, but my mother wrote that off to an “attempt to be politically correct.” According to her, those Jews were probably just figureheads. Apparently the Pope is the real mastermind behind the American legal system.

But despite the results of loaded polling and a few bad apples, I don’t think most people really care where I put my penis (though perhaps I should care more). Sure, there are still some intolerant people out there, but people will always find a reason to dislike you if they feel like it. If it’s not my sexuality it might be my taste for ketchup on pasta. Personally, I cannot stand people who use correct punctuation in e-mails. They make the rest of us look plain lazy.

By the time I came out to my mother I had been out of the closet for the better part of a decade, and in all that time I never once felt physically endangered because of my sexuality. Ok, a bunch of frat boys did yell “fag” at me from a passing car once, but that epitaph seemed motivated more by a general desire to insult someone than a direct reference to my sexuality. Though I’m not the most masculine guy in the world, most straight guys have horrible gaydar, and cannot accurately determine another guy’s sexuality, especially from two hundred feet away. Despite their tendency to call each other “fag” and “homo,” straight guys generally don’t like to think anyone is actually gay, probably because that would mean that they could be also. I had a college roommate who, after I came out to him, insisted that I “prove” to him that I was gay, even though the VCR was always set to record The Golden Girls and my CD collection spanned Liza’s career from rise to meltdown. I offered him a blow job as proof; he politely declined, but my earnestness was enough to convince him that I was telling the truth.

Although my mother’s concern for my well-being was misplaced, it was not completely irrational. It’s not the hostile straights she should have warned me against, who are easily dismissed and avoided. No, had my mother known better, she would have warned me about the hostile gays, who run the homosexual social network with a latex fist.

The act of exiting the closet involves more than just fessing up to your sexual orientation. It also includes reentering a world of behavior that had been previously discarded at the playground gates. For a certain type of gay, coming out of the closet is a license to tease, taunt, and torment with impunity. And it’s not just the heavy, bald, and/or old who suffer as a result of this mass regression. Something as small as wearing last season’s man clogs can destroy an entire evening. The gay gene exists in conjunction with the teenage girl gene.

Of course, the homosexuals don’t have a monopoloy on superficiality. There’s certainly no America’s Next Top Electrical Engineer, or Make Me A Supernerd, and there’s a growing number of Botoxed, retoxed, and detoxed women out there who may not be biodegradable anymore. But its the homosexuals who have turned a character flaw into a pathology.

I knew I had entered unfriendly territory the first time I went to a gay bar. Naively, I decided to go alone, hoping that people would be friendly and welcome me with open arms. Sort of like a gay Cheers, without the bad lighting and all the mahogany.

“Oh, hey everyone, it’s Jonah! He just came out of the closet! Let’s give him a big cheer!” At which point they would lift me on their shoulders and perhaps do a hora, depending on the Jew to gentile ratio.

The reality was slightly different. No one cheered when I entered, there were no horas in sight, and everybody neither knew my name nor cared to. Instead I found a crowd of men standing self-consciously around a dance floor, eyeing each other with looks that were equal parts suspicious, derisive, and sexual. Each time someone caught another person’s gaze, the first person would quickly look away — no no, I’m not interested in you, I was actually looking at your friend, you know, the hotter one. It was a junior high school dance, except everyone had a drink, a cigarette, and a penis.

I downed my first vodka cranberry quickly. It tasted curiously like Robitussin, and I wondered if the bar had the same vodka supplier as CVS. I ordered another one, and downed that one as well. I wasn’t trying to get drunk — having a drink in front of my face just gave me something to look at, because whenever I looked up I inevitably saw someone who was better dressed, better coifed, or better looking than me. Were my ears always this pointy? Is my right eye bigger than my left? Is that a third nipple? How did I let myself get to this point at all? I felt the birth of a new psychosis coming over me; pathological self-consciousness. Coming out was supposed to decrease my therapy bills, not the other way around.

The second vodka cranberry hit me quickly — I have the bladder of a munchkin — and I abandoned my safe corner stool to venture to the bathroom.

Several guys stood in front of the bathroom, carefully judging every person coming in and going out. They reminded me of the old Muppets who sit in the balcony and make fun of the various goings-on below them, except they were wearing Diesel jeans and two hundred dollar t-shirts. They were also significantly less urbane than their felt counterparts.

“Hey did you see the butt on him? Do you think he needs the jaws of life to get him out of a car?”

“That hair looks better on my dog.”

“I’ve seen smaller love handles on Dom DeLuise.”

Ten years ago, these same guys were being stuffed in lockers and hung from flagpoles. Watching them disparage everyone who crossed their path, part of me wished their high school tormentors would swing by and give a command performance.

Fortunately, I entered the bathroom behind a group of heavyset men (heavyset by gay standards, average by straight ones) who attracted their attention, and the evil Muppets did not notice me. Only then did I realize that using the facilities might be more complicated than I expected. The men’s room consisted of a long troth with a mirror above it tilted downward, the goal presumably to give its users the opportunity to urinate and window shop at the same time. Fortunately I was sufficiently tipsy by that point that I didn’t notice the gaggle of men staring at me, or more precisely, at it. But I was not so tipsy as to hang around for one moment longer than I needed to.

Unfortunately, although I escaped unscathed when I went into the bathroom, I wasn’t so lucky on the way out.

“What do we think of the hat?,” referring to the wool ski cap I was wearing that night to keep my ears warm in the chilly Boston night. I didn’t know that a five dollar hat could also be a fashion statement.

“It could work, if his face wasn’t so chunky.” No one had called me “chunky” since ninth grade, when I was slightly overweight due to an excess of quarter-pounders and a deficiency of physical activity. Gym class didn’t keep my weight down, probably because I hadn’t actually participated in gym class since I learned to successfully forge my mother’s signature. Luckily my gym teacher wasn’t too smart.

“You were mauled by a polar bear?,” the coach asked when I handed him a particularly inventive note. “Don’t polar bears live in the Arctic?”

“Oh, no. There has been a rash of polar bear attacks on Long Island lately. Damn global warming!”

Unfortunately, during junior year my not-so-smart straight male gym teacher was replaced by a more intelligent lesbian version who didn’t take kindly to my increasingly pathetic excuses and was increasingly suspicious of the constant notes.

“You know, I think I’m going to call your mother and check on some of these notes of yours,” she told me.

“Oh, ok, yeah, go ahead,” I said, calling her bluff. “But don’t call after 1pm. That’s when she has — what’s it called again — chemotherapy? And after that she’s usually vomiting most of the night, but if I hold the phone up to her ear she might be able to talk in between heaves.”

My mother’s imaginary cancer aside, I decided to kick it up a notch, ditch the freak accident route, and instead develop a physical ailment that essentially prevented me from participating in all but the most innocuous physical activities, most of which involved sitting stationary for prolonged periods of time. Fortunately I had a very sympathetic pediatrician who backed me up, probably because he knew my parents were insane and was always two steps from calling child protective services.

Looking back, I should have participated in more gym classes. I might have developed a thicker skin if I had.

“Yeah, he sure is chubby,” Muppet #2 replied. Again, no one had called me “chubby” since high school, when John Leclark told me I had “chubby hair.” I’m still not sure what that meant.

“His head is actually much larger than the rest of his body,” he continued, taking a sip of a clear drink. “I’m surprised he doesn’t tip over in a stiff wind.”

“And did you check out the shoes? Can we say payless, suffer more?”

Well, that was it. I may have been newly out of the closet, but I knew that a shoe insult was akin to a bitch slap, and required a reply. I stopped dead in front of them.

“You know I can hear you, right?” I said to Muppet #1. I chose to address him because he was smaller than me, and I thought I could take him if it came to blows. Though at that time in my life I was so out-of-shape that Punky Brewster probably could have beat me up. But there’s no shame in that. She was one scrappy lesbian.

It didn’t come to blows. It didn’t even come to words, really. They both stared at me for a minute, and then Muppet #2 said:

“So?”

And that was that. I stood there for another moment, considering whether to escalate the situation, and decided against it. There were already enough drama queens under this roof, and one more might have exceeded the building’s capacity.

But there was another reason to let it go — it just wasn’t worth it. Standing directly in front of them, I felt not anger, but pity. In their $200 t-shirts and jeans three sizes too small, these guys had become caricatures of themselves. They had queer-eyed themselves to death, and in the process, forgotten the dictates of general human decency. And for that, I felt bad for them. Perhaps feeling bad for them was actually the greatest revenge of all.

A few minutes later, I looked up from my third vodka cranberry — the drinks were tasting better with every passing moment, the miracle of alcohol — and saw them still standing there, except now Muppet #2, the taller, more aesthetically pleasing one of the pair, had made a new friend, and Muppet #1 was now left to fend for himself. Something told me this was not a new experience for him. Muppet #1 was still scanning the room for victims, but now he had no one to share his fabulous misery with. All those insults, gone to waste in his head.

It was then that I made a resolution, never to become a caricature of myself. I promised that night to be kind to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, weight — I even promised to be kind to those that others wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, like lepers, or Republicans. Not out of pity, but solidarity. Together we could take back the night from the evil Muppets and their ilk. I promised to be the saint of every gay bar I’d go to for the rest of my life. I would treat every individual with the dignity and respect that I expect to be treated with myself.

But only if they’re not bald. Even saints have limits.


write by cruz

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