Culture  I’m here and I’m queer

Negotiating the nuance in gay identity

Upon arriving at McGill, I was surprised at the way queer culture was so out in the open. I saw men wearing short shorts and flamboyantly coloured outfits with weird haircuts and amazing attention to detail. I saw men holding hands on the street, making out in public. The very idea of a pride parade seemed alien to me. It was a whole spectrum of a culture I had missed out on in my home country of Lebanon, and I was delighted.

I thought I would fit right in, and seemingly had no problem, until one day I was at OAP with a couple of friends, at which time we opened up the subject of my sexuality. One of my friends turned to me and said, “Well, when I first met you I didn’t think you were gay.” The more surprising thing was that it wasn’t just her: all the friends I had become close with told me the same thing. I was shocked, considering I don’t really try to hide any part of myself anymore, now that I live in Montreal.

As a consequence, I started asking myself a very dangerous question – what was I missing? It wasn’t like I didn’t express my attraction for men in public or express my views openly among friends. I started comparing myself to the guys who attended my sexual diversity class. Comparing yourself to other people is disastrous – don’t ever do it. I started noticing that I didn’t act the way they usually did; I didn’t dress as flamboyantly, as elegantly. So, of course, this led me to believe that there was something wrong with me. Was the answer to my predicament for me to change? If so, how was I to go about changing myself so late in my life, so people would notice I was gay right from the get-go?

It seemed like a daunting idea to me that – having gone through so many changes in my youth in order to accept myself and my sexuality – I had to change again, this time superficially, so people would notice me – or should I say, so other guys would notice me. Later, as I was toying with this idea, standing in the ridiculously long line at Paragraphe bookstore near the beginning of the semester, I came across a book.

The book, How to be Gay, by David M. Halperin, struck me immediately. Needless to say, I grabbed it off the bookshelf faster than you could say vodka martini. I went to lower field, sprawled myself on the grass, and dived into this mysterious world I wanted to discover for myself. The title itself proves satirical, as Halperin emphasizes the simple fact that, no, there is no one particular way to be gay.

The concept for his book was born in 2000 when Halperin got an idea for the theme of an English class, which he ended up calling “How to be Gay.” Of course, he received a lot of flack from people who didn’t understand what he was aiming at. His sole message was to show that there is no archetype, or stereotype, that gay men have to fit in order to be recognized sexually and aesthetically.

The minute you come out, people start expecting things from you. Your best “girlfriends” look to you for fashion tips. “Does my ass look big in these jeans,” they ask, or they suggest girl-friendly outings, such as “let’s all go watch Magic Mike and ogle at Channing Tatum’s abs!” (In fact, I prefer Joe Manganiello.) Your close guy friends stop talking to you about sports, or cars, or technology, thinking that you, as a gay guy, would not be into those things anymore.

Halperin states that when he first started the class, his friends objected, asking him: “Since when are you qualified to teach people how to be gay? What do you know about it?” But by asking that, his friends implied that there is a right way and a wrong way to be gay, “a way that needs to be learned even (or especially) by gay men themselves.”

His book, Halperin says, is called How to be Gay because that phrase expresses the problem he wants to study and understand. Namely, “that male homosexuality is not a sexual practice but also a cultural practice, that there is a relation between sexuality and social aesthetic form;” mainly how people act around different people in a social context. This creates a gap between the gay sex life and the way gay men act with other people in public, splitting homosexuality into two facets.

That made me wonder: what if all of society, and specifically the gay male subculture, thinks like that and acts accordingly? Is there a right way to be gay? Does a person really have to fit all the variables and codes of gay culture in order to be identified as gay? Do I have to wear tighter clothes, use more hair products, restock my wardrobe, watch certain movies, and listen to a certain type of music?

For me, that takes away from every person’s uniqueness. Don’t get me wrong, I am pro-“do whatever makes you comfortable, and fuck the rest,” but if it’s all just an act, if it’s all just theatre, then what’s the point? I realize now that my sexuality is no one’s business, and if everyone wants to imply that I’m straight just by the way I look, then that’s not my problem either.

I’m not sure about the fate of my sex life though.

How to be Gay by David M. Halperin is available online and at retailers.