”Sorry we are at full girl capacity,” the bouncer at the gay bar tells us as we walk up to its door on a Friday night. There are three of us, my friend M, his friend L and I and we have decided to have a final boys night out before M leaves town and I say “boys” because L is a lesbian (I don’t remember her name). I raise my eyebrows in disbelief at what I am hearing, having frequented the place for more than a year, female saturation point is a first, I didn’t even know that was a thing. My friends are taking it differently. Mildly amused, L comes out to the guy at the door, daring him to consider her sexual orientation before turning around and ushering us away to the bar on the corner. I make sure I look appalled while secretly hoping she would disappear or grow male genitalia so that I can go back to my bar. In a way she does, I never see her again. I also manage to placate my conscience by pointing out that there cannot be fewer men than women in any group lining up outside a generic club on a Friday night, so there.
Gay men have gotten very good at code switching pronouns in the company of friends and refer to “her” and the “girl,” expecting no one to get offended but at the same time adopting a snide bristling towards the opposite gender. We have also learnt to appropriate and imitate the female form, painstakingly drawing out the art of drag from just being vaudeville or satire, to make it a marketable and commercial enterprise, something that is considered the only standard of success today. The exaggeration of feminine traits is a way to align with gender neutrality, the idea that either/or is a construct that is easily overridden. But I see it feeding the chauvinistic appetites of men who have been berated on their masculinity growing up.
We indulge in venal conversations qualifying our physical proximity to the female organs. A gold star if you have never slept with a woman and a platinum one if it was a C-section. I can brush off these conversations to those who know me as locker-room banter ― the bathhouse version, but it really is this kind of undermining that seems to sustain the fragile male ego. I might regret my delighted squealing about not getting adult cooties from girls, but being part of the club takes work, a steady baritone and just the right amount of beard wax. I knew I had thrown away my star and was willing to put on as many reverse-homophobisms as needed to make up for it. “That’s so bottom” is not so much about the act of passiveness but the gender role it represents.
One Thursday evening, I find myself standing in a sea of men, all of us with our arms pressed to our sides, totem figurine like, clutching a glass half empty and staring at the screen for the weekly drag show viewing party. As season favorites scratch and slander their way to the top on screen, I spot a familiar face two rows behind me and break ranks to go meet him. He has brought a friend, a lady friend who is five inches taller than me and tells me she loves the show. Glad to have the company, I return my attention to the television. Tall lady friend in the meantime has managed to annoy short guy stranger standing behind her. Her height has actively denied him access to his pop culture birthright. I am paraphrasing; he describes it in terms more righteous and demanding, supported by his friends around him. Less a debate and more a bunch of cats hissing at someone who wandered into their territory by mistake, she looks at me and says, “Wow, the gays hate me!” and I do an apologetic head nod, the kind I do when I see something like this although my need to ally in any way with these boys is a mystery. Putting them behind us, she and I resume watching as pocket-gay continues on his rant, lower volume but more hateful by the second, ending with a spat out “vagina.”
Have you ever been in a situation where you know you would have been the impulsive hero who punches the leering creep, but life has given you no such talents so all you do is stare at the floor, begging time to pass? I was hearing unacceptable language, and again, wishing the lady away, unwittingly claiming the bar for just the men. I didn’t need another L in my life, I thought, excusing myself from defending her, focusing instead on a lip-sync routine.