I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
Psalms 130:5 (NIV)
I learned a rule of attending college parties during the first weekend of freshman year – pretend like you drink, even if you don’t. My roommate convinced me to go to a frat party; he said it would be a good place to make friends and get “chicks” (he didn’t say “chicks”). I didn’t want to go but said yes and pretended to be excited. When we walked into the frat house – sticky floor, red cups, standard frat atmosphere – he told one of the brothers to get two beers. I told him I didn’t drink. He said he didn’t care and put it in my hand. Just hold it, he said. I walked around with an unopened beer the whole night, feeling uncomfortable. Some noticed it in my hand. You going to open that, they asked. No, I replied without further explanation.
The way I understood it… he was trying to tell me “Act like you belong, even if you don’t.” The suggestion wasn’t nefarious – only misguided. Adapting to a culture was always easier than standing out. It was always a low risk choice, an easy way to start.
Queer people often feel this way in straight culture. I certainly did. The longest-lasting closet cases tend to be the ones who are most capable of staying in the closet – meaning that their mannerisms and interests do not “out” them inherently. Why go against the grain when there is nothing tangible to gain from it? That is an impossibly inane rhetorical question in retrospect – freedom and autonomy are the prizes, but that was not a priority at my young age. Us queer kids learn to adapt quickly to our given scenarios – to point at breasts and agree, to date like our friends date, to find commonality.
When my brother took me to West Hollywood – through the traffic I heard would be there, where a lesbian insulted my clothes, where vanity appeared to reign supreme – I did not feel superior or judgmental to this apparent “gay culture.” No, I wanted to adapt to it – to assimilate. That was part of the reason for my trip, after all – to give this whole gay thing a try, to see if I could where the sequin laden hat without cringing too much.
My brother took me to one of his favorite dives – a hole-in-the-wall looking place which combined cocktail lounge with dance club. Fog filled the interior, and all the guys inside – not a shocker to find no gay women at a gay bar – were looking around at one another. I felt the pressure, to be one of the guys. The place was relatively tame – no strippers on poles like I imagined, no backrooms with “shenanigans” (I think my image of Los Angeles gay bars came primarily from biblical descriptions of Sodom and Gomorrah) – just fog and fags as far as the eye could see. A bearded guy, slightly shorter than me, slighter wider than me, threw a glance at me. Emboldened by the idea of “trying” the gay culture just for a weekend, I felt no shame in returning his stare with an approach. His name was Martin.
He asked if I lived in Los Angeles.
I said yes.
He asked if I was out of the closet.
I said yes.
Even to my parents?
What did I do for a living?
I was in entertainment in Hollywood.
Him too. Did I like clubs?
Yes, I loved the music.
I stopped, shook my head visibly, and he backed off, concerned.
What was wrong, he asked.
I told him that I felt pressure, I was actually just visiting, not out, not to my parents, I worked in the South, sort of entertainment, I was a writer, I hated the music, I liked to swing dance, to ballroom dance, and write, and read, oh and I liked football.
He smiled and said that all sounded great.