This week is PRIDE week in NYC, and I was complaining about my lack of involvement in gay culture here when a friend of mine was like “Well, you are straight!”. “Yeah, I know, but….”
I met my first gay man as a middle schooler, when I was awkward, uncute, and ridiculously unpopular with my redneck classmates, who called me an n-wordlover among other things. My sister was in high school at the time and deeply involved with her drama club. She had a posse of a few random drama geeks, including one tall gangly guy who spoke in a high-pitched effeminate voice and called everyone “girlfriend”. His name was Chad. When he came over to the house he would always be so nice to me, calling me sweetheart and telling me how cute I was, and I ate it up. I basked in it, rolled around in it and soaked it up completely. He introduced me to good music and helped me to find my backbone, my personality, and fishnet gloves.
I, of course, ran straight to the drama club when I got to high school, and hung out with as many sassy gay boys as I could find. There weren’t many- to give you some perspective, this is around the “My So-Called Life” period, when the gay character Ricky on that show was a bit of a revelation. Plus, I was in a tiny town in North Carolina. At night I hung out in a glorious local punk club called Pablo’s, where the punk kids and the skater kids and the goth kids and the hip-hop kids hung out because we had no other choice, and where we frequently overlapped with the clientel of the gay club Satellite down the street. I spent many nights with groups that included ravers and drag queens and metal kids. I realized that all of us were on a bit of an edge, and felt lucky that we all managed to find each other, and this strip of land in downtown Winston Salem. I felt like I belonged.
I continued with one toe dipped into the gay community during college, where an old friend of mine who had recently come out and was performing in drag pulled me aside one day to tell me, “Damnit, you’re a girl, why do you insist on dressing like a sloppy boy?” I looked down at my huge band t-shirts and baggy jeans and realized that he was right, and in a pendulum-swings-back move, wore only skirts for 2 straight years. I went to gay clubs because they had better dance music, and brought boys with me. By graduate school most of my friends were gay, and I had moved to Chapel Hill NC, well-known for being a pocket of liberal in a sea of conservativeness. There I went to every drag queen and drag king shows, and HRC functions, and anything else that seemed like fun. Just like that tiny punk club I went to in high school, all the fringe people were collected there, be they straight or gay. Even in liberal little Chapel Hill, we formed a rag-tag bunch. I started referring to myself as being culturally gay. I have never been anything other than a straight woman in my life, but culturally, I felt like I was gay.
I moved to Chicago, and, looking for friends, starting volunteering at the GLBTQ organization Center on Halsted where I got to wear cocktail dresses at swank parties, sing karaoke at fundraisers, and just generally hang around acting fabulous. I met great friends. Towards the end of my time in Chicago, I noticed that my attendance of gay events had dropped off steeply, though I still had plenty of gay friends, and I realized that I was instead spending my time going to comedy shows, and seeing bands. I felt guilty. Slowly it dawned on me that the feeling of acceptance that I had felt in the gay community was starting to spread, and I felt comfortable everywhere I hung out. I called my BFF in North Carolina to lament, and she said “Well duh, you’re in a big city! You have to go back to your people now!”
She was right. I live in New York City now, and while there is a ton of amazing gay culture here, I don’t go to gay events that often. I am just as at home in comedy clubs, or music venues, or weekend craft fairs. The great thing about big cities is that there are other people similar to you, so you can always be around people who share your interests and lifestyle choices. The terrible things about big cities is that there are other people similar to you, so you can always be around people who share your interests and lifestyle choices. The gay community raised me well, but it was time for me to leave the nest and see what “my own people” were up to for a while. I am eternally grateful for support the gay community showed me, and will always continue to support it in return.
I hope Chad got out of our hometown, or better still, out of North Carolina, and I hope he’s somewhere with a dog and a Prius and a hunky partner. I owe him more than I can express.