When I was in my early 20's, my friend Ryan dated a girl who had gotten a college scholarship for the fact that she was 1/16th Native American. Overnight, she went from being a middle class girl from Aurora to an insufferable (if somewhat misguided) activist who believed she understood "The Ethnic Experience" in its entirety. (Really, do I even need to mention what the other 15/16ths were?)
She could have used the opportunity to explore her cultural heritage, to consider the injustices experienced by her ancestors, or to perhaps become a mentor or role model in her newfound community. She attempted instead to exploit her newly discovered ethnicity to garner an imagined street cred that hadn't come solely from her ability to dance like a "Fly Girl" or her encyclopedic knowledge of Boyz II Men and Cool Moe Dee. Because, hey, what's the point of identifying with a minority that's not hip? I bring this all up not to ridicule her (we got plenty of that done back in 93), but because on some level, I'm just as bad as she was. I am happily married, the father of two beautiful children, and I am painfully, almost embarrassingly straight. Vanilla, even. But today I'm coming out of the closet. In the past I"ve been referred to as "Straight but not Narrow", a friend of "the family"; but that just doesn't do it justice. I am a gay groupie. A lesbian lackey. An http://www.armisteadmaupin.com/Armistead Maupin-reading, L-Word watching, house music dancing homo hanger-on.
From the time I was 15 years old I have identified with what I would call (probably to the chagrin of many) "gay culture". I say that realizing- yes, yes - gay men can join the army and lesbians can listen to Eminem... hell, it's the 21st century, you can even be a gay republican (realize, yes understand? Not so much) But lets not obscure the point in political correctness, we all know what I'm talking about here. I grew up on musicals and drama class. I wasn't punk, I was "new wave", while everyone else was shaving their heads into Mohawks and moshing, I was listening to The Pet Shop Boys and writing band names like "The Communards" on my notebooks. During my bourgeoisie, white boy neo-beatnik stage, there loomed in the background the homo shenanigans of Dean Cassidy and Allen Ginsburg.
Yet for all the time I spent being called "faggot" in high school, and regardless of the hours I spent manning the espresso machine at "Sisters" on 9th and Downing, I am well aware that I haven't earned the title of gay man. There's my damned sexuality, for one. Despite all those nights at clubs during last call, desperate men singing the swan song of "come on, we're all bi", no one ever managed to convince me.
My wife, the ex-dancer, who grew up around artists and New York and people living with AIDS, was attracted to me, at least in part, because I was comfortable in her life, with her history, and around her friends. But as we became more serious and she had a chance to see me get all misty eyed over the Erasure song "Hideaway", she started in on the questions "you're sure you're not gay? Not even bi?" We joke between us that she is the butch; and I, the "bitch". Even now, confident in my sexuality as she is, she doesn't know quite what to make of me when I'm paging through the Out Frontor going to happy hour at JR's rather than The Red Room. And sometimes I have to ask myself the same question; what is this fascination I have with "the family"?
I must confess it's not all just open mindedness and respect for diversity on my part. I've always had a certain fondness for the women in the entourage of so many gay men; those soft, archetypal Gal Pals (sorry, just can't bring myself to say "fag hag") with their great hair and ribald sense of humor. A couple of years ago at a party in Capitol Hill, I stood among a group of gay men as they took turns feeling the breasts of one particularly cute specimen (something about her wanting to know if they were firm enough). A friend who had little sympathy for the dilemma of being a monogamous straight male looked me in the eye and taunted me under his breath "you could totally go there right now, no one would know any better". Membership, even if it's by association only, definitely has its privileges.
Frankly, there are plenty of self serving, petty reasons to love the community. As a rule, the clubs play better music; and at 34, if I am the oldest guy on the dance floor, nobody much cares. At the gym, the guys can show you how to work muscles that you didn't even know you had. And, come on, I am still a straight male. Those all-girl volleyball matches at Cheeseman in the middle of summer are hot.
So, with all of this in mind, I found myself the other night at tHERe Coffee, a lesbian owned and supported joint. The space has had a couple of different incarnations over the years, but I've always been wary of the location, as it is situated on Colfax; that long, slow crawl up evolutionary ladder. The 'fax has seen something of a cultural renaissance in recent years, a benefactor of the gentrification that has been a sore spot for other neighborhoods. But my apprehension on that night had to do with something else entirely... would I be welcome? Am I intruding on sacred grounds? I mean, I dig women, too... can't we all be friends?
People can decry this as being some sort of reverse descrimination, but I should say here that I understand the sentiment. One day, working at Diedrich's across from "Queen" Soopers, I served a guy wearing a shirt embroidered with a "Focus on the Family" logo. How dare he come to this place, in our blue city, a safe haven from the rest of the red state? Especially when he could have gone to any number of other places... hell, any other Diedrich location (except 12th and Clayton. Yeah, that one was ours, too) On the other hand, we never saw the guy again. Probably had something to do with all the publications by the bathroom.
Once in the door, though, my fears were put to rest. This place is inviting in a way that most living rooms aspire to. And the woman working behind the counter, alternately pouring coffee for the people who wandered in and scribbling in her sketchbook, was completely charming and amiable.
The coffee was a little on the cool side; I'm sure she was letting it dwindle, as it was just an hour to closing time. Okay, it's not something I'm usually very forgiving of... but I can't help it. I LOVE this place. It's the warm colors on the walls, the intimate, low ceilinged loft (something not featured at nearly enough coffeeshops, nowadays) perfect for the mild, lazy flirting exhibited by the 2 girls sitting up there with me, or for spying on the rest of the crowd down below. I didn't even mind the big screen TV (for group viewings of the L Word on Sundays, of course) though I was more intrigued by the promise of the collection of 12 inch vinyl that was against the wall.
My only real complaint was with the hours. A place like this should be open late into the night, so the clientele can talk and read and laugh and admire the barista's sketches. Not (strangely enough) 10 pm on weekdays and 8 pm on weekends. If their liquor license goes through I'm sure that'll be remedied.
So my fascination with the GLBT community? I've come to recognize that gay influence in literature, music and the arts is so pervasive that to speak of "gay culture" is redundant. There's a reason universities call them "the humanities"... this is part of our collective human identity. When I spend time in the community, whether its at a club, out for coffee, or at Cheeseman Park, where my kids often wind up befriending children of gay parents, there's a vitality and sense of unity that I've never experienced in any religion; particularly (and ironically) any religion that co-opts the word "family" and uses it as a password to a secret society which I'm welcomed into simply for my sexual preference. My adoration stems from the fact that, in the face of fear and hatred, the gay community, at it's best, thrives with an openness and honesty that is lacking in the "straight" world; a vocal, heartfelt unity.
Unlike the many other Ted Campbells on the interwebs, I'm neither a minister, nor a professional motorcyclist, nor a gay realtor from Florida.
What I AM is an ass-kickin' father, a corporate schlep, and an occasional freelance writer.
If you've found your way here, why not give my awesome "Blog of Note" blog-novel a look-see?