nothing obvious could possibly be important


This story is the only one I ever wrote for NewCity Chicago, where I also worked in the design and web publishing departments.

Actually, I was the web publishing department, in addition to delivering the paper itself every Wednesday. I made more money per hour doing that, incidentally.

This was one in a group of cover stories commemorating Valentine's Day. I can't even remember what year. Sometime in the 90s.

It was lightly edited by film critic and photographer, Ray Pride.

I've always had better luck with straight guys than with gay guys. In other words, instead of hot sex and long-term relationships with queer boys, I'm doomed to have lots of life-long quasi-romantic friendships with heterosexual men who aren't getting enough intimacy from their stoic het buddies. I'm not complaining, or at least not too much. My friendships with straight guys have been rewarding and dependable, stable and for the most part refreshingly free of sexual tension. This is not the way it is with my gay male friends. The stereotype about gay men being sluts? It's true. What's false is that they sleep with strangers. We sleep with all our friends or continue to dabble in that overlapping set of past boyfriends. I've kissed, felt up, or at least tongued a large subset of friends and I've practiced sex of varying degrees of intensity at one time or another with all my close male fag friends.

Drunken nights out with the boys sometimes lead to unforeseen bacchanalia on somebody's futon. Not that there's anything wrong with a little bacchanalia, but it makes it hard to tell sometimes where my boundaries are. With my straight friends the boundaries circumscribe the sexual stuff, so it's easier for me to relax and have a good time. My best drinking buddies have always been straight, from when I thought beer tasted like bile to today, when I stumble over the to-be-recycled Sierra Nevadas when I go out my back door. And most of these guys are uncommonly fag-posititve. Sometimes to the degree those around us who are less relaxed with open queers think they're queer by association.

One of my oldest friends, Dean, is a good example. I was visiting him in Carbondale where I'd graduated a year before, and where he was still going to school. We hadn't seen each other in ages and he was planning to introduce me to the wonder of 'shrooms on a brisk, yet unseasonably warm pre-spring evening. For some reason, I brought along the gay boy I was spending the most time with in Indianapolis. (This was pre-Chicago and for the most part, pre-sexual awakening for me.) But true to my basic loyalties, I soon ditched him for Dean and we went off to roam the armpit of Southern Illinois with stagger in our steps and thousands of cool sparklies waterfalling silently behind our eyelids.

It was one of those rare vibes you don't achieve very often even with really close friends. Silence or pseudo-political chatter was equally profound. Awww, I guess it was half the drugs. But the other half was about connection and communication, and trust -- and especially knowing without talking about it what the expectations of the friendship were and how effortless it was to live up to them.

Soon enough, we were reminded of the rarity of such easy pleasures. A bunch of generic fratboys were partying on the sidewalk ahead of us as we strolled down the street. I was in my usual all-black thrift store garb with one of Dean's army coats and Dean was in a long khaki-green coat stolen from his girlfriend.

"Where you girls goin?" I'm not sure what tipped them off. It could have been the basic "they-don't-look-like-us-so-they-must-be-fags" litmus test. But more likely it was Deans's ponytail. "Dressed just alike," one of them added to the dig.

They were smoking, leering, drinking Bud. Since they were bigger than me, I sped up to get past them. Dean, however, decided to exploit the stupidity of the situation. He put even more bounce than usual into his step as we got almost even.

"Yeah, we share all our clothes," he said, beaming at me.

"I bet you do," the biggest guy in the baseball cap said. He added the disgusted snarl that I knew was coming: "Fags." We moved past them and Dean skipped back around to say something else. "And I put it aaalllll on my boyfriends credit card, too!" he shouted gleefully (as well as inexplicably). It must have seemed a bit strange to the drinking crowd, because they didn't know what to say, either. ("Crazy art-fags!" might have been appropriate.)

I was sure we were in trouble and that none of the mild sweet buzz we had going would get us past it. But Dean was willing to pass as queer and that unthinking adoption gave their enmity as little weight as the bad pot smoke wisping away above their empty little heads. As long as I'd known Dean, he'd always rather be mistaken for a run-of-the-mill fag than for a dumb straight boy.

There aren't many fags who would do that.