It’s a god-awful small affair, to the girl with the Mousy hair
-Life on Mars, David Bowie
The only thing I wouldn’t trust myself around is someone else’s coffee, not because I have a fear that I would attempt to “seduce” the cup into becoming a homosexual, but just because I have a very real coffee addiction and I would almost certainly drain the entire glass in one sitting. I do not believe that I have a problem, as coffee addiction demonstrates only that I am a cool and interesting person, and the tragedy of existence is because I’m a queer man some people wouldn’t even bother to learn this fact about me before telling me to go to hell.
On one side note I’m not sure how one would “seduce” a cup of coffee into becoming gay. What would that look like? Would the coffee turn into a rainbow? How would it demonstrate its affection for members of its own sex? And would it look better in jeans than me. These are serious questions and I need answers damn it.
But another concern rises, which is that because I am gay, there are some that would be afraid to leave me around their children. This is not an unfounded accusation as this entire essay will focus on Merle Miller’s canonical essay On Being Different: What it Means to be a Homosexual, but I should set up the intro first. You see working in my job I’m usually stationed either in the Local History Room where I serve a largely adult (typically senior citizen clientele) community, but when I work at the information desk at least a quarter, if not half, of the patrons needing help are children. They want to know about the 3D printer, they want to know if we have Dog Man or Percy Jackson, they want to compliment my rainbow glasses (more on this later), or else they want headphones for the kid’s computers. These little interactions are often one of my favorite parts of my job and despite my awkwardness around kids I try to be helpful and informative. They don’t know that I’m pansexual, that I find men, women, and everyone in-between as sexually attractive; it’s just not even on their radar. And in this interaction is just doesn’t come up because there’s no reason for it. There is however, some concern on my part, that if any parents knew about my sexuality they may be concerned that I was attempting to infect their children with the “gay agenda.”
The “gay agenda” of course, was a subplot of COBRA in the G.I. Joe cartoons to sway children to become members of the terrorist organization. I can prove this by the fact that Cobra Commander spoke in a really sharp lisp and wore boots that accentuated his butt. Only gay men, you see, have lisps and wear nice boots.
My regular contester might interject here and say that my concern is unfounded. We’re living in an information age where acceptance of homosexuality is better than it’s ever been. Queer people can get married, sign up for the same legal benefits as straight couples, they can even adopt children. In this kind of age there should be no fear for any queer person to be afraid of being out and open.
To this I can only sigh and respond that, yes, no queer person should be afraid, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t.
Yes there have been incredible advancements over the last few decades for queer people, and because of these advancements I know and trust that will not be terminated from my job, exiled socially by my friends and loved ones, and will not be imprisoned in mental facilities or actual jails for being gay, but at the same time I find myself often in a territory that, while it is not openly hostile, still bears the mentality that there are some things that should not be said outloud. Being a queer man in East Texas is often akin to being Boo Radley: there’s nothing specifically wrong with you, but most people would just prefer that you stay out of sight. The fear is, as I began, that you will somehow “seduce” the next generation into being gay and that returns to me Merle Miller’s powerful essay.
One of the most pernicious charges against homosexuals is that the “lifestyle” is something that is seduced into children’s mind. The image is that of a homosexual hypnotist luring children into the sexuality the way the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang lured the children out with twinkle tarts and lollipops. This isn’t a conversation that has died away much in the time since Merle’s essay, but it should be noted how the charge was leveled towards gay people, even by the people who were supposed to be friends. In quite possibly the most heart-rending passage in the essay Merle describes two instances of this perception:
The fear of it simply will not go away, though. A man who was once a friend, maybe my best friend, the survivor of five marriages, the father of nine, not so long ago told me that his eldest son was coming to my house on Saturday: “Now please try not to make a pass at him.”
He laughed. I guess he meant it as a joke; I didn’t ask.
And a man I’ve known, been acquainted with, et’s say, for twenty-five years, called from the city on a Friday afternoon before getting on the train to come up to my place for the weekend. He said, “I’ve always leveled with you, Merle, and I’m going to now. I’ve changed me mind about bringing ———[his sixteen year old son]. I’m sure you understand.”
“I said that no, I didn’t understand. Perhaps he could explain it to me.
“He said, “———is only an impressionable kid, and while I’ve known you and know you wouldn’t, but suppose you had some friends in, and…”
I suggested that he not come for the weekend. I have never molested a child my whole life through, never seduced anybody, assuming that word has meaning, and, so far as I know, neither have any of my homosexual friends. Certainly not in my living room or bedroom. Moreover, I have known quite a few homosexuals, and I have listened to a great many accounts of how they got that way or think they got that way. I have never heard anybody say that he(or she) got to be homosexual because of seduction. (19-20)
This passage is heartbreaking, and I know I should be shocked and appalled after reading it but, people don’t really change all that much. I often hear friends mystified about the current political and social landscape being shocking for the fact that repugnant statements that were spoken in the sixties and seventies seem to be repeating. And while I am disgusted by such statements, sentiments, and expressions, I can only shake my head and remember what I said before: people don’t really change. Miller’s passage here is one that I heard spoken in some varieties and fashions growing up, either by adults or fellow classmates, and reading as much history as I do I’m aware of the fact that being a queer man or woman often meant that one had to suffer.
The argument that homosexuality is an infecting vice that aims at children is as old as humanity itself, and while the treatment of queer people in society is one of constant fluctuation (sometimes we’re in fashion other times we’re in the closet planning out next fashion statement) Miller offers a sentiment that feels terribly accurate:
A fag is a homosexual gentleman who has just left the room. (19).
I’ve been called a faggot before, never to my face fortunately, and as I have embraced my sexuality more and more I’ve felt a greater and greater target attached to my back. Then again I wear rainbow glasses to work so I suppose that doesn’t help. Living in East Texas, and in fact, living in a town that has been listed as one of the worst places in Texas to be Queer, there is always this concern that my sexuality will be perceived as a threat. Working in a public library, I encounter a fair number of children approaching the desk looking for a copy of Dog Man, Drama, Dork Diaries, or whatever Rick Riordan has published this week. This means talking with kids, interacting with them, and sometimes walking with them to the shelves to find the books. It’s impossible for people to know that I’m gay without announcing it, but at the same time all it would really take is one person to assume and make a complaint.
And speaking honestly and plainly, I live in a constant fear that my sexuality could cost me my job. And this fear causes me to sit on my sexuality a lot, altering aspects of my behavior I normally wouldn’t alter. The tone of my voice, the way I walk, or even just having a conversation with a coworker when a patron is nearby. This in turn just fuels an life-long established internalized homophobia and I feel like, well, a pathetic old closet-case queen.
This honesty isn’t just for the sake of creating pity, it’s keeping in line with something Miller writers about early in his essay:
I have always thought that one of the obligations of a writer is to expose as much of himself as possible, to be as open and honest as he can manage—among other reasons so that his readers can see in what he writes a reflection of themselves, weaknesses and strengths, courage, and cowardice, good and evil. Isn’t that one of the reasons writing is perhaps the most painful of the arts? (36).
These essays aren’t always easy to write, mostly because I check my stats daily and I know very few people read anything other than my early work about Finding Nemo or culture’s obsessions with black penises. But I live by the notion that I’m a writer and that real writing is about honesty. I try to always be honest with my reader in these essays and after finishing On Being Different I honestly felt like I was often reading many of my own thoughts.
I feel different, a lot of the time. And just as often I find myself trying to conform and “sell” myself off as just another guy, or just another public servant, or just another East Texan instead of the ridiculous East Texas Queen that I am. My life feels more and more like a battle between cowardice and ambition, conformity and security, virtue and lies. And while I struggle with this conflict, I feel often that I’m missing the chances to simply be. Even just saying, or writing really, that I’m a ridiculous queen and a silly fag feels like bold efforts rather than just enjoyable self-declarations.
Being different, isn’t enjoyable. Or at least it’s not enjoyable the way it was when I was a kid.
Miller offers one more passage that, while it seems a dramatic turn feel accurate for everything this essay has been about. And if nothing else it’s an excuse to return to the library. Miller elaborates on his youth and the introduction of sexuality:
Growing up in Marshaltown, I was allowed to take as many books as I wanted from the local library, and I always wanted as many as I could carry, eight of ten at a time. I read about sensitive boys, odd boys, boys who were lonely and misunderstood, boys who really didn’t care at all that much for baseball, boys who were teased by their classmates, books about all of these, but for years nobody in any of the books I read was ever tortured by the strange fantasies that tore at me every time, […]
And in none of the books I read did anybody feel any compulsion, and compulsion it surely was, to spend so many hours, almost as many as I spent at the library, in or near the Minneapolis & St. Louis railroad station, where odd, frightening things were written on the walls of the men’s room. And where in those days, there were always boys in their teens and early twenties who were on their way to and from somewhere in fright cars. Boys who were hungry and jobless and who for a very small amount of money, and sometimes none at all, were available for sex; almost always they were. They needed the money, and they needed someone to recognize them, to actually see them. (15).
I’ve spent a lifetime wanting to be different, wanting to be unique, and wanting to be my own person, yet constantly struggling against larger systems, organizations, or collected sentiments. Whether it was the oppressive environment of attending the most expensive private school in my hometown, whether it was being bullied for being effeminate, whether it was laughed at for being strange, and whether it’s just the perception that I’m seen as some kind of freak by certain members of the community being different feels very much like being invisible. Or, perhaps more clearly, it feels often like people would prefer I was invisible.
These are perceptions, but these are honest perceptions about my sense of self and so Miller’s On Being Different felt painfully relevant almost 47 years after it was originally published.
Miller’s essay is very much of its time, and several critics have observed that the work is not as significant to our contemporary period. In an age where gay people can get married, adopt children, purchase property together, enjoy the same kind of insurance benefits as straight couples, and even get a third of the air of air time on Modern Family it would seem that the morose reality of the past would be “over and done with.” The problem with this perception however is that it’s not a universal reality, and even though this is probably one of the best times be a queer person, there are still a great many of us who are struggling both internally as well as externally.
Being different, and being labelled unwillingly as different is a drag because it promises you a lifetime of being an outsider. And even if one embraces this term, this kind of isolation can inspire paranoia, depression, and sometimes self-loathing. And for my own part I don’t have an answer to this. As I said before I live with a fear that at any time someone could take offense to my existence and raise a stink, and my life could be over.
I don’t want to seduce anybody into becoming gay, I would only ever want them to be themselves and be ready to be themselves whenever they were ready. It took me 26 years to find myself and I’m still figuring things out.
My fears aren’t going to dissipate or disappear anytime soon, but rather than simply dwell on these negatives I try try try to stay positive, to stay ridiculous, to try on new lipsticks, and to try and figure out how a cup of coffee could be gay. Like seriously would little arms and legs pop out of the mug? And if they did what kind of shoes would they wear?
I can only hope that it wouldn’t look good in pumps because damn it, everybody looks better in pumps than I do, and it’s not fair.
All quotes cited from On Being Different were quoted from the paperback Penguin Classics Edition.
So I have come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to “seduce” a cup of coffee into becoming gay…HOWEVER, I have found what is, to my mind, the gayest and most accurate coffee mug for myself that I have ever found. My wife agrees, as when I showed it to her she simply went “Ha, gay.” Which is usually her way of saying I love you dear. Whatever the case I have a mug to buy.