Nick Alexander’s version of going out might be interpreted by some as coming out.
It was a frigid night in mid-December, and we were at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Free drinks and a big win at craps brought us to a club where we traded our hard-earned money for bottle service. We sat around drinking for a bit pretending we could hear one another speak over the jet engine speakers. Gazing around the dance floor I spotted two box platforms, each about three feet high and each mounted by a go-go dancer. Two minutes later, one of the dancers stepped down for a break. At that moment, I had the sudden urge to dance — to just shake it. So I ran to the platform, climbed up, and, well, entertained the crowd. This lasted for a solid 25 seconds before I was lifted off of the platform by the bouncer.
Often people assume that I am gay because of how I dance and how I interact with women at bars, clubs and parties. I had always just accepted it as an inevitable and harmless part of going out.
Exhibit A: The way I dance
In my experience, I have noticed that most men will dance when they go out—if you define grinding as dancing. I’m not against grinding per se; I believe it actually originated from blues dancing, a genre of music which calls for that type of movement. While a perfectly acceptable style of dancing, I feel some men use grinding as a tool to initiate sex or simulate a sexual experience on the dance floor.
But this seems to be how the majority of heterosexual men dance in bars and clubs I frequent, or arguably, how they are told to dance. When I stray from the prescribed method of dancing, I receive looks that say “yeah, that guy is gay.” I’ve also received the verbal comments, and I’ve found that this reaction is dependent on the venue and its respective subculture. Some venues in New York City have more heterosexual men who dance like me. Conversely, when I dance at the Jersey Shore, I stand out like Snooki in church.
Perhaps music videos are partly responsible for this kind of behavior as most men are depicted standing in positions of power while attractive and promiscuous women twerk all over the place. Maybe the purpose of dancing has evolved from moving your body rhythmically to the music to rubbing your crotch all over women. I’m no expert, I’m just making observations.
The way I dance is a combination of salsa, swing and silliness. Some of my most useful skills from college we learned in ballroom dancing club and swing dancing club. Those experiences inspired me to take a few months of salsa lessons after graduating. While I’ve forgotten many of the complicated moves, I still remember the basics which I employ as I improvise on the dance floor. So while Mike is trying to gyrate through some girl’s pelvis, I am spinning my dance partner, changing up our style with each song, and laughing with her as we explore all the different ways we can move our bodies to the music. I use the phrase dance partner deliberately, because I want the other person to feel like they are my equal, sharing in this experience that should be fun for the both of us.
Exhibit B: The way I interact with women
When I go out, I like to talk to people, whether I meet a man from Ireland with a cool accent or a woman who works at an interesting nonprofit. My idea of fun is composed of engaging conversations with engaging people. I want to know more about them and their perspectives on certain topics. I also want them to enjoy our interaction. Even when I’ve been single, I’ve always held this as a priority in my social interactions, whether or not I’m attracted to the person I’m talking with. To some people, this means I must be gay.
Women have directly asked me if I am gay numerous times. Rather than attempt to defend my heterosexuality, which I would argue is not at risk, I ask them why they think I am gay. The most popular reason is “because you are nice.” The second most common reason is “because you are not hitting on me.” I’d like to think my incredible sense of style is also a reason but I cannot credibly make that claim.
This recurring phenomenon triggers a simultaneous laugh response and cringe reflex in me. The comedy of the situation is obvious and almost worthy of a cliché movie or sitcom episode featuring our likeable but misunderstood hero who simply cannot catch a break. Some women have even proceeded to bring their single gay friends into the conversation with us, in a humorously miscommunicated game of matchmaker. While these conversations can be entertaining, it is often slightly heartbreaking and awkward when, after having been introduced as a prospective love interest, I have to explain that my girlfriend would not approve.
I cringe when people assume I am gay, not because I am being identified but as homosexual but rather because it implies an unfortunate definition of heterosexuality (and a rather narrow view of homosexuality as well). Some heterosexual men have created a simple heuristic that women can use to quickly identify who is straight and single (or unfaithful): an asshole who is hitting on me. Not all straight men are responsible for this. I know plenty who are kind and refrain from hitting on every woman, but enough men have acted this way to create and validate this stereotype.
These criteria for a heterosexual male also make me worry for women. I once met a friend of a friend who is very attractive and who can therefore likely expect that if a man is straight, he will hit on her. She is absolutely convinced that I am gay. My friend even shared later that this woman thinks my having a girlfriend is an elaborate cover for my homosexuality. It’s an interesting theory, but it makes me wonder what kind of men she has been exposed to if she is so utterly convinced that a nice, sexually respectful one must be gay.
What does this all mean?
My girlfriend suggested the theory of hegemonic masculinity as a tool to explain this phenomenon. The construct (while having its own criticisms) effectively explains institutionalized male dominance over women, and more specifically, a stratified or tiered scale of masculinity on which men can be labeled “more womanly” or more “more manly.” With heterosexuality and homophobia forming the bedrock for masculinity, a fundamental element of hegemonic masculinity is that women exist as potential sexual objects for men. They provide sexual validation for heterosexual men who compete with one another.
Given this construct of hegemonic masculinity, I can postulate that because I am not directly competing for sexual validation, I am often perceived as not being a heterosexual man; if I’m not trying to sleep with lots of women, I must be gay.
But we can overcome, guys! It is important that I explain what exactly we can overcome. I am not referring to overcoming being labeled as gay. That should not matter. Remember when Mom said “don’t worry about what others think.” Rather, what we can overcome is this construct of heterosexuality that dictates how we behave when we go out to have fun. The fact that I used “dictate” and “fun” in the same sentence should illustrate the risks we are facing. So when you go out, go out and have fun. Respect men and women. If you get laid, awesome, but we don’t need to constantly seek sexual validation. We already know who we are–so let’s just show everybody else. And if that means dancing like a fool, dance on.