Jeremy Gross realized that he had better things to do than prove that he was not gay.
I spent my adolescence and early manhood radiating I’m-not-gay vibes, I guess because I thought that it was expected of me as a young heterosexual man in the USA. At sixteen, it would have humiliated me to be mistaken for gay. I went to an all-boys boarding school, and bullying and homophobia were always present. If anyone at school had thought I was gay, I would have been devastated; it would have ruined me at the school and might have subjected me to violent hazing. As I grew up, I learned that some of my childhood friends were gay, and I realized that if I were a good friend, I’d be supportive, and I’d like to believe I have been. But I still radiated I’m-not-gay vibes.
At 20, I was living in New York City. One night, I got free theater tickets, and went to see a play in Greenwich Village. In 1990, gangs of kids from Brooklyn would troll the Village at night looking for gay men to beat up. One group found me as I was leaving the theater. They surrounded me and started asking me a lot of questions, and I didn’t understand why. I was wearing a suit with a bow tie, and they assumed that the bow tie meant I was gay. Their asking me about the bow tie didn’t clue me as to what they were trying to figure out, but they were radiating a strange energy that made me really uncomfortable. An impulse hit me that they wanted to hurt me, and I ran. I ran about a block and ran into the Pink Panthers, who were on patrol. They were a community watch group that protected the neighborhood against gay bashers. That group scared the kids off. I was relieved to see them, and it was only once they left that I realized that I was their target. It was the first time in my life that I understood that someone thought I was gay, and it really freaked me out. Here I was encountering violent homophobia, and my I’m-not-gay defenses were totally useless in protecting me.
Three years later, I had a gay roommate in college. I grew very fond of him, so it hurt me when he told me that he and his friends were uncomfortable with the I’m-not-gay vibes I exuded whenever I hung out with them. “We get it,” he said. “You’re straight. Move on.” After that, I relaxed. I was occasionally mistaken for gay because I had so many gay friends. It stopped being a worry, and I put more energy into just being myself.
Giving myself permission not to have to expend energy on proving that I was straight was very liberating, and remains so to this day. I’ve since had friends mistake me for gay, and it doesn’t matter. Some gay people get mistaken for straight all the time. It’s really not that big a deal to me anymore. I feel pity tinged with exasperation for adult straight men who feel they have to expend energy on broadcasting their heterosexuality in order to save themselves from being mistaken for gay. It doesn’t fend off danger, and it corrupts the soul. I have better things to worry about, like being a good lover and partner and companion to the women in my life with whom I’ve been in relationships. That’s the only aspect of my heterosexuality that actually merits my concern.