Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Arthur Answers, Part 1: Viel vergnügen beim Tanz

Today I start answering the questions posed in this month’s Ask Arthur series. Just like every other time I’ve done one of these, I’ll group questions that are related thematically, by subject, etc. Today is a good example of that.

The first question today comes from long-time friend, Sherry, who asked: “Do you remember a school dance we went to together?”

I absolutely do! These days, it seems, my long-term memory is better than remembering, say, what I had for lunch. Be that as it may, that was a significant event for me because it was one of a handful of dates I ever went on with a girl, and the only high school dance I ever went to.

The dance was, as far as I can remember, near Christmastime, and it was a “turnabout dance” in which the girls asked the boys. Sherry and I knew each other through church, but I can’t remember if we had any classes together. I’m also not entirely certain what year the dance was: I think it was in December of our sophomore year of high school (second of four years). That would make it the end of 1974, when I was 15.

When I was a teenager, it was common for young gay boys to date girls in high school and at university. My first-ever date (tenpin bowling) was with a girl from church, and that would have been in eighth grade (when I was about 13 or 14). In those days, with no real social acceptance, no gay-straight alliances, and no positive role models, most of us just never thought that we could live open, happy, authentic lives. Instead, most of us, including me, just assumed that one day we’d marry a girl, have kids, and that was that. That wasn’t denial—it was more like resignation, with a fair dose of delusion thrown in.

I doubt that many of us ever thought through the implications of living out a life that wasn’t true to who we were, but I came up with a complicated strategy to try and have the “happily ever after” everyone else got to have, something I wrote about several years ago.

As a teen, aware of who I was, but also believing I could never live a true and authentic life, I knew I had to learn how to function in “their” world; I had to learn how to seem to be one of them. I realise how sad that may sound, but it was actually quite useful for keeping me safe for many years afterward. However, it had an even odder way of helping me: When I moved to a new country and had to fit in, it was easier for me because I’d already learned how to do that, how to observe how other people acted and what behaviour was appropriate and what wasn’t.

When I was a teenager, none of the boy-girl stuff came naturally to me, so I had to be coached. For example, my mother had to teach me how to slow dance, something that never even occurred to me until she mentioned it. It was a “you don’t know what you don’t know” sort of thing.

I don’t remember a lot about the dance—it was a very long time ago—but I remember it was a nice time. Male fashion in the mid-1970s was awful, as we all know, and I if I was wearing what I think I was wearing, it was bad. I do remember that Sherry was very pretty, though, and I certainly enjoyed her company.

Some weeks later, the German Club at our high school was planning a trip to Zum Deutschen Eck, a German restaurant that was located at Southport and Oakdale in Chicago from 1956 to 2000. However, there was a huge winter storm at the time of the trip and the trip was cancelled. It turned out to be the last time I ever asked a girl out.

Some five or six years later, I was at university and a girl I knew asked me out to dinner and a play. I agreed, though I was pretty sure she saw it as a date, not just friends out for an evening, and that made me uncomfortable. By that time, I was starting to come out, though hardly anyone knew it. I ended up coming out to a mutual friend, who would have told her. Not the best ending to that story, and had I known what to do, and felt safe to do so, I’d have handled it differently. Neither was the case at that time.

A few weeks/months later, I went to a gay bar for the first time, danced with other guys, and then met my first boyfriend. I was 22. The rest, as they say, is history. I found out I could have a true and authentic life, that I could live happily every after, just like everyone else. And, things are so much better for gay teens now than when I was young.

Both Sherry and the other girl from church also found happiness, and both now have great families—and I’m friends with both on Facebook. So, all’s well that ends well, and all that: We all found our way into happy adult lives, and that’s the important part.

Next up, Roger Green asks: “You asked the reverse question to your straight male readers, who is your big female crush?”

What Roger’s referring to is a question I once posed on one of his “Ask Roger Anything” posts, one I borrowed from Rove McManus, an Australian TV presenter who hosted a talk show called Rove Live. He often asked guests he was interviewing a series of rapid-fire questions, one of which was, “Who would you turn gay for?”

It was tongue-in-cheek, since, as we all know, that’s not how people work, but the larger point was which person of the same gender people could see as attractive “in that way”, so to speak. I remember when then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was on, he was asked the question and answered something about his wife was the only person for him. I rolled my eyes. At the time, Rudd was an opponent of marriage equality (though he later evolved).

For me, the answer to the question is even more complicated.

Over the years there have been a few women who I’ve seen as attractive “in that way”, mostly actresses, and none of whom I can remember the names of. However, Roger’s question was broader, about crushes. Even that’s a little problematic.

The truth is, I don’t remember having any crushes on a female at any age, though I definitely had crushes on other boys. When I was in sixth grade (roughly ages 11 and 12), all the boys were fixated on one girl who seemed older than we were because her development was a bit more advanced than ours, or that of the other girls. In retrospect, I think the boys all thought she was easy, even though I don’t think that was the case, and, anyway, none of the boys would have known what to do if they were right. I didn’t share their fascination, of course, but I did try to pretend I did, since that seemed to be the appropriate behaviour for boys. She was never a crush for me.

If I loosen the boundary of the question even more, I do remember being fascinated by some women, including Karen Carpenter, Linda Ronstadt, newswomen Linda Ellerbee and Jessica Savitch, along with some girls and women I knew in real life, but none of them were actual “crushes”.

What both these questions get at is the fact that I’m a Kinsey 6 (someone who is a six on the Kinsey Scale of sexual responses). In practice, that means that I’m drawn to women for their minds, talents, and spirit—the kind of people they are, in other words, not their “attractiveness” (which is relative, anyway). This is true for most of the men I’ve known, too, of course, but the difference is that whenever I was single, there was still never any possibility of an attraction to a woman, no matter how wonderful (in any sense) she was, while there could have been that possibility toward a man.

This is just the way I’m wired. Even though teenage me thought I had to learn to act and pretend to be straight, it didn’t change the reality of who I was—and am. This is why I was never any good at dating girls, and it’s also why I don’t think I ever had a crush on a female.

And so it goes.

The title of this post is one of the phrases we had to memorise in high school German class. It means, basically, “have a good time at the dance” (not a literal translation, though). I still remember that phrase and the only high school dance I went to, and that’s not a coincidence.

1 comment:

rogerogreen said...

I was a fan of both those newswomen, though no crush. I think most straight men had a crush on Linda in the 1970s. Karen had a lovely voice, but I found her too thin and angular - and of course she died from her anorexia.