2 min

Attitude has merits

Is the complicated ritual worth the trouble?

Credit: Xtra files

Years ago I knew a man who preferred the, uh, direct approach.

“Do you want to fuck?” was his preferred come-on. It was the height of the “So many men so little time” period and he was impatient with social niceties. Everyone wanted sex, he theorized, so why not just ask?

But of course most people, even people looking for a quickie, need a more circuitous approach, even if it’s just a couple of minutes to collect their spirits and construct their desires.

Only once in my long career can I remember the direct approach working, and he was cute and it was 4am and we were standing around a booze can in our underwear. And even then the come-on was pleasantly elliptical.

“Wanna get lost?” he said.

I didn’t know whether the allusion was to some drug I hadn’t ingested, Bruce Weber’s film about Chet Baker or maybe just a low-grade approximation of 1960s cool, but he was cute and I liked the phrase and so we dispensed with further formalities.

But outside the baths or the quickie joint of last resort, the public washroom, that sort of direct approach seldom works. People use all kinds of ways to slow down seduction, including the all important attitude.

Everyone frowns on attitude, but really, it’s one of our more engaging little rituals, a psychological dance that protects and mediates as we wend our way to love (or whatever).

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines attitude as “an uncooperative or hostile disposition” and that pretty much sums it up. I particularly like the word, “uncooperative,” because it exposes the self-interest behind the put-down, the wilful self-absorbtion, our childlike expectation that the world will always conform to our wishes.

“Major attitude,” we hiss, but really it’s ourselves we’re talking about – our battered, balked, frustrated and rejected selves.

Ever notice that the only people with capital-A attitude are young, cute and absolutely uninterested in you? It’s never the old and unlovely who have attitude. They’re all much too cooperative. It’s only the beauty with his chin in the air and his eyes locked on the horizon who earns that sniffy little sobriquet.

“Attitude” is the ultimate backhanded compliment because buried within the insult is the certainty that the person being dished is indeed worthy of admiration – so worthy that he or she may be having difficulty dealing with admiration overload. We think of attitude as a kind of disdain but really it’s a cover for insecurity.

Too much attention can be a mixed blessing and not everyone has the social skills to deal with it. For anyone just coming out, the change from straight indifference to gay gawking can be a little discombobulating. Sometimes, it’s easier just to disengage, stick on a solemn face and hope the unwanted suitors stay away.

But attitude generates tension and so, paradoxically, is also an aphrodisiac. If desire by definition is wanting what we don’t have, attitude intensifies desire. It puts the brakes on just when you want to go faster.

The gay poet Daryl Hine describes attitude in a poem about despair and street cruising called “Don Juan In Amsterdam.” Meeting the object of his lust for the first time, he writes, “I recognize the vanity and scorn/The fear, the greed, in short the mask of love/Familiar and disdainful.”

The ambiguity Hine describes will be familiar to anyone who’s ever cruised. Ditto, the disdain and scorn.

What is less familiar, I think, is the idea of a mask. Yet, attitude is a mask, a way of expressing the self while protecting its vulnerabilities. Like an extended cruise across a crowded bar, it’s a way to retard the too sudden intrusion of intimacy. It protects youthful vulnerability and mature vanity. It allows us to approach slowly, indirectly, cautiously, savouring the long segue to seduction.

So much more interesting, don’t you think, than “Do you want to fuck?”