It’s time for me to come out of the closet to Xtra West readers.
I’ve written a half-dozen articles and reviews for the paper, interviewed Annie Sprinkle and her partner Beth Stephens, and talked to the directors of two queer-themed documentaries, one horror film and at least one play. I might do another article or two for the paper, if they’ll have me.
The thing is, it’s time to admit it and take my lumps: I’m straight. An interloper, a tourist. I feel like I have to come clean.
I’m not completely straight, understand; probably no one is, but my version of “straight” may be a little more crooked than some.
I posed nude once with Michael V Smith, and — he doesn’t know it — had a dream once, possibly wet, where he went down on me.
In university, I was convinced by an essay of Leo Bersani’s, “Is the Rectum a Grave,” that our culture’s homophobia had wrongly led men to disown their anuses as a source of sexual pleasure, which prompted me to experiment with penetrating myself during masturbation sessions.
I even figured out during my yoga days how to perform autofellatio, so I can boast about having had one penis in my mouth — my own. (Sadly, I couldn’t get hard, mostly because the position was so fucking uncomfortable; talk about a Catch 22).
There was even an episode once in my 20s where I agreed to let some anonymous man on a chat line give me a blowjob, only to discover to my disappointment that I couldn’t find the address he’d told me to meet him at.
And long before that, in my preteen years, a neighbourhood boy and myself compared our penises while hiding, literally, in a closet (I declined his invitation to suck his, but I did touch it and hold it, and he mine; I was mostly just curious — he was the one who got hard).
None of this gives me the right to call myself “gay.” Every orgasm I’ve given or shared has been with a woman. Every sexual impulse I’ve felt in adult life towards men around me — and such impulses do arise from time to time despite my hetero orientation — has been squelched as potentially opening a can of worms.
My constitutional bisexuality, if such a thing exists, has been conditioned out of me.
Blame growing up in Maple Ridge where I was occasionally bullied and called queer, regardless of anything I actually did, just because I was a bright, physically awkward kid with no interest in emulating typical male ape behaviour.
Bullying works as a sort of aversion therapy in maintaining the straight social order: be queer at your peril, it says.
The point was taken, I guess. I wasn’t brave enough to be gay, or bi or what have you. In terms of sexual identity formation, I was content to follow the path of least resistance.
I’d never intended to deceive anyone, understand, in starting to write for Xtra West.
I’d been turned on to a queer-themed horror film, The Sacrifice, directed by first-time indy filmmaker Jamie Fessenden. A story of two teenaged boys investigating mysterious doings at a cemetery, it won my affection for various reasons: Fessenden’s DIY low-budget ambitions, his sincere geek-love for horror cinema and the occult, and the transgressiveness of the film — which climaxes in a homoerotic Satanic ritual, the sheer kinky audacity of which was enough to impress me, straight or no.
I saw the film at a time when I was exploring my options as a freelancer; I’d written punk articles for punk magazines, cinema articles for cinema mags — so why not pitch a feature on Fessenden’s film to Xtra West?
And then the paper paid me, at a rate considerably better than I’d been paid for any piece of writing up until that point. A gay coworker teased me that I was going “gay for pay.”
But why not? I’ve long been a fan of Annie Sprinkle, and talking to her and Beth Stephens was a delight; researching Robert Mapplethorpe and Sam Wagstaff was fascinating and challenging, and overall I’ve been treated very well by Xtra West and have greatly enjoyed my assignments.
I did feel a little self-conscious going in to Xtra West’s offices to pick up my cheques mind you, but that’s mostly because I radiate — in my somewhat slovenly self-presentation — that I am straight.
I would always imagine the office staff bristling slightly, raising their eyebrows: What’s this big straight guy doing here? Is he going to cause trouble?
I remember joking with a lesbian once as she primped in the elevator mirror that I thought people only did that in my building and we chuckled at the behaviour. She then did quite a visible double take to discover we were going to the same place. Which I admit to kind of enjoying: turns out it can be kind of fun to throw off people’s gender expectations, however you bend.
Then I’d have to go cash the cheque at the bank, which I didn’t enjoy so much.
I’m convinced at least one bank teller bristled at seeing a cheque from Xtra West, and I’ve since been interrogated by him every time I end up with him as my teller, regardless of what business I’m on.
He asks questions that I think would normally be seen as inappropriate: where my cheques are from, if they’re good, what I do for a living, etc. I can’t prove that his mistrust of me stems from homophobia, but I guess that in all but the most overt cases you never can.
It’s gotten so that I feel uncomfortable at that particular branch whenever I go in, even more so because there’s a chance that “it’s all in my head.” It would reassure me if he actually did target me in some obviously homophobic way; at least then I’d know what his problem is.
There has been the odd overt comment from people I’ve interacted with, mind you. There have been a few “Are you sure you’re not gay?” comments from a male friend, who has cringed at seeing me stop at an Xtra West box on Davie and grab copies of the paper, when my articles appeared. (Now everyone would think he was gay, too, as he walked along with me.)
Worse, I was teased once about “bears” by someone who knew I was writing for Xtra West. I guess he assumed I was one, and thus was fair game for a bit of ribbing. I can imagine how hurtful such teasing might be to someone who actually was exploring his sexuality, a subtler version of the “get-back-in-line” bullying that I’d seen in Maple Ridge.
Mostly I just found it disappointing and depressing to see how small people can be.
There may come a day when the elements line up correctly and I end up having a full-on sexual experience with a man.
There’s a stronger likelihood that I’m going to make do with the stresses and struggles of a straight life: better the demon you know, as they say. My life is confusing enough as it is.
It is highly likely, though, that as long as I’m writing in Vancouver there will be the occasional queer-themed film or event that I’ll want to cover for Xtra West. I wonder if the paper’s readership is okay with that?