3 min

Flattery will get you…. nowhere

Guy walks up to you, says something nice and quickly leaves

Credit: Xtra files

Just before Christmas and just after midnight, I was standing in a deserted Church St bar, watching daydreams disappear into draught, when a stranger walked up to me, stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Brent Ledger.”

Terrified, I racked my overloaded brain for pertinent memories. What fresh awkwardness was this? Somebody else I’d forgotten? Another repressed, er, acquaintance?

Grudgingly I grunted assent and hoped the stranger wouldn’t need too much help in connecting the dots. I need not have worried. My new friend lacked nothing by way of social lubrication. Without a word of introduction, he launched into his story. “My best friend,” he said, “the person I’m closest to in the world,” he clarified, “says you’re the best sexual experience he’s ever had.”

“Who’s your friend?” I said, hoping against hope that it was the four-in-the-morning fantasy from 10 years ago who never called back.

“It doesn’t matter,” said the stranger. “It was at the baths. But he loved it, he just loved it.” And with that the charming stranger turned on his heel and walked out of the bar.

Now I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m indulging in gratuitous self-promotion here, although of course I am. (And who among us doesn’t need a little, especially at this time of year? Padded parkas equal pudgy silhouettes.)

For me this story is emblematic of a larger pattern. Over the years I’ve encountered so many of these hit-and-run compliments – guy walks up to you, says something nice and quickly leaves – that I’ve begun to think of them as a gay ritual, something like cruising, and just as widespread. Sooner or later, it happens to everyone.

A friend was standing around an Ottawa bar last month, feeling lost and lonely as a cloud, when a stranger walked up to him, said “You have the most wonderful lips,” and walked away. A few days later, another stranger walked up to the same friend and said, “Hey, you have a real Adam’s apple.” And he, too, walked away.

Leaving aside the fetishistic quality of the compliment (and apparently it was meant as a compliment), that particular comment is typical of homos’ sometimes self-defeating behaviour. Like cruising, hit-and-run compliments allow you to approach someone without risk but they don’t take you anywhere. They’re efficient but self-defeating to the point where I think of them as kamikaze compliments. I mean, why walk away after you’ve started the conversation?

The interesting thing here, after all, is not the compliment but the sudden flight. If I had enough nerve to approach a stranger (which I generally don’t), I think I’d push it a bit further.

And therein lies the difference between gay men and straight, and the reason for the popularity of brash fantasy figures like Stuart/Brian on Queer As Folk. (In the opening episode of the second season, debuting Mon, Jan 21 at 10pm on Showcase, Brian conducts a conversation while enduring a two-headed blowjob. He looks appropriately blasé, as thought bored by his own stupendous appeal.)

In real life, most gay men aren’t that confident. We’re a shy, diffident, defensive tribe. Most straight men on the other hand (pace Woody Allen) share a brash sense of entitlement that gay men can only envy.

Straight guys would never compliment a woman and then leave. They’d use the compliment to get a foot in the door, not out it.

Years ago, I worked in a very hoighty-toity Vancouver restaurant, the kind where captains of industry took titans of finance to impress the hell out of each other. It was a bit of boys’ club and the biggest toy in the club (through no fault of her own) was the woman who worked the front desk. A very attractive blonde in her late twenties or early thirties, she was charming, efficient and resolutely indifferent to the lust all around her. But that didn’t stop the boys.

In the 18 months I worked there, I seldom saw a straight guy over 30 who did not attempt to put the moves on her.

The fact that she was the owner’s girlfriend, and everyone knew it, didn’t stop anyone; if anything, it seemed to encourage them.

Some might call this behaviour rude, boorish or just plain sexist. But I couldn’t help admiring it. It was just so darn persistent.

“Faint heart ne’er won fair lady,” as they say.

At root, straights are just as insecure as gay folk, but at least theirs is an active form of insecurity. If they want something, they go for it, and damn the rejections.

It would be a better world if straight guys had half the self-confidence and we had double. And maybe the next generation of homos will have a firmer sense of self, but I wouldn’t count on it.

This minority gig leaves its scars.