3 min

If they’re friendly, they’re straight

But the difference is quickly disappearing

Credit: Xtra files

That bloody Paris Hilton has a lot to answer for. There I was watching the opening episode of The Simple Life – you know, the Green Acres remake about the hotel heiress (Hilton) who hangs out with a backwoods family for a month – when my whole sense of self came crashing down.

Ms Hilton’s hosts are poor and they pluck chickens and drive trucks, but the eldest son is a real cutie. Of course, the minute Paris and her chum, Nicole Richie, laid eyes on him, I thought, “Ah ha. We have lift off.”

Problem is, Paris took the words right out of my mouth: “Maybe we should give him a threesome,” she giggled to her chum.

I haven’t seen any subsequent episodes of The Simple Life (Tuesdays at 8:30pm on CTV) so I don’t know whether Ms Hilton achieved her goal. But I do know that it’s abundantly annoying to have your best quips co-opted by a 22-year-old straight woman in a mini and too much makeup.

What’s the point of being gay if you can’t make the kind of comments usually forbidden to straights?

Item number two: The playboy surgeon on Nip/Tuck, the faltering Sunday night drama about a couple of troubled plastic surgeons in plastic-pretty Miami, wants to get rid of a female colleague. His reasons? “She’s trouble and she has cheap shoes.” What’s with straight guys getting all the camp lines? This is not the way it’s supposed to work.

There’s too much of this identity-blurring thing going on these days. All this talk of metrosexuals and straights so trendy they could be gay.

Which is why I was so pleased to see Ryan Kennedy’s piece in the Dec 6 Globe And Mail, “Khakis And Ribbed Shirts: The Horror The Horror.” Ryan is the news editor of the U of T student newspaper, The Varsity. Ryan is also apparently straight. He has a girlfriend. Better yet, he is straight in the classic mould (which is probably why the Globe lets him write the “Guyville” column). This guy is so out of the clothing loop that he doesn’t even know his own waist size.

Okay, breathe deeply. Now that you’ve absorbed that improbable idea, consider the advantages of his aesthetically impoverished stance. For one thing, you know where this guy is coming from.

I have no problem with straights adopting gay styles (although, frankly, there’s far too much Lycra in the world as it is), but it does complicate the age-old problem of recognition. If everyone looks the same, then who’s available?

A few weeks ago I found myself chatting to a guy on the late-night bus. He was friendly and cute and I wanted to invite him home, but I couldn’t figure out the vibe and I wasn’t about to risk insult, and possibly injury, at the hands of a man who may merely have been having a friendly late-night chat. After all, what were the chances that a nice guy wearing a loud floral tie at 2:30am on a weekend night was gay?

Gay men take a lot of pride in their gaydar, but it’s actually a lot harder to spot the real thing than you’d think. In the ghetto, it’s a no-brainer. But in the outside world (and here we’re talking anything east of the Don and north of Bloor), it’s often hard to know.

Some people just scream the game away, with a merry flounce of the hip or a balletic bounce of the hand. Other people are even more direct. Like the guy who signalled his interest in yours truly by whipping out his cock on a late-night subway car. A very stiff cock. Right there in the bright lights of the Toronto transit system. That hint was pretty easy to figure out.

But social conviviality can blur the signals. If the other guy is just chatting away, the question always arises: Is he being friendly or Friendly?

I guess you could do the obvious and check for a wedding ring, but I’ve never been able to remember which finger it’s supposed to go on.

The T-shirt test is usually pretty reliable. Straights and gay men both wear T-shirts, of course, but the message tends to be a little different. Gay men are big on designer logos and irony; straights on such über-guy things as power and status. If a guy is wearing Abercrombie And Fitch or an outfit that mixes outrageous machismo (“Airborne, Ft Bragg, NC”) with a fey little hat and a slim little build, you can bet he’s gay.

If, on the other hand, a guy is wearing a T-shirt that says “I am Canadian,” or “I had breakfast with Bill Gates,” or “Hold my beer while I kiss your girlfriend,” he’s straight.

But the best, if most paradoxical, rule of thumb is, if they’re friendly, they’re straight. Sexual tension makes men nervous, anxious, diffident. If they’re chatting away in an easy, comfortable way, chances are good that they’re not really interested in messing with anything other than your pretty little head.

Of course they could be American. Or maybe just really, really, well adjusted. You never really know.