3 min

Me no speak straight

Will your summer fling last?

Credit: Xtra Files

I was leafing through the September issue of Teen People when I realized how dramatic the problem of cultural translation can be. Translating straight communications to gay and vice versa is not a straightforward transaction.

There are so many obstacles that impair understanding between these two worlds. And not just the tricky cover instructions on the cover of Teen People. “Free Josh poster inside,” it said, and “Josh Hartnett Best (Un) Dressed Male Star!”

Yeah, right. It took me a good 10 minutes of flipping the thing upside down and right side up and back again (what’s with putting the title on both the front and back covers?) before I found the so-called poster, and then it was nothing like the come-hither pic on the cover. No crotch-baring pose, no see-through blouse, no sizzling stare. Just a boy-next-door gusher with dear Josh posed fully clothed, head bowed and hands clasped, as though ready for the confession booth.

It brought to mind Ronald Firbank’s bit of dialogue, “I know of no joy… greater than a cool white dress after the sweetness of confession.”

There are so many things that just don’t translate. Sure, gay terms have vague straight equivalents, but they’re not exact translations. A twink is not a bimbo, a bathhouse is not a brothel and a partner is not (usually) your accountant.

Ditto for straight terms like “promiscuity.” Tainted by morality, it doesn’t begin to describe the complex mix of yearning and pragmatism that informs gay sex. So we don’t use it. At worst, we’d call somebody a “slut” and laugh to deprive the term of power.

Differences in lingo can leave both straights and gay folk frowning with incomprehension. How many times have you had to explain the seemingly obvious to puzzled straight friends? Like the time you casually mentioned that Bob and Barry were “married” and your straight friends frowned in incomprehension until you explained that Bob and Barry had been together for 18 years and they’re off the market, so to speak, so of course they are “married,” but no they are not “married,” and really what difference does it make anyway?

The advantage of speaking a different language, however, is that it gives you a whole new perspective on the other culture. Dipping further into Teen People I found a quiz that made me giggle at the distance between them and us.

Purporting to guess-estimate the longevity of a “summer fling,” it relied heavily on factors that just don’t count in a gay environment. I mean, when was the last time you met a prospective partner through your family? And do you really care whether he or she comes to your sister’s wedding?

And so in the interests of cross-cultural understanding, I decided to rework the quiz for a gay context. With apologies to Teen People, here is my version of “Will Your Summer Fling Last?”

1. You met:

A) Through family

B) Through friends

C) When he walked into your room at the baths

2. Your first impression of your new beau was:

A) Love at first sight

B) It’s too late to find someone else

C) He sure doesn’t look like his picture on the Internet

3. On the morning after the night before, your new crush leaves you with:

A) A promise to call soon

B) His name and phone number scribbled on a tiny piece of paper torn from a magazine in his backpack

C) A nervous smile

4. Over dinner on the first date, talk turns to:

A) Marriage

B) The high price of starter condos

C) A threesome

5. Your crush values:

A) Ashley’s bridal registry

B) His cat

C) The new Ikea catalogue

6. Minutes after consummating your attraction, you new friend says:

A) I love you

B) Who’s the other guy in the photograph?

C) Can I take a shower?

If you consistently answered A) you’re either straight, heavily involved with Egale Canada or living with Michael Leshner.

If you answered B) or C), congratulations, you’re caught smack in the middle of the confusion known as gay dating.

You might have met HIM (“Let it please be him, oh dear God/It must be him or I shall die,” sang Vicki Carr).

On the other hand, it could be “men are pigs” time. Three days hence, he might very well walk right past you, shredding your dreams of a meaningful one-night stand.

Either way, don’t sweat it. You are the product of a cultural environment that resists translation.