I am taking a pleasant mid-afternoon stroll with a girlfriend of mine when I see a familiar face walking towards us. We did not end our acquaintance on a high note and I don’t know if I should say “hello” or even make eye contact with him.
The gap between us becomes smaller and smaller and I can’t help but look away. As we finally pass one another, I say nothing. I wait for the redness in my face to die down. Just as I get the sense the discomfort is ending, I here him mutter something under his breath as he strolls right by me.
“Ewww.” That is what he says. “Ewww.”
I am tempted to spin around and slug him. Instead, I am left to wonder just why I deserved that “ewww” in the first place.
Vancouver boasts the largest queer population in Western Canada. However, I only ever seem to run into the same handful. A trip down to Davie Village would not be complete without running into someone I once befriended, dated or fooled around with.
To a perfectly well adjusted human with a concrete knowledge of how to interact successfully with others, these encounters would probably come as a nice surprise.
“Well, how have you been?”
“You look fabulous!”
“It’s great to see you again,” would be some of the pleasantries exchanged. Sadly, as I am sure many have gathered by now, I am not one of those people.
Roughly seven years ago, when I decided to “turtle” and shun the social realm, I did not have this dilemma. Yet you can only hide out for so long. Now that I have made an effort to reacquaint myself with the queer community, I am realizing how truly small it is.
Through an uncanny string of circumstances, I have been given the opportunity to re-live the greatest hits of my social awkwardness. Rather than meeting “new and exciting” people, I keep encountering the past.
A stroll down Denman St has become a series of “Oh my god, it’s that guy. I think I’ll just duck into this alley here.” I suppose I didn’t realize how many dudes I might have rubbed the wrong way when I moved to Vancouver eight years ago.
I am not entirely to blame for any weirdness or mixed feelings, though. When I first moved to the West Coast, I found a job at a busy Starbucks in the financial district. It was like customer service boot camp. I made a few friends during my tenure. However, one in particular haunts me to this day.
Steve and I became buds and often hung out outside of work. On weekends, we would meet at his place, drink ourselves stupid and then hit the town. Hitting the town, of course, meant taking a cab to the Odyssey to wet our whistles and make fun of everyone else in the club. Sometimes, I would have to crash on his couch if I decided I did not wish to take a lover.
Things started to get sketchy when we went out one evening with another co-worker. We had gone to Numbers (to wet our whistles and make fun of everyone else in the club). However, it being a slow night, we were bored out of our minds.
I told Steve and our co-worker that I was going to grab a smoke up on the second floor. Five minutes later I returned to where they were hanging out. They were gone. A sweep of the bar concluded they had left the premises in my absence. I was offended and mildly embarrassed until I found out that they thought I had hooked up with someone they saw me chatting up and decided to leave.
A little suspect, for sure, but I tried not to take it personally.
It happened again. This time, Steve and I spent the day shopping. We went into the Gap so I could take advantage of an awesome sale. I grabbed some clothes and went to the change room, while Steve waited outside. When I came out, he had vanished. A frantic search of the dressing room, neighbouring shops and a crowded food court led me to believe he had performed another disappearing act.
I was incensed. I was outraged. I was totally insulted.
Later, a coworker will tell me not to take offense. That’s just Steve for you, he said. The rest of my time at Starbucks was spent completely ignoring him. Neither one of us spoke to each other except to give a drink order. Another friend bites the dust.
I left Starbucks and didn’t see him again for five years —until he passed me on the street and muttered, “Ewww.”
While I find no justification for his response to sighting me, I understand why many others I encountered before I became a hermit have the “ewww” in for me.
There are the guys I slept with that I never called again, relationships that ended abruptly on account of me being terrified of commitment, friends I lost touch with.
There is the hockey player who fell asleep on top of me, the dudes who never called me back, the one whose kitchen sink I threw up into, the guy who offered me poppers that I accepted and accidentally poured down my nose.
For every person I have struck up a decent friendship with, there are a hundred I would prefer never to see again.
If I am going to be a part of our queer community, I might have to adjust the way I conduct myself.
It comes down to just being honest with each other, I guess. So I am off to practice my “Good to see you again” and “Wasn’t that funny how I made an ass of myself way back when” greetings.