I was always the boy who blushed.
Case in point: after begging my boyfriend to take me to an event where I could wear a tie, he brought me to a gay fundraiser a few weeks ago. My boyfriend, who seems to know everyone, began to introduce me to some of his acquaintances.
“Oh, you two will make beautiful babies,” one man purred.
“Well, we can’t so….” my boyfriend, mugging, began.
But his acquaintance: “Oh well, you’ll just have to keep practicing.”
Innuendo. A bit off colour, perhaps, but hardly raunchy.
Later, he introduced me to another man he knows. What does he say? Hello? Nice to meet you?
“How much does this one cost?”
Vulgar, but flattering at least. “Mmm,” says my boyfriend. “He’s not for sale.”
“How about rent — what can I get for $1,000?”
He was obviously kidding, and besides which it was a complimentary kind of kidding. But boy did I blush something fierce.
In fact, several other comments that night turned me into a stuttering, blushing eight-year-old. The most jaw-dropping? “Oh, now you’re doing brown meat,” an educated professional let loose. Neither my attire nor his middle-aged, middle-class friends made a difference. I was going to have to stop worrying and embrace being vulgar.
The jokes about my sex life weren’t intended to make me blush (except for the racially tinged comment, which was probably deliberately provocative). In fact, the raucous comments were, on the whole, intended to make me feel at ease.
As anyone who’s ever told a gay joke knows, it’s all about context. After all, comments you would deign to tell at work you wouldn’t think twice about telling your buddies. Vulgar comments become increasingly acceptable the more comfortable friends become. So, by skipping up the familiarity ladder, these men were making me feel welcome.
Yes, I was welcomed into the gay community with open arms — via dick jokes.
A few weeks later, I was being interviewed for a job, gay man to gay man (gay mano a mano?) and he dropped the C-word (or, more properly, a C-word — I mean “cocksucker” not “cunt”). I smiled — maybe I blushed a little — but I let myself use “buttfucking” in my answer to his question. Yes, I didn’t worry about it, because I’ve learned to embrace being vulgar.
Vulgarity-as-familiarity aside, I now see that a gay men’s culture that is celebratory and defiant has another use for dirty jokes. Considering — and I don’t want to go all Debbie Downer on you — the history of gay culture has been marked by the need to hide, putting sex front and centre actualizes our hard-fought freedom. And I’m not talking about the right to marry; I’m talking about taking sodomy off the books.
Tidings of dirty jokes remind us that our culture has historically been more about leather vests than sweater vests, more cock rings than wedding rings, more Pansy Division than Will Young, more British Queer as Folk than the US version, more like The MuchMusic VJ Search’s Sean Gehon or New York funnyman Ant: bawdy, irreverent, and celebratory.
These days, I find myself having to keep my newfound jocular friendliness in check in straight or mixed settings, trading my red underwear, so to speak, for mild manners.
Imagine, for a moment, a straight couple getting the same chidings from acquaintances that I received out with my boyfriend.
Friend: Hey, Jim. I’d like you to meet my girlfriend. We’ve been dating for three months.
Girlfriend: Hi, Jim. Nice to meet you.
Jim: Oh, three months? You’re probably banging like jackrabbits. Schuh-wing!
Sure, adolescents of all orientations (and the adolescent at heart) can get their inappropriate jokes from South Park or Ace Ventura. But could a straight couple expect to receive the kind of playful ribbing I received on my night out with my boyfriend?
Say it with me, boys: In mixed company, I will remember to say, “Nice to meet you” and not, “How much did you pay her?” I will say, “Thank you for inviting me to the party,” and not, “Where can I get some ass?” I will say, “You have a lovely home,” and not, “Does this place smell like cum? Would you like it to?” But seriously, be gentle to the heteros.