The Aggressive-Passive Straight Man’s Primer to Party Chat

August 21st, 2006  |  Published in etc  |  1 Comment

We’ve got company in town this weekend. The social calendar’s been a little busier than normal since our normal pattern of shuttering the household on Friday afternoon and not acknowledging the existence of a life outside until Deadwood’s credits roll on Sunday night has given way to going places and doing things.

Having attended n+1 social events involving n+1 social circles, I’ve got an observation to make and a bit of self-revelation to share:

I really hate being introduced by my sexual orientation. And barring such an introduction happening, I hate having my sexual orientation worked into the conversation within two minutes of the introduction.

For one, it’s pretty easy, barring elaborate conspiracy theories involving Al and Ben being my beard and … whatever a beard-child is … to figure out which team I’m playing for. So broadcasting the matter is a little demeaning, just because it feels like the broadcaster figures that’s the most important thing people need to know, either because “straight” is my sole function or because my sensibilities are delicate enough to warrant protection from whatever shocking revelations might ensue otherwise.

Anyhow, if it’s that kind of party, please show me the door because I think “how people fuck” makes for tedious conversation. If your friend and I hit it off and begin socializing outside a big group context, I’m sure it’ll come up in due time and after everyone’s had time to figure out everyone else’s comfort levels.

For two, it’s a complete reversal of my own behavior, which I’ve worked out based on how I’d want to be treated. I wouldn’t wrap an introduction up with “Jack’s gay,” or slide in “You think that’s a nice shirt? I was kind of surprised he’d wear it, because he’s gay and it totally isn’t a gay shirt.” That’s depriving Jack of a choice he’s entitled to make. And, as noted above, it’s making at least indirect comment on what I think is important about Jack.

A case can be made for settings where, perhaps, people need to know someone else’s sexual orientation, but even in those settings I think there are better ways to impart the information that don’t involve forcing one to figure out how to proceed with new friends when the only part of one’s identity anyone’s been given to work with is which sex’s ass one is more likely to be staring at on the beach.

While we’re here, a few more items follow from this:

For instance, I don’t think sexual orientation and mating arrangements are ethical or moral categories, and as such I’m inclined to shy away from using the word “tolerant” to describe my feelings about people who don’t share my orientation or mode of pair-bonding. “Tolerance” implies overcoming an objection to a behavior or state. My own ethical concerns about sexual and socio-sexual behaviors are largely limited to the straightforward questions of interpersonal responsibility that you’d apply to behaviors like drunk driving or embezzlement.

To clarify, I’m not likening being gay to being a drunk driver, but I would liken the ethical comportment of a gay or straight person failing to notify sexual partners of a contagious STD with that of a drunk driver. Any more examples risk losing the core point under a pile of qualifications, and that core point is that sexual and socio-sexual orientations and choices, on a general level, are not ethical or moral issues with me.

So when you imply that behavior I’d engage in is either surprising or unsurprising based on the assumption that my “straightness” is part of a larger moral gestalt in which being gay is somehow immoral or unethical, you’re a. misunderstanding my own ethical and moral framework and b. asserting a moral or ethical framework you might want to think about more clearly. You’re also leading other people, whether you realize it or not, to a belief that my starting assumption is that their own preferences and orientations are immoral, when the fact is that I’m about as interested, ethically, in whom they’re fucking as I am in whether they like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

There’s a counterpoint to be made here, which is that some people do treat their sexual orientation as a moral or ethical choice, and that these things matter very much to them. I respect that, but I’d submit that if you think the issue is an ethical category that needs to be covered in an introduction, you should ask yourself if you’d like to be accosted at a party about your leather shoes, the non-union-made t-shirt you’re wearing, or the mileage your car gets. If you move in circles where it’s cool to be introduced as “Jack, who said he doesn’t care that his Levis are made in a sweatshop,” then I’ll retract my objection to being introduced, effectively, as “Mike, who’s setting aside his belief that you’re evil to keep things friendly.” You’ll still be wrong, but if that’s how your crowd rolls, I can find the door myself because I’m not comfortable being merely tolerated.

Qualifications

Yes, I’ve used “ethics” and “morals” interchangeably and loosely. Please forebear. If you can’t forebear, please feel free to dismiss me as unserious when it comes to discussing these matters, but at least take away the takeaway, which should remain clear, even if I’ve betrayed a shocking forgetfulness where past ethics courses are concerned.

Yes, this is a scattershot way to get a point across. It’s not an ideal approach to me. Having spent several days turning the issue over in my head, though, I’ve come to realize that a broadcast message helps me feel less emotional about the matter, and able to express myself with more precision. And it serves as a useful way to kill the second bird, which is the part about the more general moral/ethical issues.

Yes, there are children starving in Ethiopia, but that didn’t stop you from yelling the last time you stubbed your toe, either.

Finally, yes … not caring about my own orientation to the point of not wanting it brought up in certain ways is a sort of straight privilege … a demonstration of my expectation that a key part of my identity should remain unremarked and uncontested. If you don’t know me personally and stumble across this, your lectures simply aren’t welcome. I’ve been an undergrad twice and I’ve gotten the “condescending stranger” version of the lecture. If you do know me and think I need the lecture, we’ve got a bigger failure of communication than I’ve addressed here and we should get to work on that.

Updated evening of 8/21 for clarity, declutter and non-meaning-changing tweaks

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Responses

  1. Kevin Reichard says:

    August 22nd, 2006 at 5:46 am (#)

    So you’re gay? I thought so. I applaud your courage in coming out of the closet.

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