Those who meet me are not likely to leave with the impression that I worry much about whether my behavior is “manly” enough.
By Paul Hagen
I’m not some sort of crusader against gender norms; it’s more that — somewhere along the way — I figured out that trying to butch it up enough to pass among the “bros” of the world is just too exhausting.
However it took me many years to get this comfortable. At my all-boys prep school (as in most high schools), the undisputed kings of the campus were the rough, tough guys who excelled on the field or the court. Sports mystified me, but I learned to revere these young men, who’d strut around the locker room like they owned the place. I assumed when I moved to an NYC college where sports were essentially non-existent, I’d encounter a different value system. Unfortunately, this is also when I learned that (even among the gay community) there was a huge value placed on being “masculine” and “straight-acting.” I told people I was content to be delightfully different, but in truth I would look at both gay and straight guys for whom being masculine came easy like they’d won lotto.
Among these was Tom — the boyfriend of my best friend Meg. Meg and I were practically inseperable: we had classes together, we created shows together, we partied together. As such, I ended up spending quite a bit of time with Tom, too. But I couldn’t quite shake the feeling of being intimidated by him. While I spewed forth an endless stream of chatty commentary, he seemed supernaturally comfortable, even in near-stoic silence. Where my one-man parade of eccentricities made me feel self-conscious, Tom seemed to glide through the world with a commanding manliness.
After college, Meg and I moved into an apartment together. Though Tom was not officially living with us, he spent a fair amount of time there. I did my best to appear relaxed and cool around him, waiting until he wasn’t nearby to do ladylike things like sing along to Bernadette Peters while cleaning the kitchen, spend the afternoon strutting around in heels, or binge-watching Gilmore Girls.
Gilmore Girls had debuted several years earlier, and I could tell from the previews that I’d fall in love with it: a town full of quirky characters, mothers and daughters squabbling and bonding, Lauren Graham delivering rapid-fire repartee like the reincarnation of the brassy dames of 1940s cinema. I’d been too busy to watch when it premiered; so I decided to wait and catch up on home video. Eventually, when I hit a depressive patch after college, I sought out every episode available and burned through them with reckless abandon. But, much as I loved it, Gilmore Girls had been marketed so squarely to “girls” and “moms” that I wasn’t about to shout about it from the rooftops.
One day when Meg was out, Tom walked into the apartment to find me deep in a Gilmore binge. He asked what I was up to. I froze — not wanting to admit to him that I’d been soothing my soul by watching women discuss their relationships using as many words as humanly possible. “I’m just watching Gilmore Girls,” I attempted to answer nonchalantly. “You probably wouldn’t be into it.”
“I’ll give it a try,” he said gamely. Tentatively, I pressed play. As the show unfolded in its peppy, perky way, I watched Tom for signs of disapproval. But he seemed to be getting it — even laughing in the right places. Thus I ended up spending the afternoon watching Gilmore Girls with my roommate’s big butch boyfriend.
It didn’t turn Tom into some sort of Gilmore superfan, but something about the fact that he’d caught me in the middle of behavior that made me feel so vulnerable, that he’d not judged me for it, and that he even tried joining in made me appreciate him in a whole new way. Tom and I went on to share many more special moments together (including some legendary Dirty Dancing-caliber booty-shaking at Meg and Tom’s eventual wedding). But it was in that moment together watching TV that I finally realized Tom was no longer just Meg’s boyfriend: he was my friend.
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Last modified: August 22, 2017