My Flings with Gay Men Taught Me that Sexual Attraction Isn't Black and White

Some gay guys can be hard to spot, even to themselves.
Avatar:
Ulrika Campbell
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
137
Some gay guys can be hard to spot, even to themselves.

You could argue that my taste in men is somewhat biased. I've always had affection for people out of my league. 

1987 was the year I started daydreaming of famous gay men. My romantic obsession with Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys scored me no points with my peers who were into more obvious small-town choices such as Axl Rose and Gene Simmons, but I believed my love for the sartorially perfect Brit was worth fighting for. The tragedy in our relationship, other than it being one-sided and purely fictional, was that Neil Tennant was much older than me. I understood deep down that he would never have a serious relationship with a 12-year-old girl. 

At the time, I had no idea that my pop star crush was gay. It didn't really matter. I wasn't in love with his sexual orientation — I was in love with him

(Twenty years later he bought me a pint of Kronenbourg in a pub in London. Had I known as a kid  — when I couldn't wait for my Actually cassette to rewind fast enough  — that this would happen, I would have prepared better and thought of something clever to say over the next quarter of a lifetime.)

My only criteria for falling in love has always been fabulousness. I never claim to be free from a superficial layer — packaging is important but only if it surrounds nice contents. Most of the gay men I fancied didn't fit into the camp, effeminate, desexualized stereotype of a gay man; they went under the radar of my ridiculously narrow interpretation of what a gay man was. It came as a great surprise and disappointment that most of the objects of my lust were never going to reciprocate my intense feelings and would most certainly never offer up sex. Not even after repetitive nagging or faced with the threat of losing their Helmut Lang bomber jackets.

It's a generalization that gay men have higher taste levels than straight ones, but I'm going to stick by that generalization because I find it to be mostly true. It hasn't always served me well, though. I assumed fashion college would be a good time to come out, but I was surprised to time and again make out with guys that seemed straight but turned out not to be. Maybe they didn't know yet? Maybe they weren't sure? Maybe I was such an enigma that it didn't matter? Like Marilyn Monroe to Cass Chaplin? (Despite my own narcissistic traits, I still find the last reason hard to believe.)

Happy and confused in college.

Happy and confused in college.

At Saint Martins College, I started hanging out with a guy called Tim. We weren't officially dating, but we got drunk and we made out — a lot. I was the type of person who avoids asking questions because I didn't want a negative answer. I was in love with him, but I was scared to push for more than I had.

Tim was a recent graduate who had since ditched his Red Hot Chilli Peppers t-shirts in favor of neatly pressed, brilliant white shirts. (Red Hot Chilli Peppers must mean that he's straight, right?) He was a professional, groomed and neat. I could tell by his graduate collection and illustrations that he was most probably depressed, which made him even more attractive to me. It's always tempting to look for yourself in other people.

One evening, partying in a gay club called The Cock, things started happening.

"I'm in awe of you, I always have been," Tim said, visibly drunk.

Wow.

This must be what it felt like to be Andy Warhol. People fanning at you.

You can be my Edie Sedgwick, I thought. I wondered if he had as many problems. We made out in the corridor as people pushed past us trying to get to the bathroom or to see if there was more fun to be had in a place that they weren't.

"I can't believe this is happening. I've always held you on a pedestal," Tim said, and he and kissed my neck. I couldn't believe it was happening either. I had always held him in the highest regard.

"Let's get out of here," I said and grabbed his arm, dramatically pushing through the tight corridor like Milla Jovovich in the Herb Ritts advert for Escape by Calvin Klein. The Cock was an accepting place, but I felt it was pushing it for a heteronormative couple to take up space making out. Leaving seemed like the polite thing to do. We ended up in his apartment in an attempt to have sex.

This pattern continued for a couple of months. Hell, he even fell asleep on top of me a few times! I rationalized it with the excuse that working at your first job must be very draining. He was designing trousers day in and day out, and there are a lot more to trousers than side seams, right?

One Tuesday afternoon, weeks later, I was sitting with my roommate, Rikky, in the kitchen drinking vodka with apple juice, having no specific plans other than to text Tim.

"Hey, what's your plans for tonight? X," I sent him. 

Five seconds later, no reply. I stirred the vodka and painted a fresh layer of nail polish on both hands.

Still no reply.

"Darling, don't wear your heart on your sleeve with this one," Rikky said and stretched dramatically. "Do me," he said and spread out his fingers on the table.

"Black or Sparkling Garbage?"

"Sparkling Garbage is my middle name, honey! Slather!"

I wished I could be as easy-going as Rikky, all of the time. It was a life goal. Rikky was my mood board and a vision.

"Sit still. I need to call Tim," I said and hurried to finish the last two nails.

"Smudge!"

I dialed Tim's number and ran upstairs to my bedroom to speak in peace. Tim was at work. Three vodkas in, I had forgotten that some people have respectable jobs that they work at, at 3pm.

"I can't see you tonight," he said in a strained voice. He was good at playing professional.

"We haven't hung out for a week. I miss you," I said. Fuck it. I'll wear my bloody heart on my sleeve if I want to. I am human and I need to be loved!

"Ulrika, I don't think this is a good idea. I'm going to be honest with you."

What was he saying?

I said nothing.

"I met someone. I'm sorry."

Well, that was about as clear as frozen vodka.

"Oh, OK, I see. I'll talk to you later." I was so embarrassed, I wanted to hang up as soon as possible.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"What's going on? I need another layer!" Rikky shouted from the kitchen.

"Tim said he met someone," I said as I went back downstairs. I observed Rikky's reaction to better understand how to feel about it.

He didn't look surprised.

"Am I an idiot?"

"No, darling, you are a special person. You have strong vibes. People love you. This one just got confused."

"What?" I said and wiped away some moisture in my eye. Kindness is a trigger.

"He thought he was into you, clearly, but he's a gay, or at least he probably will be. This is the case. Don't be sad. Be happy for what you had. Not many girls can pass off as a handsome man."

Rikky was right. I had refused to see it. I was a handsome man.

I looked inside the fridge, empty — bar condiments — to see if there was anything that would make me feel better, like a magic donut sent from an empathetic cherub. Nothing.

"I guess if you put it that way, it's kind of flattering to have been the only girl that he felt attracted to and tried it with," I said.

"OK..." Rikky paused to search for the right words. "You don't understand. I don't want to take anything away from your experience, but he's probably attracted to a lot of girls even if he would potentially only go out with boys from now on. Who knows? There's a myriad of possibilities."

I felt sad, proud, and now stupid.

"Yeah, I know," I said, lying because I was still confused and hadn't looked at it that way.

"We're all sprinkled little stars on the MS Paint rainbow gradient of 100-percent gay to 100-percent straight. Me, for example — because we haven't talked about me for a while — I'm 89-percent gay. I could potentially have sex with a woman, but I haven't found anyone that I would have sex with yet. But in theory, I guess I could. Tim could potentially be 99-percent gay and you're that one-percent possibility, or were. We are all made up of different color combinations of the rainbow. The colors may change depending on who you're with. Nothing's static. It's never black and white."

I slowly began to understand.

"I need more Sparkling Garbage, darling! Pour us a drink," Rikky demanded.

"You are Sparkling Garbage," I said and poured us a drink.

Tim and I both learned from the experience. Tim learnt that he prefers cock and that girls don't have one; I learnt that some guys are gay, but they can be hard to spot, even to themselves. Also: judging someone to be straight based on their favorite band being the Red Hot Chili Peppers might not have been the smartest thing I've ever done, but it doesn't really matter. Tim was my first gay maybe-boyfriend, but he wouldn't be my last.

Growing up, my gay crushes were superstars, and I was no one. Even if I had been as famous as Bette Midler, Cher or Liza Minnelli, I'm pretty sure that not one of them would have wanted to have sex with me. But some of my non-famous gay crushes did try, and I love them all equally for it.