When you are growing up a future gay, you learn very quickly that your relationships with straight men are never going to be anything other than complex.
Whether you’re trying to explain to your dad for the eightieth time that you’re not going to kick that football back at him no matter how many times it flies over your head, or enduring the weekly terror of “Backs against the wall, lads” in the showers after PE, it can be difficult to make yourself understood. So alike, but oceans apart.
Many a time I have spent a puzzling fifteen minutes in a kitchen full of vodka bottles, while a straight guy slinks around me like smoke from Marlene Dietrich’s fiftieth cigarette of the evening.
In less enlightened times, when I was much younger and even more socially awkward, I clearly remember almost dreading being introduced to straight men in case they mocked me or disliked me, preferring instead to make a beeline for their girlfriends, sisters or mothers. There’s also the added misery of emotionally crippling crushes on these men, the ultimate in the unobtainable, or not daring to catch someone’s eye in the gym changing rooms – the PE anxiety nightmare does not end with your last GCSE – in case they thought you were checking out their pecker. Almost never, boys. Almost never.
But now, everyone has chilled out a bit – at least in my little bubble of existence, anyway – and I can’t even imagine ever feeling that way again. I have straight male friends and gay male friends and obviously loads of ladies and everybody is getting married – it’s just like Peter’s Friends or This Life, but everybody’s got a crick in their neck from using their smartphones day in, day out and we’re all tweeting our breakfasts instead of calling each other.
In fact, things seem to have gone so far the other way that there’s now a new kind of straight man you’ll meet: the one who openly flirts with you.
Oh, he’s always been there, of course – the invention of ecstasy and house music has seen to it that the lines are blurrier than ever when it comes to when you can and can’t put your heads on each other’s shoulders.
Many a time I’ve spent a puzzling 15 minutes in a kitchen full of vodka bottles while a straight guy slinks around me, like smoke from Marlene Dietrich’s fiftieth cigarette of the evening.
But as more boys move away from a fear of gay men toward a mild curiosity, it’s all too easy to misinterpret it and get carried away. You mustn’t get ahead of yourself. And if it’s annoying, tell them so. But first let’s meet these young bucks with all this attention to lavish and eyes so wide.
Some straight men flirt with you just because they are bored. They would flirt with anyone or anything. Watch them around someone’s mother or grandmother, they’re just the same – extra attentive, slightly suggestive, but never enough to cause offence. They have moved on to you because a) you are there and b) well, see a).
It isn’t sexual; he is not going to whisper in your ear that he wants to try something ‘new’. He’s just terribly bored and wants something to do until the football is on/his girlfriend notices him again. Once she does – and she will, their girlfriends are always watching what you’re up to – he’ll go back to being his formal old bro self. He might even clench his buttocks in discomfort if you’re lucky.
Mr Tell Me I’m Pretty
We all like to feel attractive and, although many of us feign shyness or modesty, we like to be told we are too. Obviously we can’t go around willy-nilly telling people they’re hot, because that’s massively inappropriate and, again, you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of somebody’s better half. So, if we’re feeling attractive and want someone to appraise us, even silently, we move the flirtatiousness up a notch. And straight boys do this too.
I have a good female friend whose then-boyfriend would walk into the kitchen like he was trying to pick me up – sometimes in just his boxers. He wasn’t gay, or remotely interested in trying it out, but wanted to be found attractive. He couldn’t understand why, as a gay man, I wasn’t salivating over what was before me like a cartoon dog drooling at the sausages in a butcher’s window. Of course, I rewarded this behaviour by playing dumb and pretending not to notice until he gave up and put some clothes on.
Mr What If
The most seriously flirtatious straight man of all is Mr What If. He treats you like he’s researching a huge scientific study. Thanks to advances in gay sex scenes on TV, nobody really asks “Who plays the man and who is the woman?” any more, but most of his questions make you start to wonder whether he’s merely factually curious or, um, physically so.
“Have you ever kissed a straight guy?” Ah, tantalising stuff, but he doesn’t want to bone you, I’m afraid. He may be toying with the idea, of course, but all he’s really doing is trying to get you to think all this interest is in you, and not what you do when behind closed doors. Instead, he’ll go home, stream some ‘adult videos’ and dream about doing it all to a lady instead.
Customer service. What does it mean to you? A smile, a thank you, a general air of interest in you being alive. That’s about it, usually. But sometimes when you go to a restaurant as a gay man, usually when there’s more than one of you, something odd seems to happen to some straight waiters.
Perhaps sensing that you’re a sucker for a firm jawline, he’ll do all he can to make sure that pink pound he has heard so much about will be jangling in his own pocket once you leave.
Out for dinner with my other half recently, we were left exhausted by the lascivious attention of the waiter in the Cheap Monday jeans. Nothing was too much trouble, including midriff-exposing yawns, Sid James-style winks, innuendo-packed retorts and more lip-licking than I have ever seen outside of an ice cream parlour. On the way home, we considered buying pregnancy tests. Just in case.
He’s just drunk. Tell him to fuck off.
This guy is pretty harmless – he just wants to atone for all the sins of previous generations of straight boys who made you feel uncomfortable or did a fake lisping voice whenever they said your name. He’ll be tactile, friendly, maybe even say the odd salacious comment, but ultimately, he’s just trying to show you that not all straight men think you are on a mission to bum every single last one of them. If there is beer involved, he may even end the conversation with a big hug, a tear in his eye and “I’m really glad to have met you”.
He is the best reminder that while being gently flirted with by a straight men doesn’t mean you’re super-hot and they’re going to run off with you, it’s kind of nice that it’s happening at all – it shows just how far we have all come.
Just don’t get into a taxi alone with any of them.