I think every gay man has, at one point, drunkenly listed all the gay people in his year at school. It’s often in response to the question of an old school friend that he ran into at a bar. Sometimes it’s to prove how, in fact, not all the best looking people are gay. And sometimes, of course, it’s an attempt to discover others or outsmart the other gay guy from his year who is rattling off his own list. The point is; the list is never very long. Four or five people max. Even at a school like mine, which, to the other schools in Jozi, seemed like it was one-gay short of a Liza Minnelli concert.
And that pitiful list, on the fingers of one hand, is the reason gay guys need to branch out. In a world of cold statistics, we are always the minority and every social circle or crowd of people will yield only a couple of other gay people. It is this rarity which leads straight people to offer that most infuriating of well-meaning suggestions: “you must meet my friend Brett. You two will love each other.” The only reason they say it is almost always that their friend also happens to be gay, to which I always want to reply “do you hit it off with every straight person you meet? Your mom must be proud of how discerning you are.”
But I digress. While it’s ludicrous and quite funny to think that all gay guys will hit it off, we do, in the end, have to date other gay people. We can fantasise as much as we like about jocks and rugby players, but if they like having the only penis at a pyjama party, the fantasy won’t get much further than that.
And so we begin, as adults, to assemble groups of gay friends and, as the years go on, boyfriends and exes. And to do this, we have to look far and wide. My hypothesis is that we venture further out of our social circles than straight people do. While many of them seamlessly and mindlessly exist in a bubble forever, we can’t just stay friends with the same people we went to high-school with. We can’t go through life only mixing with the same kinds of people, or slowly meeting friends of friends through the Old Boy’s Club.
How can both tendencies exist? How can we be so open-minded and so judgemental?
We take conscious actions to meet new people, whether through Gaydar, or Meetmarket or Grindr. We step out of braais with our friends to go to gay bars on our own and talk to strangers. We agree to those stupid set-ups with people we probably won’t have anything in common with. We flirt with people on Facebook. And the kinds of people we end up hanging out with or sleeping with are not all carbon copies of one another, or ourselves. They don’t all have, to borrow a friend’s expression, box-ticking Mmusi Maimane private school accents.
We’re outcasts, in a way, and have to assemble our own motley crew.
And that is actually a very liberating position to be in. Our eclecticism frees us to discover more of ourselves by seeing more of others. We open our eyes to new people and paradigms, and in the process shed many of our preconceptions. While we struggle to find that elusive spark we get to know interesting characters from different walks of life, and connect with people across social divides. We are pushed out of our comfort zones more than our straight friends and family. And in doing so, we could be the vanguard of integration in South Africa. We often end up with friendships and relationships that are as multicultural as a Tutu sonnet about love conquering all. And healing the South African psyche, much like urban renewal (and fame, if Samantha from Sex & the City is to be believed), follows a progression; first come the gays, then come the girls, and then it’s everybody.
And yet so many gay guys are judgemental – snapping at strangers, mocking accents, rolling eyes at fashion faux pas and retching at anything short of washboard abs. Far from being open-minded, they take prejudice to the point of (sometimes hilarious) absurdity. How can both tendencies exist? How can we be so open-minded and so judgemental? I’m no psychologist, but I’d guess it has something to do with how hard we were pushed. If we have supportive and loving friends and family our ventures into the scary world of finding other gays could be taken in baby steps. We could step out, and scurry back; go on an awful date, discuss and dissect with a brother afterwards. We controlled the pace of our adventures, and could extend comfort zones at the rate that kept us confident.
People who were thrown out of their comfort zones, on the other hand, by oppressive families and conservative, homophobic friends, had to scramble to find their place again. In an attempt to rebuild self-worth, they found others like themselves and built a laager. Instead of growing and stretching, they retreated. It’s a little ironic actually – that the most conservative backgrounds make the most fiercely bitchy gay guys.
It’s a pity then, that we’re not quite ready to be a weapon of mass integration. South African society needs some mashing-ups. But in order to fulfil that role we need friends and family who are prepared to be taken a little out of their comfort zone too. And those, sadly, are still pretty few and far between.