When I was in college, I met a guy named Dave. He was a typical guy in a lot of ways; he played football in high school and went out for the team in college; he was in a fraternity, and he was funny and smart.
We met in Spanish class. A lot of this is fuzzy, some 20-plus years later, but I remember we bonded over a shared sense of humor. For some reason, we had this joke that everybody was looking at us and talking about us behind our backs, and that all their thoughts were positive: “You see those guys up there? They are the coolest people ever,” everyone was saying about us, in our minds.
I remember he told me that he had played football against Drew Bledsoe one time as a teenager, having grown up in the Washington area. I thought that was pretty cool.
I came out to him as a matter of course, and his response was basically that he’d never met a gay person before. He had a lot of questions, and he listened to the answers and he told me about his girlfriend in Alabama. We’d talk about what they were going through, and I’d tell him my stories, too.
We cut class to go to the first-ever Colorado Rockies game. It was April 5th, 1993, at Shea Stadium. The Rockies lost 3-0 to Dwight Gooden and the Mets.
I took him to his first gay bar. He got hit on. A lot. I remember when we left he said it was “Interesting.” His father thought it was less interesting when we had a graduation party and he found out that the kid hosting the party had a 30-something boyfriend. Yup, that was me.
All these years later, we’ve remained in touch. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and kids, and he teaches at a high school.
I tell you these things because I’ve been wondering what makes some straight guys awesome and others not so much. I have a few theories.
1. Security in his own sexuality. A straight guy who simply knows he is straight is a step ahead in their quest for awesomeness, because a gay friend, or even a gay bar, isn’t a threat to him. I figure it would be like if I were an exchange student in a foreign country. I’d be interested in all the customs, but I wouldn’t be worried that I might become Tibetan because I’d be secure in my own American-ness, if you follow my terrible simile.
2. An interest in the world outside his own head. Some guys may be great people, but really only interested in what’s going on in their own world. You’ll recognize these people as the ones who, at parties, answer the question “How are you doing?” with a long, dragging story that is not followed by a question. Guys who have a true interest in understand the world around them have a step up.
3. A sense of humor. Let’s face it… gay is funny. I mean, it isn’t funny in any real way, but it’s funny in the basic sense that for someone who has a heterosexual orientation and has only been around that, it’s different. Our brains are attuned to notice differences. People who notice these things and find them to be humorous and not scary are much more likely to be awesome straight guys than those who freak out when they see a person with is obviously different than they are. I want to be clear here that I am not talking about making fun of differences; I am simply saying that one can respond positively or negatively to seeing something that is dissimilar. An early positive reaction to difference is humor as opposed to fear.
4. Empathy. Awesome straight guys can put themselves in another’s shoes. Dave and I would talk about what it was like to be gay. I remember telling him about the time I went to one of the Columbia dances and some kids walked by and said something about “a bunch of fags” and I turned around and called him on it. One of the kids and I almost got into a fist fight, but thankfully his friends pulled him away. Anyway, Dave was sensitive enough to wonder how it would feel to be called a name like that by strangers. Not all straight guys have that sort of empathy, but I think a lot of them do.
Anyhow, I want to send a big thank you out to my original cool straight guy, and a larger shout out to the rest of you who are also cool and straight. I know so many of you now. Frank. Carson. Dan (my brother). Jim. Chuck (not my husband). Steve. Paul. Andrew. Adam. Cliff. Way too many to name. I am appreciative because I think that cool straight guys can make a huge difference in the world. In your awesomeness, you can help change hearts and minds. Every time you simply are who you are, you show your less awesome brethren what a real man can and should be.