My Gaydar Is Not 20/20
This is the story I read at Tuesday's WYSIWYG...
In late September 2004, a friend of mine at ABC-TV called after he forwarded me a press release about to go up on ABC's site, looking for participants in an episode of 20/20, the Peabody Award winning one-time benchmark of investigative journalism, now currently producing landmark feature stories like "What You Don't Know About Licking Postage Stamps And How It May Be Slowly Killing You".
The 20/20 notice read: "Can you tell if a man is gay just by looking at him? 20/20 is looking for both gay and straight men to take part in a test to see if "gaydar" Â? the ability to tell if a man is gay just by looking at him Â? really works."
Seeing his name on my caller-ID, I answered the phone with, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That no infotainment news program could possibly unravel the complex erotic mystery of sweaty man-on-man lovin'?"
"Well, that and how getting on the show could be a fun story for my blog."
He cackled, "Oh, they'd never pick you. Where's the big "reveal"? Honey, even the people watching other channels would know you're gay. Actually, I'm not even sure they'd have to have their TV on at all. Actually...."
I hung up on him and went back to my computer. Less than an hour later I got a reply from Frank, a producer on 20/20, inviting me to come to a production meeting where I'd be evaluated for inclusion in the show. At that meeting, the premise of the show was explained. Ten men of undisclosed sexual orientation would be put in a room with up to 100 "testers", also volunteers recruited over the internet. Each tester would have a minute or so to ask each man any question at all, with the flaming topics of sex and relationships being off limits.
From their brief interviews with the ten men, the testers would then score the men on a scale of 1-5 of probable gayness. Naturally, I wanted to point out that "gaydar", as I'd always understood it, wasn't based so much in specific answers to certain questions, as much as it was based on an elusive, indefinable, sort of instinctual feeling that Raul over in accounting probably has the complete Supremes discography at home, proudly displayed on two shelves marked "Original" and Post-Diana". Nevertheless, in the interest of contributing to 20/20's important and valuable work in the field of Entirely Conjectural Science, I eagerly joined the ranks of the Men Who Might Like Liza.
On the morning of the taping, I found myself in a huge ethical dilemma over my outfit. Should I try to butch up? Cargo pants and my Mets t-shirt? Wasn't that a rather profound expression of internalized homophobia? Trying to pass, even in this unusual situation? Or maybe I should wear what I'd normally wear as I skipped about Manhattan with my fellow Men Who Sing The Girl's Part Of Duets. Did I dare appear on national TV wearing an over-tight t-shirt with raggedy 501's? Wasn't that sadly stereotypical? But was I actually interested in fooling anybody into thinking I was straight? Would that be something to be proud of? But wearing something faggy, just to make a statement? What that something to be proud of? Should I call GLAAD and see what they say? Moments before my head would have exploded in blaze of circular logic, I realized that the only items of clothing that I hadn't yet assigned a Rank Of Homo Identity were lying on the floor, the outfit I'd worn to work the previous day. So I put on my jeans and flannel shirt and headed to ABC. Flannel was ok, right? I mean, the show wasn't called "Spot The Lesbian".
When I arrived at the ABC studios near Lincoln Center, we first gathered in a lounge to sign our release forms. There was no way to tell which of us were the subjects and which were the testers. I immediately recognized one of the guys filling out a form. It was the same guy who'd grabbed my elbow from behind one night at the Roxy and shouted in my ear, "Christopher, I don't know what kind of fucked up mind game you think you're playing, but Michael is outside crying his eyes out. Get your coat, we're leaving!" I had turned around so the guy could see that I wasn't Christopher, but he was already stalking towards the door. Three minutes he was back, and grabbed my elbow again, "You know what, Christopher. Fine! You can just get your own fucking ride back to Philly!" And without turning around, I shouted "FINE!" That's when my friend Mike came over, "What was THAT all about"? I said, "I don't know, but if you meet a guy named Christopher, he probably needs a ride."
After our forms were collected, we, the Men Who Might Know Colors, were lined up along the wall of a studio with our first name and a number hanging from our neck. I was #3. To my left, #2 seemed affably bland and free of any erotic appeal, the sort whose absence at the office might not be noticed until a few weeks after he quit. But to my right, #4.....ooh #4 virtually shimmered in a golden halo of barely restrained fabulousness, which threatened to explode in a glitter rainbow at any moment.
The testers entered the room in large numbers and I immediately realized that that oor interrogators were at least 80% comprised of fag hags, both varieties, office and nightclub. So much for the blind discipline of science. The testers held back at first, casting on me an eye likely trained from the loge seats at Westminster, appraising my carriage, my dress, my grooming. A hand check for intact testicles seemed a distinct possibility and something I'd gladly have endured to win Best Of 'Mo.
My first question came. "Where are you from?" I was born in North Carolina. Disappointment. "Did you live there until you moved to NY?" No, I moved here from San Francisco. "THANK YOU". Damn. OK, she clocked me. Why did it bother me? My next question: "What was your major in college?" Communications. Yeah, figure THAT out.
The testers began to instinctively organize into packs, the way feral cats do. Small groups moved along the line together, each group with a spokesman asking the same question. #2 was asked "Can you describe the contents of your refridgerator?" He shrugged, "I dunno. I guess, milk. Cheese. Oh, and some venison I got at a hunt upstate." The testers practically quivered with satisfaction. #2 was definitely not one of the Men Who Wear Clamdiggers. Now me, same question. In my fridge right now, I've got Budweiser in the can and a jar of Grey Poupon. The testers frowned. Inconclusive. Of course, I was totally lying. I also had poppers. At least #4 brought them some joy with his answer, "Well, I've got some fresh radicchio...."
A trio of smirking admins landed in front of me. "Tell us your opinion of Cher". Well, I have never seen her in concert but I've liked her in a couple of movies. Technically true, but still an outrageous lie of omission for not mentioning owning her complete discography, proudly displayed on two shelves marked "With Sonny" and "Greatly Improved".
Then my friend from the Roxy arrived. He stepped over with his clipboard. "Wow, you look so much like a guy I know." It took all my strength not to say, "Would his name be....Christopher?" With Roxy Boy were two Homosexual Prada Nazis, fresh from the Fashion Institute's College Of Withering Appraisals. In short order they learned that I lived alone, that I'd arrived from San Francisco, that I worked in the media. Their victory was imminent, they could taste it. With fangs bared in anticipation, they hissed, "What neighborhood do you live in?" The Upper East Side. Hah! Defeat, snatched from their meth-clenched jaws of victory, one unasked question away from learning that before the Upper East Side, I'd lived in Hells Kitchen, Chelsea AND the West Village.
The testers retreated to compile their scores. We, the Men Who Might Own Tap Shoes, were led onto the stage of an auditorium for the actual broadcast portion of the show. The host, John Stossel and his mustache arrived. With the casual but ruthless efficiency of a broadcast veteran, Stossel ordered that all of the gay men move to the five chairs on the right of the stage, the straight ones to the other side. I didn't have to move, as I had already instinctively chosen the gay side of the stage. All of the others had to move and I felt rather superior about that.
The result were announced in the jumbled order of chairs. #4 beamed and offered a clap of congratulations to the 92% of the testors who judged him to be Spectacularly Gay. Then me. John Stossel referred to his index card and announced his surprise that 78% of the testers judged me to be a Man Who Watches Lifetime. Stossel cocked his head and said, "Well, I guess my gaydar just didn't go off on Joe. I look at him and I see...just a regular, macho guy."
Stossel extended his microphone to a woman in the front row. "What about you? What was your very first impression when you saw Joe?"
If you watched the show, you probably remember that the director cut to me for what may be one of the most pained reaction shots in broadcasting history. The audience was beside itself. Stossel continued to work the joke, but this time going to the Prada Nazis, who were not about to let me triumph again. Stossel repeated his question about their first impression of me and whether I'd set off their gaydar.
Prada Nazi #1 grabbed the microphone eagerly, "Oh, please! Look at him! Of course we knew. He's like a total Castro Clone with that haircut. I mean come on, Levi's, a flannel shirt and combat boots? He's right out of the '80s!"
I sat there on the gay side of the stage in my Eddie Bauer shirt, Wrangler Relaxed Fit Jeans and sensible low-cut Sketchers as our entire nation of millions, (including, I found out the next day, my mother) nodded in agreement at how poorly I represented my tribe. We, the Men Who Start Rumors. We, the men who now know the bar where the Prada Nazis hang out. We, the men who know that the right lie about bizarre sexual habits and horribly malformed cocks can cause ruin, ridicule, and a tragic reliance on porn. Our gaydar may not be 20/20, but our revenge will arrive with pinpoint accuracy.