The Inqueery Gesture

This morning I was sitting on MUNI across from a very beautiful man. He was wearing cargo shorts (not gay) and a Ralph Lauren Polo blue oxford shirt (not gay) and woven sandals (no sexual preference discerned) and reading Screenwriting for Dummies (um, so, what? first thing that sprang to mind, no shit, was “he likes Star Trek”) and he was what I would call ‘typically white male handsome.’ That is, square jaw, slightly unkempt hair, narrow nose, blue-green eyes…

Not that I was studying him, you understand. But as we exited the Embarcadero tunnel and emerged into sunlight, he was there across from me on a relatively empty train and I was there hugging my Jack Spade bag to my just-worked-out pec muscles and I slipped my mirrored Oakleys over my eyes so I could, okay, stare at him. Because, as I mentioned, very beautiful.


I strongly suspected he was not gay. But my Gaydar is notoriously bad. Awful. Rotten to the core. Additionally, even when it’s a “sure thing” and the guy is definitely gay, I just don’t get the flirting thing. More often than I care to divulge I have been told by friends I am with that “that guy is totally cruising you,” and I will look at “that guy,” and my brow will furrow and my lips will purse and I will say, “No, he’s not. He’s not even looking at me.” And they will say, “Well, not now you jerk. But he’s been casting glances at you all night!” And my reaction will be, “Glances? What’s that mean? I glance at everyone, that doesn’t mean I’m cruising them.”

Or does it?

So this guy is sitting there, four feet away, our feet can practically touch (if I stretch enough) and I’m trying as hard as I can not to look at him. Because I’m thinking, “He’s not gay and he will be offended—or he is gay and I will be rejected and who needs that?” So when the train stopped at last, I got off quickly and practically ran away from him, not even stopping to look back as it is every gay man’s responsibility to do.

What I want to know is, what’re the tells? Other than stereotypes and outlandishly ‘mo behavior like calling your friends “girl” and shrieking at cute shoes and so forth, how does one tell if a “straight-acting” man is straight or straight-acting?

I suppose this is probably a very politically incorrect question, and one I should know the answer to anyway. But I am afraid of cruising anyone, see, and doubly so if I get it wrong. Even in this city, the Gay Mecca, unless you’re hanging out in The Castro the chances that the man you find attractive is playing on the Pink Team is probably 60-40. Much better odds than almost anywhere else, admittedly, but still a big gap for the shy, retiring, introverted of us who are scared of our own shadows.

Take, for example, my recent brush with lust at my gym. So, there was this guy, see, and he, too, was bee-yoo-tee-ful. Now, there are plenty of beauties at my gym, it has a reputation for being the Circuit Boy Workout so you have all these sculpted, perfected, vacant lads all going twice a day to pump their skinny bodies into A&F pin-ups. But this man was no boy, and he was definitely no Circuit tweaker.

There were several factors stopping me from approaching him. Firstly, there’s the venue itself. Oh, sure, many, many, many guys hook up at the gym. It’s only natural. The place is surrounded by mirrors so if someone is checking you out, you’re going to know it. There’s no place that your back is to anyone. Secondly, the chances that you’re going to see the guy naked are much improved over, say, cruising him at a bar or Safeway or on the street. Finally, in the San Francisco city limits, 90% of the men in any given gym are gay.

That’s a lot going for you. But what I could never figure out was that opening line. I mean, I can never figure out an opening line anyway, but at the gym you’re there for a reason and it’s not (usually) to pick someone up. And if it is, you’re never sure if the other person wants to be picked up. To be precise, I go in the morning and I’m thinking that 7AM is not the time for a hook up and the gym is not the place. If you’re there at like 5:30PM and you’re only sort of working out and you’re scoping and leering and so on, chances are better that someone else is scoping and leering too. Not so much in the morning.

So there you are, sweaty, red-faced, stinky, and you see this guy who makes you stop dead and just sort of gawk at him. You know, open-mouthed, unblinking, breath caught, a sort of weird statue in the middle of the churning mass of grunting testosterone. And he’s over there working his, oh, arms let’s say. So what do you do? Do you go over and say, “Hey, nice arms!” No, no, no, no, no. “Can I work in a set? Even though there are lots of dumbbells around and really there’s no earthly reason for me to ask this and you can see that it’s a blatant attempt to talk to you about something other than if I can use the weights you are already using?”

And such like.

Anyway, what I’m thinking is that there should be a quick and easy way for two guys (or, I suppose, two gals) to signal mutual interest, or at least mutual “hey, if anyone starts to hassle you, I am totally on your side and together we’ll be gay superheroes.” Some hand signal or something. But as I thought about that, the less sense it made.

Because one intention here is that if you made the signal at the wrong person, it would need to be easily ignored or misinterpreted as, like, something anyone might do, right? Because otherwise it becomes like any other obvious and potentially dangerous gesture like, oh, rubbing your crotch with your right hand and pinching your nipple with your left and sticking out your tongue and making moaning sounds as you simultaneously wiggle your eyebrows and wink. So it has to be subtle, yet obvious.

Also, if it becomes widely known than it’s pointless anyway. Like, remember the one ear ring trick? Supposedly, a left-lobe ear ring meant “I’m straight” and a right-lobe ear ring meant “I am not entirely straight or I am confused about which lobe means which.” Then everyone was wearing ear rings and nose rings and eyebrow rings so that didn’t work, assuming it ever did and/or I am dreaming it all up. So if we, together, you and I, agree that, like, gripping your lower lip and sort of plucking it means “I am interested in you, are you interested in me?” and everyone knows that’s what it means, why not just say it out loud anyway?

So, we need a secret, non-obvious, non-verbal, seemingly innocent gesture that signals another gay person that your interests, though they may not be returned, at least will not cause you grievous harm. And we may also need a secret, non-obvious, non-verbal, seemingly innocent gesture in return because if you use the same gesture both ways, then you run the risk of looking like an idiot.

Frankly, the real reason I want a gay cruising gesture you can use in any situation anywhere (other than the meaningful glance in the bar or the wink which can be really amazingly effective or really amazingly a turn-off depending on the winker) is so that I can easily be rejected without having to actually ask the question. It seems like being rejected silently when you yourself never actually asked would be less painful than, you know, asking and being told “okay,” and then not having the phone calls returned and being stood up and all that because the other person felt too embarrassed to just say, “You know what? No.” So maybe this gesture could be used by everyone, and not just those of us who take our lives in our hands when we step outside the boundaries and queery (you should excuse the pun) others regarding their romantic interests.

So, first up: The Inqueery Gesture — You need to be able to do this easily, even if your hands are filled with something (i.e. packages of new 2(x)ist briefs from the Labor Day sale at Macy’s) and whether you’re standing (waiting in line at Starbuck’s) or sitting (on the bus). My proposal is the one-shoulder shrug. It can look like you’re trying to adjust your shirt to drape better over teh pecs you worked this morning, or like you were considering something and suddenly thought, internally, “eh,” or that you have a cramp in a weird place. It can be done quickly if you’re scared or with meaning if you’re horny. You look at the person and half-shrug. “Interested?”

Second: The Acceptor Gesture. I was thinking maybe doing the Raised Eyebrows, but that could easily lead to mistaken identity. Some people just do that when they see other people make unusual gestures because they’re thinking, “Why did he just shrug at me?” So although it seems like a natural reaction, it’s too natural. Instead, I propose the Lick Lip. One advantage to the Lip Lick is you can throw all kinds of nuance into it, if you want to. You can either just do it quickly, a darting out and in as if to say, “Ok, let’s get off at the next stop and talk about it,” or a lingering, slow, wet lick that says so much more than that.

Then: The Rejector Gesture. Simple. The scowl. Expresses so much and takes almost no energy. And you can put any number of meanings into it. The “You have got to be kidding,” scowl. The “Not at the moment, my boyfriend is standing next to me,” scowl. The “No thank you, I am in mourning for my lost youth,” scowl. The “I think I’m too old/young for you,” scowl. And so on.

Everyone got it? Now, don’t tell the straight people about these. And if you’re straight, well, you already have 90% of the potential partnering audience available to you and, frankly, the chances that you’ll make a mistake and ask a gay person on a date are, I think, pretty slim. I mean, look at it from our P.O.V. Those damned Queer Eye gents are making over American males one by one. Soon, there’ll be no way to tell that Kiehl’s-using, Tod’s-wearing, upstanding eyebrow-plucked gay man from any other flat-front trousered, manicured, over-white smiling straight dude. And then what are we to do?

Oh, and Gym Guy? If you’re reading this. I knew all along you weren’t going to call. I was just kidding about getting some coffee, anyway. I would have stood you up like a Christmas tree. So there!

September 12, 2003

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