Have you ever seen Ivan the Terrible? My favorite scene from this over-the-top 1943 epic movie is the one in which Ivan is crowned Tsar of all Russia. Swathed in fur and brocade, he stands unflinching and still while two footmen pour zillions of coins over his head. They literally drench him with gold.
Whenever I am called upon to describe the gay experience, I cite Eisenstein’s fabulously demented masterpiece and those cascading coins. To be a gay man, I passionately maintain, is to be showered with fabulous riches, metaphorically of course. Best of all, it keeps you young.
Permit me to break it down for you:
To be a gay man is, first and foremost, to live in a world of exaggerated gestures, sweeping generalizations and soaring hyperbole. Who cares about accuracy when you can have fabulosity? While straight folks are condemned to a quotidian life of spreadsheets and dreary facts and figures, we gays — and wee gays like me — have carte blanche to enhance our lives with fantasy. As Oscar Wilde
so aptly stated, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars.”
Secondly, and no less important, to be a gay man is to have sex without preamble. We are not required to ply our partners with Whitman Samplers or vats of perfume. The annoying folderol of heterosexual seduction — the persiflage, the bouquets of red roses, the follow-up phone calls and texts — has no place in the world of gay men. Want some? Sure!
To be a gay man is to live a life of fearless flamboyance. While inhibited straight guys hide their fashion light under a bushel of khakis and golf shirts, we gays are free to indulge in the creative adornment of our bodies. In addition to satisfying our vanity, dressing up is also a form of benevolent politesse: It is life-enhancing not just for the dressee but also for those around him. As Vivienne Westwood
once said — she invented Punk and brought back the bustier, so I guess she knows a thing or two about style — “People who wear impressive clothes have better lives.”
To be a gay man is to be an amused outsider. To be a gay man is to stand knee-deep in a squishy velvet opera box, staring out the straight world with an amused heavy-lidded gaze through an ormolu lorgnette. We are charismatic, amused connoisseurs of the idiocies of the conventional straights. Despite all the progress on the liberation front, we gays still exist in the margins of society. This has certain advantages: The gay sensibility — the camp, the irony, the eccentric worldview — is extremely attuned to the nuances and foibles of humanity. Do the names Tennessee Williams, Joe Orton or Christopher Isherwood sound familiar? We are razor-sharp observers. That’s why, in years gone by, we gays made such great spies. (That, and the fact that we love a belted trench.)
And lastly, to be a gay man is to have a Peter Pan complex, and to look a lot like Peter Pan, too. Gays retain a youthful, playful creativity. We eschew the role of grown-up. As a result, we rarely turn into alta cockers. We are perky!
So what, you may well ask, can the straight world learn from us gays? What is the hetero-takeaway?
Straight men could learn to be less boring and bombastic. While gay conversation is chatty, interrogative and committed to rapid-fire badinage, the average straight conversation is composed solely of dreary chest-beating and declamations. Here is an example of a typical straight convo:
First straight dude: “It took me 27 minutes to get here on the Long Island Expressway.” (Only a straight dude would record his drive times and think they were interesting.)
Second straight dude: “Flying to Chicago O’Hare tomorrow. Now that is one great hub!” (Only a straight dude would revel in airline-speak. Hub? Purleeze!)
And what about the gals? What can they learn from the gays?
So many of my straight women friends have become overly self-critical in the last few years. They now hold themselves to impossibly high standards of Botox’d perfection: They feel they must, regardless of age, become as beautiful as Angelina Jolie. They also feel compelled to be professionally successful. Their masochistic lives are devoted to meeting if not exceeding these self-imposed expectations. Girls! Cut yourselves some slack!
But how can the gays help?
Here comes the bit where I lose the hyperbole and actually offer some helpful advice:
The primary focus of a gay life is to establish and maintain meaningful, rewarding existence. In order to do this we have to overcome, sidestep or disregard society’s preconceived ideas and judgmental attitudes. (Paging Rick Santorum!) We must rise above the negativity and learn to feel good about ourselves without relying on external validation. I believe that women today face a similar challenge: Stop worrying about what other people think about you … and stop asking, “Does my bum look big in this?”
Does every gay man live a life of ageless, self-confident, fearless flamboyance? No. But many do. Find one today. Then grab that urn full of coins and start pouring!!!
Simon Doonan, creative ambassador at large for Barneys New York, is the author of six books, including Wacky Chicks, Nasty and, most recently, Gay Men Don't Get Fat.
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