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Is He or Isn’t He?

Room for Squares

Gaydar is one of those things that I wish really existed. While I have to agree that it exists to some degree in every homosexual, there will always be that one person on whom it fails to work. And let’s be fair, whether we’re gay or straight, none of us has an easy time thinking up different ways to get that person to reveal his or her sexuality. So boys and girls, what do we do when we can’t tell if the person we’ve got the hots for is gay or straight, or somewhere in between?

Sadly, I have to say that I’ve been in this unfortunate situation more than once, and listen to me, it’s never fun. Well, let me rephrase that...it isn’t fun not knowing, but it can be fun guessing, daydreaming and doodling the “what ifs” in the margins of your notebook. Conventional wisdom (and common sense) would say to just ask the person directly, but you’d have to take into consideration the almost certain embarrassment that the other person is going to feel when you question his or her sexuality. Imagine being the straight guy who’s having his sexuality questioned by a gay guy? I mean, you still want to remain friends with the guy afterwards, and calling his sexuality into question isn’t exactly the smartest way to go about making that happen. So what do you do?

In times like these, I find myself reminded of Pat. You know, that old SNL sketch character from the early 90s, whose co-workers were always devising ways to figure out her/his sex. For example, they’d check to see which public restrooms Pat would enter, only to find their test subject had simply chosen the unisex toilet. Funny that it was never Pat’s sexuality which was in question but rather always his/her gender, as if gender were somehow a precursor to determining sexuality. In any case, Pat’s stories were funny because the discomfort of ambiguity was played for laughs. Parallels can be drawn between the haziness of gender and the uncertainty of sexuality. Here are just a couple of the more colorful attempts at discerning someone’s sexuality that I’ve witnessed.

Imagine it. You’re sitting around a table during an office lunch, and inevitably talk turns from business to leisure. For offices that enact the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, employees must sometimes rely on the glibness of their words to do their dirty work. This was certainly the case when one of my coworkers asked another one of our coworkers, who’s been the subject of much office gossip, about his weekend plans. In an effort to get more out of him than he was willing to divulge, she said, “Oh, so are you going to take your wife with you on the trip?” Undaunted by this subtle attempt at sleight of tongue, he simply responded, “No. I’m going alone.” What a way to retain the mystique.

Not all stabs at cracking the veneer of ambiguity are as subtle though. Sometimes, in an effort to be indirect, we end up being totally and directly rude. For example when my friend tried to figure out whether or not the guy he’d had a crush on for some time was actually gay, he decided to dispel with formality by simply asking, “So…what about that rumor about your being gay?” Nice. My friend neither got a response, nor has he spoken to the guy since.

So is there a right way to go about this business of demystifying the ambiguous? Probably not. But there probably shouldn’t be, either. Sometimes, the mystery is better than the truth. While there may not be a right way to go about solving the ambiguity, it’s for certain that any attempt would be the wrong way.