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February 03, 2015

The Dish List: Brandon Baker's gay etiquette guide

'Straight talk' for Philly's hetero guys

Gayborhood Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The heart of the Gayborhood, at 12th and Manning streets.

"Where are you guys going?" he asks.

"Tavern," I respond. 

He shoots me an awakened look of Oh! I wanna come!

"Tavern on Broad, you mean?"

"No," I start, hating that I have to explain myself. "TavernOn Camac."

"Oh," -- disappointed, this time -- "Where's that?"

"... On Camac."

Then, the sudden realization of where Camac is. The conversation shifts.

Face, meet palm.

Look, it's not that I expect every straight friend I make to have a gay-male dictionary on hand, to know the choreography to "Vogue" or be able to name off Gayborhood bars like a memorized spelling list, but the lack of effort I tend to encounter in my daily travels continues to be disheartening. (Though it's great that he wasn't so inundated with gay stereotypes that he thought I'd frequent Tavern on Broad ... I guess.) The point being that, even though I may not mesh well with Tavern on Broad's breed of patron, I've at least given it a shot (and know what it is). My straight friends, meanwhile, couldn't tell me a Gayborhood locale outside of Woody's or ICandy. Heck, half of them think The Bike Stop is an actual bike shop. (It's not, in case you need that cleared up.)

For all the Pride festivals and episodes of "Modern Family" Americans have watched, you'd think my heterosexual male counterparts would be a little more familiar with -- or willing to explore -- LGBT culture than they are. But no, ignorance and gay stereotypes abound -- still.

Mind you, I'm not saying there aren't some myths that are (kind of) true -- for example, corporate advertisers weren't far off the mark when they speculated that we value brand recognition and tend to play with a disposable income. (My roommate's boyfriend owns a $600 cardigan -- because, why not?) And yeah, maybe my clothing's a little tight, but you have to think of it as a symbol of gaydom: No one's carrying those colored handkerchiefs anymore, and my Gaydar's been on the fritz for all of 23 years now. It's not provocative; it's practical.

And while the tips I'm spinning for you here orbit more social-oriented topics, let me also say this much while I've got your ear: What we care about stretches way beyond marriage. (Thirty-nine percent of us even think the hyperfocus on the issue is dead wrong.) Our habits, clothing choices and values aren't as black and white as y'all think. So, here's what you do -- if nothing else -- need to know for the immediate future: Whether you want to or not, there are lots of things you'll come to understand about us in the coming years, as we transition from stepping out of the closet not just in our personal lives, but in our work lives as well. Getting to know us will take having that "awkward conversation," and knowing which subjects to broach and how to broach them. Solicited or not, you're going to get Gay 101 sooner than you think. 

So, consider this my gift to you: Your early translation guide for all things gay.

Gay men: coming to a workplace near you. 

We're not your girlfriend's bodyguard

Fine, I get it: You love the idea of having a male figure around your beau who won't take an interest. But I'm not Kevin Costner to your Whitney -- I've got my own array of problems when I'm out and about; your girlfriend being on her best behavior isn't my top priority. (In fact, I might even encourage some deviousness -- but I won't say all gay men do that.) I'm not asking much here, just that you don't assume I'm "the help" -- I'm really like any other male friend of hers, only with a wandering eye for a five o'clock shadow and broad shoulders.

Do: Let us hang out with your girlfriend.

Don't: Ask us if she hit on other guys at the bar; we're not telling.

Going to Bob and Barbara's on Thursday night doesn't make you a drag expert.

My sister-in-law loves Ms. Lisa Lisa, my old college classmates love Ms. Lisa Lisa, my coworkers love Ms. Lisa Lisa -- we all love Ms. Lisa Lisa. But she's not the Philly drag community. Ask the folks at Philly's Wonderland of Drama "news" site DragOfficial who's capturing their attention in Philly's drag community lately, and Lisa Lisa's name won't even get the glory of being faded out next to eraser shavings at the bottom of the list. Want to act in-the-know about Philly's drag scene? I'll give you a head start on who to Google: Bev, Pissi Myles, Mimi Imfurst, Satine Harlow, Navaya Shay and Brooklyn Ford. And for kicks and giggles, go ahead and Google Brittany Lynn, too.

Do: See "Drag Wars" at Voyeur -- even if it's only once.

Don't: Relay to us how great the drag shows at Bob and Barbara's are -- it's like telling a comic book fanatic about this great comic called "Spider-Man."

Just because you don't "see" us, doesn't mean we're not there.

I promise you this: Even when you think we're not around, we are. Think no one in your office is gay? Wrong. Think the macho guy at the end of the bar wearing the Phillies cap and an oversized white T-shirt (with a stain on it!) is just another hetero "bro"? Wrong. We come in all shapes and sizes, fellas -- don't be so small-minded about it. So, when you think you're just having a private talk with "the guys" about a run-in you had with a gay guy, know that you're probably sticking your foot in your mouth. (And while a CDC National Center for Health Statistics survey says only 2 percent of Americans are gay, realize that you're in an urban center -- you can safely bet more than 2 percent of Philadelphia's population is gay.)

Do: Avoid trash-talking on gay men. Period.

Don't: ... Trash-talk on gay men.

Cosmo? No thanks. 

No, I don't want a cosmo. 

I'll take a whisky -- straight up, please. And pour me a stout for after, if you don't mind. Aside from the fact that we shouldn't be labeling drinks as "girly" or "gay" in the first place, I happen to like a stiff, woodsy drink. That's all there is to it.

Do: Buy us a drink.

Don't: Assume it should be pink and fruity.

There really aren't PlentyofFish in the sea.  

Remember that scene from "Sex and the City" when Enid groans to Carrie that her selection of  available middle-aged men is like a "wading pool"? (Of course you don't.) Well, the same notion applies to the gay community: We don't have half as many options as you think we do. Woody's may look like it's brimming with options on a Friday night, but the reality is that that's all we have. It's like any other social circuit: On any given weekend, you'll find the same crowd, trotting the same bar-crawl lineup as everyone else. (I'd know, because I'm just as guilty of it: Tavern-Woody's-Voyeur, for me.) We essentially pop by "just in case" our adonis dreamboat of a potential surfaces from the abyss, but the success stories you read about are rarities. I'm sad to report I personally know a whopping one couple that got gay-married when same-sex marriage was legalized in May. Dating in the gay world is hard -- don't let the crowds or loaded Grindr screens fool you. To boot: It makes gay bars more of a necessity than you realize. So, stop talking about our bars "going straight."

Do: Ask us about our dating lives. We're happy to share.

Don't: Assume our dating lives are too trashy for the dinner table.

Yes, gay men have dinner-table-appropriate relationships, too. 

Tinder is Grindr with a cleaner name.

Peeve No. 1 of the moment: No one wants to talk about what Tinder really is, which is the byproduct of years of gay men "Grinding." Sure, that might not be something worth shouting from the rooftops or waving a rainbow flag over, but it's the truth: We did it first. And now the mainstream's latched onto Tinder as a more PG-13 rated version of a dating app by linking it with Facebook accounts and wrenching out the random chat elements. Thus, while there might be more of a filter to your Tinder experience, the reality is that I've seen what y'all are talking about in those chat bubbles at 1 a.m., and it's not the weather. And my guess, gentlemen, is that if you had the choice, you'd have as many headless-torso photos as the average Grindr profile. The tip: Don't shame us or force me to tilt my phone up when we whip out the tribal-masked orange screen.

Do: Talk to us about Grindr -- we can probably relate to your experiences on Tinder.

Don't: Shame us into thinking we're irresponsible for using it.

I'm not the male or female in the relationship; I'm just me.

"So, are you the male or female?" is the infuriating question I've been asked over and over again in casual conversation with hetero men. Think about what you're saying, boys: By suggesting I have to be the male or female in a relationship, you're implicitly saying there are gender roles that should be in play -- it floors me that your girlfriends even let you get away with asking this question. I know, I know -- you're really just masking your question about our dynamic in the bedroom, but no need to be so sheepish about it. Instead: Just ask. I promise, we'll tell.

Do: Ask us about our sexual chemistry.

Don't: Be so darn coy about it.

Talking to us once doesn't make us your "gay friend." 

I appreciate that you (presumably) want to use me as a positive representation of the queer community when partaking in office chitchat, but please -- don't pull a Sarah Palin and claim me as your token gay friend after exchanging a "Hi ... Bye." I don't represent the whole of the gay community -- my word isn't the Gay Gospel (though I like to pretend it's pretty close). 

Do: Make the effort to be our friend -- we like our straight friends just as much as our gay ones!

Don't: Take advantage of our minority status.

Your girlfriend might make out with me, and that's OK. 

One of the most difficult things for most of my hetero cohorts to understand is the relationship we have with their girlfriends. A close (gay) friend of mine lived with his best girlfriend for years; they were practically married without the sex (but with the occasional platonic make-out session), and each had actual partners/spouses who would raise an eyebrow at their relationship. Thing is, as unusual as they can sometimes be, there's something special about a gay and his relationship with his best gal pal -- and, in truth, they'll pick us over you, if it comes down to it. My advice: Stay out of the way.

Do: Stop trying to understand our relationship with your girlfriend. You're never going to understand it.

Don't: Try to weasel your way into our nights out.

Our bar culture's about more than go-go boys and ecstasy. 

Please -- and I'm begging you on this one, guys -- stop citing ICandy as Philly's destination gay bar. I see the panicked looks of Where am I? you wear when your girlfriend lugs you into the bar for "just one drink," but here's what you need to realize: That's not actually a particularly "hip" place to be for most of Philly's queer community. Mind you, it fills its own hole in the 'hood, and that's great, but you're more likely to find the heart of our community -- the old, the young, the gay, the lesbian, the trans and more -- lingering bar-side at TavernOn Camac on a Tuesday night, listening to Max Apsley croon out an American Standard on the piano. And the ecstasy? Please, that's so '90s. We have vodka-Red Bull now.

Do: Explore the Gayborhood -- anywhere outside of places like Tria and Vetri; they don't count.

Don't: Girl, I don't even know where to start.