Everybody who has ever lived in San Francisco has at least one story about an adventure on the city’s public transit. I, of course, have tons – many of them feature an inebriated co-passenger. For example, there’s the time a drunken octogenarian passed out in the seat next me, woke up, and made a clumsy and very unwanted pass at me. Then there was the time that a guy reeking of cheap booze got into a verbal altercation with the African American bus driver, calling him the “n-word” as he tried to exit, only to discover it’s the driver who controls the doors.
One afternoon three middle school kids got on the bus in front of the Jewish Community Center. The two girls sat together, and the boy sat with me. The girls chatted, while the boy pretended not to be interested in them. It was warm out and he had on shorts. Out of nowhere, one of the girls asked him why his legs were so hairy. He looked at them and said it was because he was a man. The girls busted up laughing. Pointing at me, one of them said, “He’s a man, you’re a boy.” Ouch.
I think that kid took his bar mitzvah a little too seriously.
As the father of sons, what it means to be a man is a topic that’s always on my mind – especially since I’m a gay man.
Actually what it means to be a man has been on my mind a lot lately. I don’t know, maybe it’s the all the attention Chaz Bono got from being on Dancing with the Stars. When this season’s list of contestants was announced, the show’s comment board was loaded with nasty, mean-spirited remarks.
And although I don’t actually watch that program, I did get to see Bono dance once. He sure looks like a dude to me. For that matter, he dances like one too … at least like all the other middle-aged, white, straight guys I’ve seen dance.
On the other side of the spectrum, I have this young friend, Marty, whom I know through his Aunt Cassie. Marty’s in college now; he’s a bright kid, sweet, just a nice young man. But he has an alter ego: DeLorean Davenport.
I began to notice that a lot of the photos Marty had on his Facebook page were of him looking increasingly feminine. In some of them he was even in full drag. Those were pictures of DeLorean.
Honestly, I didn’t understand it.
I’m almost ashamed to say this: When I saw those photos I thought to myself, “How the hell am I supposed to teach my boys that gay men act and look just like straight men, if this is an example?” Whoa! Where’d that internal homophobia come from?
Luckily, I smacked myself upside the head and set myself, er, “straight.”
I reached out to Marty and asked him what pleasure he got from it. I learned that DeLorean makes him feel like a star. She’s the extraordinary to Marty’s ordinary. And from Cassie I learned that his parents support it unwaveringly.
That made me think: How would I react if one of my boys found his shining star in makeup, wigs and heels?
I’ve always taught the boys that being a man means you stand by your word, that you’re reliable, you’re honest, you have integrity and you stand up for others. I’ve never said anything about what a man is “supposed” to look like.
Thank God Marty and DeLorean helped remind me of that.
Now when the boys see a man who is more traditionally feminine looking, rather than ignore their typical comment that he looks like a girl (or a more traditionally masculine looking woman, she looks like a boy), I take it as an opportunity to educate them. I remind them that there are all types of people, and we celebrate them exactly as they are. That’s what a man does – celebrates people simply for who they are.
This Thanksgiving season, I want to thank Marty for reminding me of that. I want to thank him for helping me be an example to my kids of the type of man I want them to be: one who celebrates people just as they are. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how he’s dressed, Marty is the man.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everybody!