Ways to be Gay

Author Joel Derfner chronicles his quest to become the gayest person (ever!) - now, he's giving BTL readers fresh ways to spot 'em

By Joel Derfner

In the last few years, the heterosexual community seems, astonishingly, to have understood that it has a great deal to learn from us. I think this is generally a good thing, though I will confess that I was more than a little disturbed when my grandmother massacred me at Scrabble with the word "metrosexual."

But that understanding doesn't come without a price. I mean, it's a relief to leave the house knowing you're not going to be assaulted by hordes of men with no product in their hair, but visual symbols of homosexuality have a practical purpose as well as a fashionable and/or political one: they make it easier for us to recognize a {STRIKETHROUGH hot guy we might be able to charm into having sex with us} kindred spirit.

All that product - along with the ear piercing, the supportive freedom rings, the religious devotion to "Project Runway" - now that these things no longer separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, we need new ways to identify one another. I propose, therefore, the following list of further possibilities. The heterosexuals will doubtless render them useless, one by one, but still I think these might last us for a while.

1. A green carnation. When asked for the significance of the flower he always wore on his lapel, Oscar Wilde answered, "Nothing whatever. But that is just what nobody will guess."

2. A red tie. Unfortunately, the American counterpart to the green carnation became so well-known a signal that if street toughs saw you in a scarlet cravat, they would start sucking their fingers; this was not meant, alas, as an invitation. But a red tie hasn't been considered suggestive for over a century, so we're probably safe.

3. A purple hand. In 1969, employees of the San Francisco Examiner dumped a bag of ink from an office window onto a group of men and women protesting the paper's recent homophobic coverage. The protestors used the purple ink to cover the building's walls with gay-power slogans; for weeks afterward, activists stamped purple hands all around the city.

4. Cut sleeves. The Chinese Emperor Ai, when called one afternoon to attend to imperial business, didn't want to disturb his sleeping lover, whose head was resting on the emperor's robe. Ai cut his own sleeve off and tiptoed away.

5. Chewing gum. The Aztecs invented the practice of chewing tree sap, but by the 1500s, one treatise suggested that "whosoever chews gum in public attains the status of faggotry."

6. Common sweet flag. The calamus plant takes its name from a Greek myth about a man transformed into a reed after his lover drowns. In Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," the calamus appears as a symbol of homosexual love.

7. An eye patch. Seventeenth-century England had some of the harshest anti-sodomy laws on record. Many men responded by turning to piracy, an institution that allowed matelotages - permanent unions between two men.

8. A snail shell. In the West African Dagara and Dogon tribes, gay people are considered spiritual gatekeepers responsible for the survival of the cosmos. Members of these tribes hang snail shells and similar objects in front of their homes to protect those within.

9. Boston cream pie. After Henry James published "The Bostonians," households of two women living together with no male support became known as Boston marriages.

And, when the heterosexuals have managed to appropriate all of these, then:

10. Your pick. You're a part of gay historical and cultural heritage. Perhaps there's an element of your life you're willing to contribute, for the good of gay people everywhere?

Joel Derfner is the author of "Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever," which is available now from Broadway Books ($23.95). To comment on this article, send an e-mail to chris@pridesource.com.

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