The guy has been eyeballing me for weeks at the bus stop in the mornings and has been chatting with me. Small talk at first — you know, the weather, why are the buses always late, that type of thing — but lately, the conversation has been more personal, wanting to know what I do for a living and where I live.
He takes a different bus than I do, but we always share a bench at the bus stop. He wears shorts even when it’s cold outside, has short dark hair and has a black backpack. I’m guessing he’s in his thirties, over 20 years younger than me.
One morning last week, he finally got around to asking the question he probably wanted to know all along.
“You’re gay, right?” he said.
“No, sorry,” I said.
“Me, too,” he replied. “Too bad, could have had a good time together.”
I smiled at him, saw my bus approaching and said, “See you later.”
As I got on the bus, I was still smiling. His question didn’t surprise me much. For many years now, in one form or another, my sexuality gets questioned.
Does it bug me? Not really, but since I’m writing about it here, I might as well set the record straight.
I don’t like hairy man sex. I like sex with females. To put it more simply, I’m not gay — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Yes, that’s the old Seinfeld line when a reporter thought that Jerry and George were a gay couple. They weren’t, and I’m not with a guy either, but to each his own.
Why I turned out not to be gay might be the bigger question. I had a twin brother who was gay, and while I always knew he was different than me while growing up, I never thought much about it.
In our adult years, I had an issue when he first came out, like why didn’t he tell me first, but we got past that. Then, in September of 1994, he died of AIDS.
After his death I volunteered for AVOC (AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, now known as Stop AIDS) and that’s when the question of my sexuality really started to get examined.
Most of the clients at AVOC were young, gay males — both black and white. A lot of the volunteers were gay, too, and I was asked out many times by either my clients or volunteers. I had to explain each time that I wasn’t gay, even had kids and an ex-wife to prove it. Some believed me, some didn’t, but more than once it was awkward. A few times I even apologized for not being what they thought I was.
Since I was volunteering for a mostly gay organization, maybe being mistaken as being gay is a common mistake, but I sometimes find the same situation elsewhere, like at the bus stop with that guy. Is it my too-long hair and slight build that lead people to think I’m gay? I don’t know. The same issue has come up in bars.
A little over a year ago, I was with a friend at a bar in Covington. I later learned it was maybe a gay bar — again, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I was having drinks at a table with my friend when a guy comes out of the restroom that was to our right. He was probably in his thirties, short, wore glasses and was balding — sort of like George on Seinfeld.
While heading to his barstool, he looked over at my friend and commented on how good looking he was. Laughing, I looked at the man and said, “What am I, Turtle Wax?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to offend you.” After he said these words, he leaned in and kissed me hard on the mouth.
Whether the bar was gay or straight or whether he was just drunk doesn’t really matter. I admit being kissed on the lips like that was unnerving, but we’ve been back to the bar since then and have joked about it. I mean I should count my blessings. At least the man didn’t stick his tongue down my throat.
But the guy doing the kissing didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. The truth is getting to know other people, showing tolerance and welcoming diversity, is part of the fun in living this life. Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all alike and thought the same things?
Since my brother’s death almost 17 years ago, I’ve become more and more aware of how important it is to celebrate the fact we’re all different. I have as many gay friends as I do straight friends, and I like the mix.
In trying to sum this up and getting back to the gay issue, I’m not that way but I don’t care if you are and I don’t care if you think I am. Feel free to ask me. It’s not like you’ll be the first.
I was recently waiting at that bus stop again when my bench buddy showed up wearing those shorts and carrying his backpack. He sat down beside me and smiled.
“Good morning,” he said.
“How ya doing?” I asked.
“Guess you’re still not gay?”
“Nope,” I said, laughing. “Not the last time I checked.”
We’re still bench buddies. He gets it. Diversity is OK with him, too.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org