"Shit ____ Say" videos have replaced planking as the latest Internet meme, including videos on "Shit Gay Guys Say" and "Shit Girls Say to Gay Guys". Their funny observations have me thinking about the "serious" questions I get from straight people, both open-minded friends and idiots -- questions that are almost exclusively a function of my being gay.
The FAQ below contains the questions I most commonly get, but I know others are out there. What am I missing, readers?
"Who pays on dates?"
This is a commonly asked question with an uninteresting answer. During dating, the check is typically split. There are specific situations and sects of the community providing exceptions -- "sugar daddies" exist, and starving artists have appetites, despite what the physiques of Broadway extras lead you to believe.
Once you're in a relationship, things work as you'd imagine: checks are split unless there's huge income disparity. I can't recount a relationship I've had where I ate for free. The only time a gay man goes into a date with a meal ticket is when it's with a high-profile scientologist -- they're loaded.
"When did you know you were gay?"
People ask how and where "it" starts, especially curious about whether it starts as a spark or like an atomic explosion, all glitter and spray tan, no radiation. After years of reflection, I say there's something religious about the way I discovered my sexuality. To clarify: the Tammy Faye type of religion involving wild theatrics, a semblance of spiritual mystery, and the constant question of whether or not who I am would save my soul or condemn it.
Ultimately, coming of age is first about what you discover, and then about the when -- gay men float in stages of figuring things out for variable periods of time. Phase one occurs as the terrifying reality that you're different sinks in. There are many ways to reconcile this reality -- shut it away, warp it with drugs and alcohol, dance toward it slowly (secretly DVRing Glee), or give in. Phase two revolves around victory or defeat, depending on your approach. Just as you grow excited about being different -- special -- you realize you're the same as many others. Either you're crushed because your courage to come out manifests itself as self-importance (and your coming-out story is never going to get you that book deal), or you're thrilled to have hundreds of (broad) shoulders to cry on.
Once I told a bigot about my belief that coming to terms with one's sexuality is spiritual and involves an evolution that's required for a fully developed sense of self. He responded that I need more faith. I rattled George Michael back ("a-faith-a-faith"), and that's exactly when I knew my transformation was complete.
"Have you ever been with a girl?"
This question is as absurd to me as when people ask if, given that I'm half Palestinian, I've ever dated an Israeli. It's not absurd just because the question implies that the experience is unnatural, but because it's personal. Gay men: next time someone asks you this question, I implore you to raise your voice and speak with hand gestures (even if it's not typical). Make the asker feel uncomfortable about their comfort in addressing you as a case study.
I never felt a need to ask any of my six straight college roommates if they've been with guys, and I can't imagine it's a question they need talking points around like us.
"Why are gay men so fit?"
First, we're not. America is one of the most obese nations in the world, and no community is immune to it (you're welcome, Mrs. Obama!). Alas, this isn't a diatribe on male body image and the media; I won't go on about how society reinforces gay stereotypes. Further, I don't have stats on "gay BMI" versus "straight BMI." I can only speak anecdotally as a gay man living in New York who occasionally attends parties hosted at hotels with well-lit pools...
It's true: there exists a bevy of gay men with incredible bodies. There's no one reason for it. My gay uncle recently told me he hasn't had ice cream in 10 years, and whenever I'm asked if I want crackers or bread with my soup, I'm a little too quick and loud in saying, "Neither!" On the surface, many of us do swear off potatoes. But digging deeper, using some of what I learned in anthropology, I find it's easy to look at other microcosms of society and transpose them onto the gay community. I think about the world of finance, where most traders have six-packs and can do the pretzel naked without revealing an ounce of body fat. They operate in a hyper-competitive reality that is insulated by the long hours they work. Our community is insulated by the bars we attend and the restaurants we brunch at. We compete with each other constantly, and the stakes are heightened because when you are able to lock down a relationship, it's much easier than in heterosexual relationships to discern whether or not it's a mismatch (imagine this as a neon sign above your head -- I'm speaking from experience). It's probably this last piece that pushes us toward the gym more than anything else. Neon light is unflattering.
"Why are gay men so fashionable?"
Because we're fit.
"Do you think so-and-so is gay?"
It can always go in multiple directions.
A confident girl with a healthy sense of reality asks: probably -- she's asking for a reason.
An insecure girl asks: probably not -- it's probably that she's insecure.
A straight guy asks: depends, and the key to answering often requires a whole different type of video.
Follow Khalid El Khatib on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kmelkhat