I recently learned a strange and slightly painful lesson about straight men.
Apparently, instead of hugging it out, they sometimes establish true-blue bromance by butting heads. That’s what my new friend, whom we’ll call Guy, seemed to be telling – and showing – me after a few Saturday night beers.
I didn’t want to admit it, but guys like Guy are why some gay men steer clear of straight bars. It has everything to do with the men inside. After a few drinks, they occasionally get too physical – and not in the good way.
“Straight-acting” isn’t a positive attribute to all of us, and some would prefer straight guys to steer just as clear of gay bars. I have friends who grouse about the owners of gay bars who hire straight male bartenders. The way these critics see it, the hunky intoxicologists compromise the queer vibe by deflecting attention from the gay clientele while encouraging straight women to hog up bar space.
I understand the gripes, but I don’t share them. It’s not like gay men aren’t perfectly capable of ruining the mood in gay bars themselves. That said, when a gay guy has too much to drink, he’s more likely to slur and stumble than start throwing punches and butting heads.
When a gay guy has too much to drink, he’s more likely to slur and stumble than start throwing punches and butting heads.
Despite the macho tendencies of some straight men, I’ve often enjoyed their company in my gay world. The night I met Guy at the W Bangkok two months before the lesson in head-butting was one of them. We bonded at the hotel’s unofficial weekly gay party over our nomadic inclination (like me, he’s an American living abroad) and our appreciation of free bubbly. He never commented on his sexual orientation, but he made it pretty clear every time he mentioned his “girlfriend.”
I overlooked his offhand comment about a group of “queeny” (his word) guys who’d been chatting us up, because he’d already won me over with his enlightened take on black-and-white relations back home. He said his experiences abroad had made him more aware of the white privilege he enjoyed in the U.S., something he’d taken for granted while living there full-time. It was refreshing to hear him own it rather than try to deny it exists.
The connection was still there the second time I saw Guy, but I knew we might be in danger of going off the rails when he made a random declaration one and a half beers in.
“I like to fight,” he suddenly announced.
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that from a guy. My best friend’s husband had previously said it on her 40th birthday when, after a mysterious absence, he returned to the club in Buenos Aires where we were celebrating. (Incidentally, one of his sister’s college boyfriends had made a similar declaration back when we were sophomores at the University of Florida, but it was easier to assume he’d grow out of that pugnacious stage.) He’d disappeared for 30 minutes, and he explained that he’d gone to the gas station next door to use the ATM when a guy tried to jump him. Moments later, the would-be thief was lying flat on his back on the concrete.
“That really happened?”
It wasn’t the robbery attempt that I found unfathomable. Getting mugged, robbed, or burglarized was practically a rite of passage in Buenos Aires, which I learned firsthand seven months into my four and a half years living there.
“Yeah, no joke. I was outside talking to a cop. That’s why it took me so long to come back.”
“I’m sorry that happened.” They had come to Argentina to visit me, so I felt responsible for the misdeeds of the locals.
“It’s OK. I like to fight. Now I’m in a good mood.”
Um, whatever gets you through the night, I thought to myself, secretly thankful he’d gotten it out of his system. The last thing my friend needed was her husband spoiling her birthday – and gay night – at Rumi with more fisticuffs, like Casey Affleck, Oscar-winning “Manchester by the Sea” style.
There were no robbers on which Guy could blow off his steam that Saturday night in Bangkok. So instead he used my head. Then he turned to the bartender.
“Hey! Can I get a drink here?!” he shouted, slamming a fist on the table.
“What’s wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?” I demanded to know.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he said, lowering his voice to a near-whisper. “It’s OK.”
He then returned to gushing about what a great guy I am.
“You’re perfect. No, really, you’re perfect,” he said, gently cupping my face with his hands. Then... Head-butt!
“Hey! Can I get a drink here?!”
After a few rounds of this, the manager approached him and said people were complaining. I knew what I had to do, so I took him outside.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” He had no clue why everyone was staring at him – if he even noticed at all.
“That’s what I was going to ask you? Are you on something? We’ve only had a few beers. Were you drinking before we met up?”
He insisted he wasn’t high, and he hadn’t been drinking before coming to meet me. Maybe the beer wasn’t mixing well with whatever he was taking for the chest infection he’d said he was just getting over.
“Well, I think you should go home. Can I put you in taxi?” I thought about inviting him to sleep it off at my place, but the threat of more gushing followed by more head-butting stopped me.
He said he’d be fine getting home on his own and left me to do damage control. I went back inside and apologized to the manager, who was sympathetic. He wasn’t about to hold Guy’s actions against me. Clearly he’d been through this before.
The next morning, after checking in to make sure Guy was OK, I tried to make sense of what had happened. I wondered if it was my fault for bringing someone who’d confessed to enjoying fist fights into a gay space. Should I have taken him to a place where I wouldn’t have felt so responsible for his behavior?
Should I have just made my excuses and left after the fist-fight revelation? I can’t think of any sound reason why anyone would actually consider duking it out to be legitimate entertainment. By letting the night continue, I was pretty much asking to be head-butted multiple times.
Life is not a fight club, no matter how amazing shirtless Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden looked in the movie.
A few days later, I texted Guy and asked what had been going on with him that night. He offered a tepid apology, but no real explanation. I debated whether I should push the issue and decided we weren’t close enough for me to stage an intervention. If I did, though, I would tell him that fighting should be neither fun nor for fun. Life is not a fight club, no matter how amazing shirtless Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden looked in the movie.
I would also explain to him that gay spaces are also supposed to be safe spaces, not just from homophobia, but from the sort of macho-man behavior that can lead to flying barware. In other words, when overcome with emotion, good or bad, or under the influence of too much beer, hug it out... and keep your head to yourself.