What is it about gay men at Yale that, upon learning a guy is gay, they skip all formal introductions and start talking to him as if they’re lifelong friends?
This has happened to me a number of times: once last year, as I was sitting with some folks in the TD dining hall, picking laboriously at a plate of vegan jambalaya and dreading section that night, a gay guy in my class I had never formally met sat down near me. Knowing me to be gay, and assuming a tacit Thelma-and-Louise connection between us, he commenced telling me a story that would have made even the most flexible dancer from the Blonde Ambition tour blush. I was slightly shocked, a little amused, but mostly annoyed and embarrassed by his forwardness.
“It’s nice to meet you,” I said, interrupting, and looked him straight in the eye.
“Oh, I know who you are,” he replied with a creepy smile.
Which isn’t enough, of course. Not to a traditionalist fuddy-duddy like me. Knowing who I am is one thing. I confess I knew exactly who he was, knew he was gay, even knew some embarrassing stories about him from freshman year. This sort of foreknowledge is the privilege and affliction of all post-online facebook generations at Yale — affliction because sometimes we forget that no matter how many times you’ve seen someone’s facebook picture, perhaps even gazed at it longingly, you aren’t that person’s bosom buddy if you have never actually met. If shared sexual orientation automatically meant deep friendship, think about how peaceful the world would be. Usually, however, it takes more than that, like an introduction or an insubstantial, inoffensive conversation, to kick things off.
I attribute some of his presumption to the over-abundance of “community” talk at Yale, which gay men seem to have taken especially to heart. We are bombarded with it from the moment we receive our acceptance letters. Come to think of it, I almost surely saw the word in the viewbook for prospective students, which in retrospect seems kind of insensitive: how can they go on and on about community, and then reject all but 11.4 percent of the people reading the damn thing? I have never read a rejection letter from Yale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it encourages the rejected to be sure to find a community elsewhere. The lucky 11.4 percent of us who gain admission are told that our colleges are “diverse” communities, a cappella groups are brotherhoods in song, and (my favorite) our classrooms are “sacred” communities we must honor and respect. (“And on the fifth day, God created the reading response.”) It’s enough to make someone desiring a little space and distance feel like a curmudgeon, or in my college (TD) a radical dissident.
When I arrived at Yale, coming from a conservative high school where no one was openly gay, the gay community was something I could not wait to be a part of. For a short time during my first semester — when I was not out, when I hadn’t dated anyone — it seemed like a nice concept. Why shouldn’t people who continue to be oppressed and marginalized by society form a community of acceptance here at Yale?
We both had ideas of what the gay community meant at Yale, my new friend from the TD dining hall and I, and we were both wrong. I thought I would find a compelling reason to embrace a gay community. He thought we could — as members of a distinct community — talk breezily about below-the-waist topics and giggle the way Blossom and Six used to do because that’s the way our people show solidarity.
Someone should have told him that there was no such gay community at Yale because here we don’t really have a “people.” Being gay has ceased to become enough. We have to actually like each other, the way straight people do. I was not about to drop my fork in a fit of uh-huhs and you-go-girls simply because we shared a sexual orientation. There are enough gay men here that when I want a new gay male friend, I can afford to be discriminating. Why shouldn’t I be? At least at Yale, who are we in opposition to? I see no ring, so why should there be a fellowship?
With the exception of the noble co-op folks pushing pink triangle pins on Cross Campus and clamoring for awareness and policy change (and I mean noble, before the co-op folks tear me to shreds), most of the other gay men at Yale equate the concept of a larger community with a “booty network.” Each new inductee is a potential hookup, or more — because gay men at Yale understand that, as many of us as there are, the community is still woefully tiny. I have never drawn one, but a diagram of who has hooked up with whom would likely look like a spider’s web, or the British Royal Family tree. Keeping tabs on everyone else is a necessity, or you might wind up being your own grandpa. (It makes writing a regular column with a gay theme a dicey proposition. Who knows how many people will recognize themselves in what I write? Well, actually not that many — I’m not that kind of guy!)
That’s right, when it comes down to it, community is all about sex, boys, so get on the bandwagon. Call me ignorant. Say I’ll soon encounter a world where solidarity holds more value, but to be openly gay at Yale is to enter such a superficial world. If you don’t want to be part of the rumor mill, you might not have a choice. Like the gayest of amusement park rides, the Yale gay community is a small world after all, and there’s no getting off until the end, unless you want to drown in murky amusement park water.
So let’s get it on. Oh, excuse me. It’s nice to meet you.
If you don’t like Eric Eagan’s new column title, it’s not his fault. It’s Charlotte’s.