COLLEGE PARK – Tell me something: do you have a secret, something you dearly hope never gets out?
My secret got out today – in the middle of a taco joint.
Let me explain.
Standing in line at Tijuana Flats on Taco Tuesday – and here’s a piece of sound advice for you, get there early because the line gets awfully long – I was in an excellent mood for a Tuesday … more of a Friday mood than a Tuesday mood, but anyway, I was enjoying the day.
I was meeting my friend and Freeline Media collaborator Brek Dalrymple for lunch, and he got there a few minutes after I did, and joined me in line. And I made a simple observation that ended up launching us into a rather unusual social scene. I glanced at him and said, “You look like a beach bum.”
Brek and I are both small business owners, meaning we work for ourselves and can wear whatever the heck we want. It’s clear from looking at us that when we reach into the closet in the morning to select our clothing for the day, we go in different directions.
Working out of his home office, Brek has always loved the casual, the relaxed, the laid back look – which is fine. On this particular day, he arrived decked out in a grey t-shirt and jeans – plus gigantic sunglasses that he could have used to shelter a Third World village from a heavy rainstorm. For some reason, it struck me as the precise image of a Malibu Dude – know, a guy ready to yell “Surfs Up!” any second, even though in College Park we were clearly a good distance from the nearest ocean.
Brek laughed. “Look who’s talking,” he said, as he scanned what I thought was a perfectly respectable business look: long sleeve light green shirt, striped grey tie, and dark pants.
“I’m dressed like a business professional,” I responded, with just the slightest tinge of defensiveness.
Brek rolled his eyes.
“No, you’re not,” he said, dismissing me with a wave of the hand.
“Yes, I am,” I insisted. We’ve had this discussion before – how his casual look is more professional than my professional look, and my business look is sloppier than his relaxed look. I’ve always thought he was saying these things because he secretly wanted fashion tips from me, only for free. He’s always insisted that’s not the case.
And then he did it. There were two women standing in front of us, waiting in line, both in their 20s. Brek cut into their conversation and said, “Ladies, let me ask you – how do you think my friend here is dressed? Tell us the truth.”
They turned, cast one glance at me, and …..
It was one of those totally awkward moments when someone asks you for an honest opinion, but your communitarian sense of politeness and social courtesy when dealing with a complete stranger prompts you to avoid honesty like the plague. Imagine being in an art gallery, and walking around thinking, Phew, these paintings are awful, when out of the blue the artist walks up behind you, smiles in a friendly manner, and says, “So, what do you think?” Are you really going to look the artist in the eye and say “You stink!”
Well, sure enough, the brunette right in front of me said, “Um …. fine.” Brek and I glanced at one another. We both knew what that meant. You don’t pause dramatically if you truly think someone looks “fine.”
“You caught yourself,” Brek said, barely concealing his sheer glee. “Come on, now, be honest – the over sized shirt, the crummy tie, and those shoes ….”
Well, he wasn’t doing much to boost my ego, that’s for sure. The blonde haired woman cast a sorry glance downward and said, “Those shoelaces do need to go,” and frankly, I had to agree. But then the brunette came up with a brilliant plan to save the day.
“Are you married?” she asked me.
I nodded yes.
She beamed, suddenly quite relieved.
“Then it really doesn’t matter,” she smiled, in a comforting way that seemed designed to convey the message, Buddy, as long as your wife loves you, who really cares what others think about how you look?
I thought about that for a second, then added, “To another man.”
The second I said that, both woman appeared startled. They shot an anxious glance at one another, then at me. It was as if I had rudely thrown a bucket of cold water in their faces.
“That changes everything,” the blonde said, rather bluntly. And that’s when it hit me: my secret was out. And we all knew it.
I’m a gay man with no sense of fashion.
Oh … the shame.
The blonde couldn’t help rubbing it in. “I’m sorry, but when you’re gay and you dress like that ….” she said, as if to add, Wow do you look pathetic. “Usually you’re the ones we rely on to tell us how to dress.”
Boy, did I feel low at that moment. Brek, on the other hand, was nodding his head in excitement, as if to say, I’ve been telling him this for years.
“You know, we can’t all live up to the stereotypes,” I mumbled pathetically, as a kind of last ditch effort to salvage this sinking ship. “Some of us actually flunk those stereotypes.”
The blonde looked at me, in a kind of You poor thing way, and simply added, “I guess so.” Then it was her turn in line, and she and her friend disappeared.
Now, as much as I enjoy the meals at Tijuana Flats, this lunch was never the same after that. I felt so exposed there at the restaurant — my secret was gone forever. I’m gay but can’t dress myself to save my life. It’s not an easy thing to admit.
There are a lot of groups that get stuck with pretty bad stereotypes — violent, lazy, shiftless, etc. Our stereotypes – brilliant in fashion, superlative in decorating, engaging with a zippy show tune, imaginative when it comes to landscaping – are not that bad. Some would even say they’re pretty good, at least as far as stereotypes go.
But again … what if you flunk those stereotypes? It’s a hard thing to live with.
So, I’m coping. I’m lining up some of my women friends rights now, for a major shopping spree at all the right clothing stores. I’ve always believed, if it first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
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