West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 3 | June 20 - 26, 2007

Man who may be gay helps me see how far I’ve come

By Tim Gay 

There’s a certain man who’s around 40 years old. He works in a field related to mine. A lot of people say he’s a closet case. I don’t think so. Closet cases have sex. I think he’s just another nonpracticing guy with quaint ideas (or fears) about gay men. Either that, or his Catholic upbringing has forever stymied his libido.

Maybe I’m the only open gay guy he knows. Or maybe I’m the only one he trusts. During the past several years, he occasionally asks question about “being gay.” And I answer honestly and openly to gently blow the lid off his misconceptions.

Here’s one question:

“Back in the ’80s, you were, you know…” and then he put his fingers up in the air and danced a little John Travolta-meets-Village People disco step.

Is he asking about Studio 54 or the St. Mark’s Baths, I wondered?

“No, I was more into David Bowie, Ella Fitzgerald, Emmy Lou Harris, Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Patsy Cline,” I replied. “I can dance, but don’t ask me.”

Another time, he asked, “Hey Tim, were you ever in those, you know, those places…,” he whispered, “… bathhouses?”

“No. I was more into leather bars and radical politics,” I told him. “I liked going to the Spike and Mineshaft. After friends started dying in the early ’80s, I really became involved in Community Board 4 meetings, marches on City Hall and Washington, and Rawhide. I never liked the baths because I look horrible in a towel.”

And recently, he asked, “You gay guys like clothes. Where do you go to shop? Macy’s?”

Macy’s! My mind raced. I blurted out, “I haven’t been in Macy’s in years. And the clothes I get usually replace the ones that fall apart.”

I gave him my tried-and-true clothes-shopping method, which takes about four hours to do each year: “Brooks Brothers or Sims for suits and shirts; Old Navy or Housing Works for khakis; one new pair of Levi’s 501s each year; white Converse sneakers on even years and black ones on odd years; Rockports, penny loafers and dress shoes as needed when driving by an outlet mall.”

(To me, a white T-shirt and button-fly Levi’s 501s are as timeless for a gay man as a Chanel suit was for my grandma.)

“And you’re a gay guy living in Chelsea?”

“I know,” I said. “My first wife, who’s a lesbian, thinks I’m really a lesbian and she’s a gay man.

“I go to the gym for fitness, not fashion. My friends and I eat at diners. I drive an old Bronco and go camping with other gay guys who are lawyers, subway drivers, doctors and fashion designers. We swim at beaches and rivers where we don’t need swim trunks. Not the stuff you think of as ‘gay,’ right?”

Maybe he’s realizing that there’s more to gay life than sex, dancing and clothes. Or maybe he’s testing the waters.

It still isn’t easy for some guys to come out. (I won’t pretend to speak for women). Sometimes, I look back on my 31 years of being first almost, then totally gay:

1975-’79: Like Elton and Olvia Newton John, Mick Jagger and David Bowie, Billie Jean King and Bess Myerson, I was a self-proclaimed bisexual.

1980-’83: After moving to New York, thank God, I could be gay at work and play.

1983-’84: After getting a young executive power job, we simply “didn’t talk about it.” Straight guys who thought gays were out having sex all night every night while they went home alone often fueled homophobia.

1985-’88: Out at work, at play, in politics and with Mom and Dad. But don’t tell the clients! We didn’t know what they thought of gays and AIDS during those dark years.

1989-present: Tim Gay lives up to his name.

Well, there was that time in 1996 when I worked for a major international consulting firm. My boss scurried to my desk and whispered in her crisp British accent, “Tim, is it true you wrote an article for a weekly newspaper on old gay porn stars?”

I acknowledged that indeed I had.

“Well, you mustn’t ever do that again! This is a conservative organization,” she said.

Curtis Sliwa interviewed me in 1997 on the murder of Gianni Versace by a young gay man. (I scolded him, “Now Curtis, don’t blame the victim!”) The next day at work I couldn’t believe how many consulting partners listened to WABC-AM talk radio.

I told everyone exactly how the police at the Matthew Shepard memorial march injured me.

I didn’t make any efforts to hide my orientation. After all, everyone knew I was the Democratic district leader of Chelsea, and heterosexuals don’t get elected between Houston St. and W. 34th St. The team I was on often called on me to advise clients on L.G.B.T. matters. My Ford Bronco had a rainbow flag bumper sticker.

And if they asked, I’d tell.

So, back to the man who may be gay. If you are reading this, let me know. It’s O.K. to buy at Macy’s, hang around a bathhouse and dance the night away.

But there is more, so much more.

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