Monday, April 12, 2010

Queer as a straight Southern man.

There’s a Southern phenomenon we discovered upon moving here that, until today, I believed could only be fully appreciated by an outsider. It’s what Bill and I typically refer to as "Southern, not gay" and is, well, exactly as it sounds.

Imagine you work with a guy who from the second you meet him seems absolutely, positively, 100% gay. Now I'm not talking your average, "So I dabble in a bit of manscaping from time-to-time and like to wear nice shoes" kind of gay. I'm talking the kind of gay that sashays up to your desk with a breathy, "Hey girl..." and then stands there with posture the Buddha would envy dishing office gossip - with a lisp! - while one hand rests gingerly on his cocked hip and the other hand dangles meaningfully in the air from his obviously limp wrist. You're like 30 seconds away from asking him to tighten your bra strap and making him your best friend forever when he's like, "My wife is meeting me here for lunch today. I can't wait for ya'll to meet!"

I'm telling you, that is the kind of blindside that deserves an Oscar.

Corky St. Clair from Waiting for Guffman is a perfect example of Southern, not gay.

Remember Corky? He's completely on fire gay but makes sure to mention his wife Bonnie (who no one ever sees) as often as possible. "I do all my wife Bonnie's shopping," etc, etc. It's really funny in the movie because, hello?!, he's obviously gay and there is no Bonnie. But if he were a real man in the real South, you can bet your biscuits Bonnie would be a woman who didn't like to shop and Corky would be a straight Southern man. And "I'm going to go home and bite my pillow!" would not be a euphemism for anything at all.

None of my Southern friends seem to have any idea that this sub-culture of straight men exists. It's probably because they grew up with ultra-fem uncles or neighbors who taught them at an early age that the whole, "if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck" way of thinking is just a bunch of silly hogwash. Some Southerners I know can actually tell the difference between "gay" and "Southern, not gay." This completely blows my mind. I'm telling you, my gaydar hasn't worked since I met my (gay) co-worker's wife and kids!

Up until today I thought only transplants or people passing through the South could spot these mind-benders. That a true Southerner would never for a second think a genteel Southern gentleman was actually gay. But my son, born and bred right here in good ol' Nashville, Tennessee, officially proved me wrong.

He had his evaluation with a school psychologist this morning to determine whether he was academically eligible to enroll in the Encore program. As we sat in the lobby waiting for the doctor, I wanted to prepare him for what to expect but was just as clueless as he was. I mean, how exactly would a psychologist test for giftedness in a four year old? Would Liam have to take a test? Play games? Engage in conversation? Would he cooperate or know the right answers? Would he even talk to someone he didn't know? What if the doctor wanted me to leave the room? Would Liam freak out? If he grabbed my legs, would the test be over? Since there was no use speculating, we just thumbed through a couple of magazines and put together a puzzle. Suddenly, Dr. B came out to the lobby to call us back to his office:

Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration but you get the idea. Gay? Southern? Dammit! If only my gaydar was still intact. Not that it matters at all but you know how it is. As my sister once told her husband, "I either have the greatest gay workout buddy in my kick box class or I've been inappropriately flirting with a straight man for the past six months." Not that I was super psyched to gay-flirt with a child psychologist at ten in the morning or anything. Sometimes I just like to know what I'm working with.

The evaluation went great and I was so super duper proud of Liam. Not only was he cooperative and perfectly fine when I had to leave the room, he spent the better part of two hours answering questions and didn't start to get antsy until the very end. When I came into the room between tests and said, "Hey Buddy! Are you having fun playing games with Dr. B?" he was like, "Oh, yeah. We're having a great time. How's your magazine?" And even though Liam got a big fat ZERO points for one out of the three categories (you can't have a teacher evaluation if you don't go to school...), he scored high enough in the other two categories (academic testing like letter and word recognition, simple math, etc. and a verbal and non-verbal IQ style test) to make up the points and qualify for the program. Woo hoo!

I tried to play it cool and not bombard him with questions but I was dying to know what went on in that little room. After several hours had passed, we were sharing a juice box on the front porch when I casually mentioned I had just talked to Grandma and she was really proud of how well he had done at his meeting with Dr. B.

"Dr. B? Oh yeah. He was really funny."

Sweet! He was talking. "Funny? What do you mean?"

"I mean, he was sort of a man/girl hybrid."

Fruit punch nearly shot out my nose as I tried not to laugh. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Liam said seriously. "He looked like a man but he talked like a girl."

Yes! Exactly!! OMG! I wanted to launch into a lengthy discussion of the whole "Southern, not gay" phenom but decided instead to define the word feminine and leave it at that. It was a much better teaching moment than earlier in the car when we went over the word crap in as much detail as you could ever imagine possible ("Mama, don't forget, Oh, crap!" "Right, Liam. Good one! Now don't you forget that crap is not the kind of word we should say around other kids. Or grownups. In fact, let's just see if we can keep crap on the downlow..."). Which is just to say, if you're looking for tips on how to raise an intellectually gifted child, DO NOT ASK ME.


rowena___. said...

girl, we've had the southern married gay man identifying game going here for as long as i can remember. but then again, rudi and i are in the arts. we know a lot of married gay guys.

oh and on the word "crap", remind me to tell you the story of the day ella listed all the words she knew that were synonymous with "poop". it was a long list. and NSFW.

hollie said...

So funny!!! Within weeks of moving here had my first encounter with this phenomenon and was shocked when I met his wife and four kids!!

ae said...

In our household, we call that phenomenon "Gay or Baptist?" In larger cities outside the Southeast, you can also play "Gay or Euro?"

savvy splendor said...

Totally. You know I just always assumed "Southern, not gay" was really just "Gay and doesn't know it." Speaking of, I found out this week that my girl cat is actually a boy. So we're dealing with transgender issues at my house right now. I always thought I was so open minded, but when it's your own cat, I mean, geez.

Katie said...

OMG!!! I friggin snorted I was laughing so hard reading this post! Maggie, I love you! Liam, way to go buddy, none of us ever doubted for a moment.
Still laughing...

No Mommy Brain said...

wait, wait, wait... is the consensus here that southern, not gay is really gay and pretending not to be?! i honestly hadn't even considered that. i mean, it makes a heck of a lot more sense but woah...

amber, my sister had a girl cat who turned out to be a boy. he had HUGE balls so obviously she was just in denial. still, the transition is tough on a family. good luck to you and joe.

Beaner3 said...

You are soooo right! When I moved here I had a guy tell me in that southern gay voice to watch out for women here b/c their way of thinking was basically "love your hair...hate your guts".

ae said...

There's an old, but timeless book that explains the fluid sexuality of the southern male in hilarious fashion - "Southern Ladies and Gentlemen" by Florence King. It's probably at the local library - a humor book - not true sociology, but worth a glance and very, very funny.

hezza said...

I must concur with the "gay or Baptist" commenter.

If you really really love Jesus, it means you are effeminate too...go figure.

cazz said...

that's hilarious! yeah, gay or baptist is definitely right! the reason we southerners weren't catching on is cause we just assume those guys are gay and covering it up. i've had more than a few chorus teachers, etc. who are just like corky and are married with kids.