Friday, October 14, 2005

Boy, Was I Bluffing.

I've been on a Texas Hold 'Em kick lately. I've been seeking out tournaments, both public and private, at which I can get a few games going. The ones I've found at local bars usually don't cut it for one reason or another: the bar is too smoky; the crowd is too serious; fellow players not as friendly as I'd like them to be; starts too early after work. Private tournaments are okay, if only I were willing to spend that much money on a regular basis to play poker. Buy-ins I've found run from $20 to $50 -- the latter being a way too high; the former being okay but not something I'd like to spend regularly.

I had heard about a bar that does poker nights on Tuesdays so I decided to check it out. The other friends who would have joined me all bailed, so I found myself alone in a sea of strangers for the sole purpose of playing some poker. Free game, no big pressure, just a fun night.

As it turns out, all the other players were men. No biggie. At least they were friendly. Unlike at the other bars I've played poker at, these guys introduced themselves when they sat down, laughed and joked during the games, and generally had a good time even outside of the pressure of a good game of cards.

The thing about situations like these -- something I quite enjoy about situations like these, when I get the cojones to go through with them -- is that they permit me to become a whole different person if I want to. These guys don't know me from Adam, so I can take on a whole new persona if I want. I could doff my lawyer identify in favor of any of the other professions I previously thought about. I could be as shy as I wanted to be, or as loud and outgoing as I could. I could decide that I don't use profanity, or I could cuss like a drunken sailor. I was a blank slate, and I could write whatever I wanted to on it.

The significance of the date didn't hit me until I reflected on it later. I had joined this poker game on October 11 -- National Coming Out Day. Yeah, reminders for it were all over the place, but I kinda just let it slide. After all, pretty much everyone who is remotely close to me knows I'm gay, so there aren't many people left for me to come out to. (The glaring exception -- my parents -- is a situation I'm content with.)

Why is this significant? Because in the testosterone-laden environment in which I had just thrust myself, it's apparently still okay to call someone a "homo," intending a derogatory meaning. Sure, these guys were friends and it was all in jest, but still, I bristled internally when I heard it. "You played through on a 2-7? You're a homo!"

I'll admit I still use the phrase "that's so gay" from time to time (although usually it's in reference to men discussing makeup, or interior decorating). But a part of me realized that these guys don't realize that I'm an actual homo sitting there, infiltrating their inner circle, listening to them toss around the word "homo" like it was some adequate emasculating tool.

O irony: they toss it around like it's emasculating, while I'm sitting right there acting much more masculine than usual.

Frankly, I didn't take much offense to it. The word was really only tossed around three or four times (at least on the tables I was playing at), and apparently in fun. I know various gay rights groups thinking using the phrase inherently stigmatizes "gay" as a bad thing, but I tend to just roll with it. In the grand scheme of things, I'd rather pick a battle for real equality than the use of "gay" as a negative attribution. I'll challenge gay-based discrimination or harassment; using the word among people who appeared to be friends I can let slide.

But a part of me does wonder whether I should have spoken up. "Wait, you're a homo? Really? So am I! You're cute, wanna date?" Would it have taught these guys not to use that word in that way? Would it have singled me out as the oversensitive fag in the room? Would the entire dynamic of the game have changed based upon the knowledge that a gay guy was actually there with them, or would it only have affected their freedom to toss around the word? Could I have been the one to change one mind, instilling the seed of "I know that one gay guy, and he seemed pretty cool..."?

I don't know.

I don't know because the other part of me says that I am who I am, and I don't feel the need to announce to every new person I meet (let alone a group of 20 men I meet at a bar to play poker with) "Hi, I'm Dennis! and I'm gay." They'll figure it out soon enough (if they haven't already), I'm sure; I'm not the straightest arrow in the quiver. If it comes up in conversation, I have no doubt that I'll just mention it like any other fact of my life. But that night just didn't seem like the time or place to do so.

Coming out is an inherently tricky situation, because you never know how your recipient will react: it could run the gamut from revulsion to nonchalance. Along the same lines of picking my own battles, I'd like think that my expressly coming out is an honor earned by those people I feel closer to than others. If I like you enough, I'll go ahead and share that side of my life with you. If you're not that close a friend of mine, there's no need for me to put myself out on that limb for you. These poker guys were as much strangers to me as I was to them. There appeared no need to come out, no honor or right earned to such information. So I kept mum, for just a little bit longer.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that on National Coming Out Day, I found myself at least part way back in the closet. It's scary to realize just how easy it is to find oneself back in there with just the slightest change in surroundings.

But the closet is not a place I plan on staying for long.


Steve said...

Good post, Dennis! Like you, I'm about as out as you can get, including to my family, yet I don't ever feel the need to announce it to every new person I meet. It's called discretion. In my experience, when (most) people are around me long enough, they figure it out, and at the same time, the ones who are a little daft, or curious, just come out and ask. All it shows is that some of us can adapt, and be comfortable in most any situation, but it doesn't change who we are.

Chef Dean said...

But did you win the poker game?

Dennis! said...

In two back to back tournaments, I placed fourth (out of 15 or so) twice. I hope to improve on that this coming week.

Vince said...

I should take you home with me for Christmas. My family is OBSESSED with poker.