Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Your Daddy Wears Capri Pants

Pardon the unaccustomed silence, kids, but I'm on vacation and enjoying a daily vegetative state for as long as I can before I am swept up in the unending errands of my life. I get to sleep in every morning, but as soon as I get up it's "would you go to the store...would you drive me to work... would you take me to the hairdresser/electronics store/amusement park/mental ward?" I have plenty of time in the evenings to write, too, but I prefer to vegetate then, too... especially with The Sims Unleashed, which is quite a lot of fun. One of the new features allows you to build and furnish houses without bothering with a family moving in first. It's quite liberating and fun.

So I go over to my Daddy's place in Concord on Monday, to take him and my nephew to Fry's so they can exchange the motherboard they bought but which was incorrectly packed and so had one kind of motherboard in the box for another kind of motherboard. And he comes out of his room wearing capri pants. Cement capri cargo pants, to be exact. I was baffled and bemused.

Who the hell gave him capri pants? (We won't pause to harp needlessly on the fact that "capri pants" as currently sold in retail stores, are not, in fact, capri pants... they're clam-diggers, capri-pants are supposed to be skin-tight). I know Daddy hasn't bought a garment for himself since the last time he went to a rock concert and got a t-shirt, which was sometime in the early seventies. He has always been dressed by the womenfolk in his life, or by Uncle Sam (either while in the Army or in the VA rehab). But I didn't find out which daft woman had bought Daddy capri pants... I knew the temptation to call up that woman and laugh at her would be far too tempting to resist, so it is safer to not know.

Which puts me in mind of the prolific chatter generated by Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. I've caught the show a few times and quite enjoyed it... though I'm not quite clear on what the "culture" maven is supposed to be doing there (one friend posits that they simply needed a fifth person, since the moniker "Fab Four" was already taken, and they couldn't think of anything else for him to do... well, at least he's pretty). But they're all very entertaining, I don't think they further stereotypes any more than anybody else does, and they all have such lovely complexions. I wish the fashion guy was a little less, I don't know, scarecrowish (he dresses the straight guys with such exquisite taste, but dresses himself with all the style and panache of a lemming-brained Catholic-school girl from Fort Lee), and I wish they weren't driving around in an SUV (God how I hate those things), but other than that it's a really interesting and informative, not to mention wildly entertaining, TV show.

Still, I was reading an article on that show from USA Today (supplied by my dear friend Will, who knows that I don't read newspapers or magazines, I just look at the pictures, and so often gives me articles he thinks I'll enjoy), and there was a lot of talk in it about the "gay taste gene" or some mythical extra chromosome that makes gay men so much better at colors and styles than straight men or even women.

That's just tommyrot. Gay men have better taste because we have more time to think about these things and aren't terrified to be thought of as sissies if we think about these things.

It's somewhat easier to get laid (though perhaps harder to find love) amongst ourselves, something that straight men have to devote a great deal of time and energy to achieving, and so we have more leisure time and mental space for shopping and chatting and thinking about which colors of paint will make the best illusion of depth when layered on our bedroom walls. We don't have to worry about being thought of as sissies, or practically women... we're already thought of as sissies, shoved to the outer edge of society, so why not do all the things our straight-boy counterparts aren't allowed to do?

I've also heard people talk about how gay men make such a big deal of being out and visible, which straights don't do... more poppycock. Your average American male is taught at a very early age to display his protective colorations; chief among these is the plumage of I'm-Not-Gay(-nor-am-I-in-any-way-to-be-confused-with-a-female). They therefore make conscious efforts to dress badly, to cook badly, and to know absolutely nothing of the domestic or grooming arts, because those are "gay" or "girly" things. Gay men, on the other hand, are already gay and even when they're "hiding" the fact, they have nothing to lose and therefore have nothing to fear from fashion or décor.

On top of this nurture, there is also nature... the nature of the male beast is to be competitive and surface-oriented. This is the other reason that gay men have "better" taste (actually, they simply have more developed taste) than straight men or even women. After high-school, women don't generally make fun of people who make a fashion faux-pas, nor do they actually expect others to wear the same designers and colors as themselves. Women dress for each-other, and they compete, but it's not the same rabid kill-or-be-killed/eat-or-be-eaten competition that men instinctively participate in.

You'll never hear a straight man, even a well-dressed and style-conscious straight man (that mythical creature only spotted in GQ magazine and the financial districts of large cities, where the clothes are part of the arsenal of success), murmur to his friend "What the hell does he think he's wearing? That lapel is so last year." He would simply chuckle to himself that the poor boob with last year's lapel isn't going to get the same promotions and advantages that he will get... because to voice that out loud would make him look gay or girly, thereby rendering him weak and unfunctional by tribal hunter-gatherer standards.

Similarly, you won't find a female actually ignoring or being rude to another person because their fashions are substandard, ill-chosen, or out-of-date. Women tend to be more nurturing than that, and though they can be terrible viragoes when the tribe is threatened (if someone's mode of dress marks him or her as an outsider or a predator), they are usually more forgiving about the little vagaries of individual people, and more often than not will wonder what internal woe or secret sorrow caused the fashion tragedy... and when the nurturing gene is particularly well-developed, she will offer her advice to others.

These are all vast generalizations, of course. But my system makes more sense than some idiotic "extra chromosome." And the generalization doesn't cover all the bases, either. For example, though I am fully aware of fashion, culture, and design, and largely aware of grooming and cuisine, I don't make much of an effort to display any of these things. For me, the competitive edge and the surface-orientation have given way to inertia as my life becomes ever more internal and cerebral. I have failed the competition and am now enjoying the view.

Most of my clothes come from the Gap, and they all go together without seeming to have been planned in any way; I prefer reading and watching television to going out and absorbing all the Culture-with-a-capital-C that is available to me as a citizen of a major metropolitan area; I read Architectural Digest and dream of color-matched and exquisitely balanced rooms but have other things to do with my time than clean and arrange my habitat (as Quentin Crisp so aptly pointed out, "domestic rituals are a waste of time... after four years the dirt never gets any worse"); while I like to be clean and as attractive as possible, I simply haven't got the wherewithal of a morning to deal with more than one or two forms of "product," most of which would be a waste of time and money because nobody much looks at me when I'm out and about anyway; and while fine dining is a great joy to me, fine cooking is simply too much work for too little pleasure... and since I no longer imbibe alcohol, the whole œnophilia thing is over my head.

But, like I said, I know about those things. They have yet to display or discuss something on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy that I didn't know about. Yes, some of the grooming and cooking tips have come as a surprise, and quite handy as well, but it's not all as foreign to me as the workings of the internal combustion engine or the inner machinations of football leagues are.

And then there are lots of gay men out there who know nothing about fashion, culture, design, grooming, and/or cuisine. They often do know about engines and football. Is it because they bought into the straight male paradigm at an early age? Or is it because they are even braver than the style queens and fashionistas of this our gay world, and march to the beat of their own drum? Some of each, probably, as well as three or four other things that I've never even thought of. The problem with systems like this is that they only apply to a large portion of a society, not to all of it. We're all different, one from the other, millions of separate collections of a myriad influences and priorities forced to interact with eachother.

Well, I seem to have blathered on at quite some length. The little girls (my eleven-year-old niece and ten-year-old cousin) are becoming impatient to get to Children's Fairyland, where I stupidly promised several days ago to take them, and Grandmother wants to use the phone, and I need to go to Home Depot sometime today and get another new showerhead (I swear, those things are practically disposable, I have to replace them once a year). So off I go to labor through my vacation. Hugs and kisses!

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