Monday, November 14, 2011

Reader Response: Too Out There

I thought it would be fun to start this week off with a reader response post. I had a fun weekend and am looking forward to keeping that fun momentum going with the kind of conversation that gets started when we have a blog post like this. I hope you all can shake off the Monday cobwebs and enjoy it with me.

A friend of mine who organizes yearly summer trips to Ireland at a college was talking to me about his efforts to recruit students for the upcoming trip. Usually they have a table at a big opening festival on campus where they advertise to the students and just get people to sign up to learn more. He and his friend both try to get as many of the attractive college boys to sign up; according to him, running around after them if they have to. They don't have sex with any of them (that I know of) but they do like their eye candy on the multi-week trip. So the booth job also subs as a sort of boy-scouting campaign to find the hot guys who may be interested.

When he arrived at their first meeting, he told me, there were around twenty-five to thirty students who came back for more information, and almost all of them were women. Much to his dismay, of course. A few men did show up, but not that many. So in their next advertising campaign, they used signs that advertised sports and camping events as a means of attracting a more masculine crowd. However, at the second meeting, not a single male student showed up. His outrage was palpable as he related the story to me. He wondered what more he could possibly do to make sure that there was something nice to look at besides the Irish scenery.

"Maybe you should just come out with it," I suggested, meaning that they should say there is a shortage of male students for the trip.

"I think the problem is that we are too out with it," he replied.

He is not exactly the most masculine and manly of men, and I get the sense that his partner in this is even more fey. He worried that they had frightened potential male students away by being a bit too openly gay while discussing the trip. I tried to console him, telling him that he wasn't flirting with the boys, but he coughed in a way that suggested that maybe he was a bit. Then I pointed out that at least he wasn't running over and grabbing their asses and being totally obvious about it. Apparently that is how his friend gets guys to come home with him from the bar (see, confidence is sexy).

"Did you maybe try NOT flirting with the guys? Or not staring at them?"

Apparently that particular tactic was not one they employed.

But part of me thinks that there is no reason for them to hide their stares, as long as it is a quick look as opposed to a full-out drooling gaze. There is also no reason why a little flirty banter should put off the straights. After all, straight (and bi) men are socially allowed to look at and casually flirt with women who may or (more likely) may not be attracted to them. Why then, I wondered, should it be a problem for a gay man to do the same with other men, gay or straight?

There are other factors involved, of course, in the above scenario. Having recently been an undergraduate, I know that there is a level of awkwardness that builds the more the professors drop their hard-won authority and get friendly or even flirty. It wasn't until my senior year that I even started feeling comfortable enough with my own maturity to talk easily with a professor outside of the academic setting, and I was way ahead of my fellow students. But the student/professor aspect isn't what I want to explore. It is the social norms that I want to hit on today.

The question I really want to look at is one of double standards, I guess. We clearly expect women to be OK with the casual flirting (except, of course, in situations where it is clearly sexual harassment--but let's not go there) but do we expect the same of men? Obviously my male readers will have more experience with this, but I would like to hear from the women too. Why do men feel uncomfortable when they are the "object of scrutiny," so to speak? The Male Gaze is a well documented phenomenon involving men objectifying women, but what of the gaze that objectifies the men?

I think I may be the exception to this rule, honestly, because I always respond well to casual flirting, regardless of who engages me or their gender. If we are on friendly terms and you flirt with me, chances are you'll get it back; maybe doubled or tripled if I'm feeling frisky. But most men don't react that way. Why is that?

Please leave you thoughts in the comments. I really look forward to hearing what you all have to say, and throwing my own two cents in every so often.


  1. Did they ever think maybe gay guys don't really want to go to Ireland?

    Maybe the local gay bois would like a holiday to see German, Italian, or Greek men :-)

  2. I actually suggested that the girls were mostly there to have sex with an Irish man and that maybe the boys weren't as inspired. He seemed to disagree.


  3. I got ogled once in the showers at the gym. It freaked me out to no end. Now I wish I had responded positively. One thing that I will say, is that I have no idea how to respond when/if someone did flirt with me. it's the same with cruising. I really wish that there was a Gay 101 class that helped guys like me know when someone is interested in me, and how to let someone know that I'm interested in them without getting my face pounded to a pulp!


  4. Dear anonymmous: a simple smile and a blink of the eyes would have worked, I bet. At least it would have gotten you a phone number.

  5. ErieBear,

    Sometimes you have to risk the pounding to get what you want. If you think you get stunned by flirting, imagine how straight guys feel. They're usually too confused to do much of anything before you get a clue and stop. No harm no foul, unless you're after some seriously hung-up guys.


  6. I will admit that now, I probably would have acted upon it. Ten years ago, I was much too damn scared to do anything. Actually, most of the time that I get laid, it's when I go out of town on business... hmmm... need to think about that...


  7. An intriguing question -- a riddle, really! Could fewer people have responded because it leads to mystery after mystery?

    Part of me wants to say that vestiges of the Puritan/Victorian/1950s heritage still infect the male "social script". Yes, there seem to be more male grooming products than ever; indeed, men are electing cosmetic surgery in record numbers. Too, Feminism has certainly challenged the "Me Tarzan, you Jane" ethos: Consider how popular culture has embraced more female action and wisdom figures over the past few decades. Then again, boys are still scripted to be macho: physically strong, brave, aggressive, less emotional. They are conditioned to be pleased rather than to please (as stereotypical female attractiveness is supposed to do, in part via flirtatiousness). Faced with flirting by another man, a traditionally-scripted male may feel feminized, weak, uncomfortable, provoked -- and react with defensive behaviors ranging from withdrawal (least macho?) to indifference to violence (most macho?). Besides, male-scripted competitiveness is still "alive and kicking," no? And, of course, some men are in strong (!) denial of homoerotic feelings, even as we who are gay can be a bit too fond of this explanation (in my view, again).

    I agree with you in principle, Ace. But how often do primal instincts make rational sense?! I would also like to ask: How do *women* of different erotic preferences react to another woman flirting with *them*? In the context of the female script, are they any less defensive?

    One more contrarian thought, if I may: Do I correctly infer that your Ireland-bound friends have bagged more eye candy in years past? If so, something other than same-sex flirting may be at bottom of all this. Just what is for heads clearer than mine.

  8. "Faced with flirting by another man, a traditionally-scripted male may feel feminized, weak, uncomfortable, provoked..."

    This is a critical point that is overlooked far too often. In my experience, most straight men who haven't engaged in gay sex assume they're being solicited into a submissive, feminized role: the stereotypical straight view of gay.

    Of course, if you're a top and that's your bag, they're right. Those of us who are looking for men to be men need a vocabulary of flirting that's both more subtle and more explicit. Our attempts to convey how eager we are to please need to be more outward and less self-referential.

    If you've had success with something, please, share it here... There's plenty of guys to go around.

    The rest of you, well, you're on your own!

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