Am I A Zoo Animal? Experts Weigh In
Updated: Sep 8, 2018
While no actual experts weighed in on the writing of this blog post, my personal feelings and experiences sure did.
I must admit, I’m a little nervous to write this. This post is going to be my first foray into writing things that are a bit more personal and a bit more vulnerable – but hey, that’s what I signed up for, right? A lot of you are probably thinking he really doesn’t have to do this, and you’re right. But I want to. I could sit here and write about all kinds of things that I have no personal connection to, but then – why would you read it? None of us are ever going to get anywhere if we back away from the things that scare us.
On the surface, this post is going to be the story of a date I went on – a date that I truly believe was the best I’ve ever had – but I’m not writing this to tell you the story of a good date. I’m writing this because that date opened my eyes to something that I’ve never really experienced as a perpetually single (and ready to mingle) gay man. That date made me feel like an animal on display in a zoo.
Cue your thoughts: What is he talking about? Was his date at the zoo? Did the guy he was going on a date with look like a horse? No, dear reader. I was not at the zoo and my date did not look like a horse (in fact, he was annoyingly handsome). However, the experience of being openly affectionate with another man in a public space made me feel like I was being scrutinized and stared at and talked about – because I was.
Let’s back up. I spent most of the month of January flitting from date to date with a guy I really liked. Each weekend was a new experience with him and our outings were often unexpected, or in some cases completely spontaneous. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a guy who enjoys structure and predictability, not spontaneity. The word “change” often sends a shiver down my spine. Let me clarify here that I’m talking about minor changes like my place of work switching up the kind of toilet paper they use, not grand social and societal change that will make the world a better place. That kind of change is great.
But something about this guy made me a huge fan of spontaneity, which is why I ended up on this date in the first place. It was a Saturday night. We had plans to go to a bar and get drinks, but at the last minute he texted me and asked if we could go to another place. I said that was fine and went to meet him there. What I didn’t expect was to walk in and see him at this other bar with 15 of his friends. On our second date.
I think I had a minor panic attack when I realized what was happening, and I was one deep breath away from turning around and walking out the door, taking a Lyft home, and drowning my sorrows in ice cream. But then my date walked over to me and smiled and took me to the bar and I decided not to be angry that I was being ambushed.
Now. The kind of scrutiny I received from his friends is the kind of scrutiny you would expect to receive from a group of people who are sizing up the date of someone they care about, whether gay or straight. That scrutiny isn’t what this post is about. In fact, all his friends turned out to be wonderful to talk to and the date was off to a great start.
As the night went on, everyone was getting loosened up from the drinking. My date and I were getting along well and enjoying each other’s company, so we were beginning to get the tiniest touchy-feely – I would sometimes put my hand on his face, or he would sometimes squeeze my shoulder. Nothing too wild, just those little “getting to know” you gestures.
Eventually his friends started to trickle off and go home, so the two of us popped over to the bar next door to finally have some alone time. At this point it was around midnight on a Saturday night and we were in a popular part of town, so this bar was packed. I’m talking “a million sardines in a can” level of packed. It was also what I fondly call a Straight Bar, which is my personal description for any bar that is not explicitly labeled as a gay bar. The moral of the story is that this bar reflected typical society, meaning that a majority of its patrons were of the heterosexual persuasion.
This doesn’t need to be said, but I think it adds context: my date was bisexual. In many ways he “passed” as straight better than I did. He was in a fraternity in college and is very social in general, so he felt very comfortable in this environment. I’m more introverted and tend to be a little reserved in situations like the one we were in.
That night, though, I didn’t really care what people thought. We were two guys having a good time on a date in a bar. But then things started to sour for me. As my date and I made our way around the bar, chatting and flirting and getting to know each other, people kept stopping us. Random women would say things like “are you guys together?” After we said yes, they would almost always make a puppy dog face and say something like “aww, that’s adorable!” Others would simply interrupt our conversations and say “you guys are so cute! I love gay men!”
While these comments aren’t at all offensive on a surface level, they represent a certain “othering” of the two of us from the rest of the people in that bar. There were lots of straight couples there, but no one was stopping them to ask if they were together. No one was getting in between them to talk about how cute they are and how much they love straight people. Since my date and I were two men, we somehow became a piece of entertainment for others to enjoy.
It even went so far as to lead to our first kiss. To this day, I can’t make up my mind on whether this story is romantic or just…sad. At one point, a lone girl came up to us and asked us if we were together, told us how cute we were, etc etc. Then she started crying and venting to us about her ex-boyfriend. At first, I was totally into it because I’m all about female empowerment. I told her she better quit crying over that man, and a few minutes later she was screaming “FUCK MY EX BOYFRIEND” at the top of her lungs. So that was a success.
But then things started to get weird. The girl wouldn’t stop talking to us, despite our body language clearly telling her that we were ready to move on. She kept telling us how cute we were. Then she said, “you guys should kiss.” This sent butterflies through my stomach, because we hadn’t kissed yet. I had absolutely no idea how to handle the situation, so I think I just laughed and said no.
The girl then got really serious and said “I swear I’m gonna start crying again if you guys don’t kiss right now. I want to see you kiss.” At this point, I was blatantly not okay with the situation, but I knew my date well enough at this point to know what was coming. I was right. He kissed me. It was great. The girl cheered. But inside, I deflated.
That girl emotionally guilting us into having our first kiss perfectly topped off a night of feeling objectified by the people in that bar. I wasn’t even angry so much as I was sad that I couldn’t just go on a date without feeling like…well, a zoo animal.
My date and I survived that evening and went on to have several more dates after. Obviously, that situation didn’t work out in the end, but we had a great night together. It just saddens me that my good memories of that night are also tinged with the unsettling feeling of being on display.
My point is this: subtle homophobia can come in all shapes and sizes, and consistently expressing your adoration for gay people to the point that you are objectifying them is not okay. We don’t want to feel like zoo animals. We want to feel like people. Is that too much to ask?
PS - I’m going to start finishing my blog posts with a song that I’m really enjoying at the moment. I love music and I use it a lot to find inspiration for my writing, so I enjoy sharing it with people. This particular post was brought to you by Waiting For You by The Aces. Check it out.
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