I have straight male friends who I hang out with one on one, but I don’t have groups of straight male pals who I hang out with on a regular basis. I don’t consciously seek to avoid these kinds of social situations, it’s more because, by and large, I feel more comfortable in the company of gay men (more on that later). This was going to be an all-straight affair, and I didn’t know half of the group at all.I was recently invited on a stag do – a first for me. I signed up quite readily, as it was organised by a good mate of mine from drama school. The groom was also from the same year, as well as several of the other people who were going.
Then it dawned on me. Guys I didn’t know. On a stag do. In Newcastle. I soon started to regret my decision. But why though? There was a good proportion of people I did know going. People I knew I got along with. But it didn’t matter that people I knew and liked would be there, it was about the social dynamic of the group as a whole. Plus, I assumed that the whole weekend and everything it entailed was not going to be for me. On the lash with the lads? Sounds frightful. I’d much rather a nice mince around Hyde Park thank you very much!
It was unfair of me to equate the fact that the weekend wouldn’t be enjoyable with their sexuality, but I did. I remember telling people about it and internally wincing at the prospect. The idea of a stag and the drinking, tomfoolery and general ridiculous antics just doesn’t appeal to me. But despite my misgivings I decided to go. I’d also paid a hefty amount of money on the deposit – who knew stag dos were so bloomin’ expensive?
So with my bag (including my emergency escape jet-pack) at the ready, I made my way to my friend’s house to stay over the night before we made our way to Newcastle.
Our first activity upon arriving was off-road buggy racing. It was really good fun – out in the middle of a sunny field, tearing around the track, imagining myself as some sort of pro-racing driver. The major memory that sticks out in my mind though is when it came to picking teams in a groom-versus-best-man showdown. This is everyone’s recurring PE class nightmare – horrifically revisited later in life. I expected that I might be picked last, and I wasn’t disappointed. The frustrating thing was that I was certainly not the worst driver. I don’t think it was consciously done, but I’m sure the reason behind their decision was my sexuality: he’s gay, therefore less likely to be good at sports. That was twice as frustrating.
However, daytime drinking commenced shortly after, and a few pints lifted my mood considerably. And I did find, as the day went on, that I had a lot more in common with the guys than I would have thought. I ended up having some unexpected discussions about NHS funding and political allegiances, before abandoning intellectual pursuits and having a dance and a giggle with the rest of the crew at some of Newcastle’s premier nightspots.
"Strangely though, it was my fear of being the odd one out, rather than actually being the odd one out, that was holding me back from enjoying myself. As it turns out, my sexuality didn’t really matter to these guys."
I had definitely been a bit quick to judge, and I’ll put my hands up and admit that. It’s not that I was expecting to experience outright homophobic behaviour. It was something much more subtle. I feared that I would be out of step, much the same way I felt throughout my school years – of being the other and not really having much in common with those around me. Strangely though, it was my fear of being the odd one out, rather than actually being the odd one out, that was holding me back from enjoying myself. As it turns out, my sexuality didn’t really matter to these guys.
So why had I been so reticent to spend time socially with a group of straight men?
When you come out, it seems only natural that you seek out people who understand you and your lived experience: typically, other gay men. You band together with them because they get it. It being the experience of living as a gay man in a society where that’s not the norm, and the whole big bag of bullshit that entails. Years and years of social conditioning has made us the other, and so we band together quite naturally. We’ve formed a community, one of solidarity and fraternity.
So I’m not surprised that I don’t have that many groups of straight mates. There’s still a part of me that feels at odds with them and fearful of their rejection. But maybe if we tried to integrate more, we could break down prejudices held on both sides.
I presumed that hanging out with a group of straight guys was never going to be fun, but I was wrong. So it’s a good opportunity for us both to educate each other. As demonstrated on my stag trip, we both had preconceptions that were important to dispel. The fact that I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m not a good driver, competitive or sporty. My boyfriend will definitely attest to my competitive streak, as he’s seen me sprint furiously past someone who tried to pip me to the post at the end of a half marathon!
So, I’ve decided I’m going to be more open to social occasions of the heterosexual persuasion. I can see that more and more straight guys surprise me in the right way, and rarely do people surprise me for the wrong reasons. But meeting those people who surprise me in the wrong way is important too. Like I said, it’s a chance to educate. Their ideas need to be challenged, just as much as I need to challenge my own.