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Paul Purcell

By Paul Purcell
Paul Purcell is a 40-something gay man who's been working in the gay media since the early nineties. He lives a quiet, domesticated life with his partner and two cats in a charming terrace in the colourfully queer inner-city, Sydney suburb of Newtown, Australia. In his writing he loves to find the humorous, offbeat and just plain ridiculous things to be discovered in everyday life.

After the light refreshments, we were given an icebreaker in which the moderator asked us each to say something about ourselves. This was it – the moment I would have to confess my ‘straightness.’ I was a little nervous and hoped that my outing would be convincing. As we went around the table, most of the men mentioned their wives and kids – but not ‘Grey Top.’ Curiously, he instead referenced his partner, without any pronoun attached. When my turn came, I decided to play it safe by just using a non-gendered, ‘we’: That ‘we’ lived in a outer Canberra suburb, that ‘we’ had lived in Sydney and the Gold Coast before, and that ‘we’ both enjoyed shopping at Woden.

Since the proceedings were being videotaped, I took extra care to look and sound convincing enough as a faux straight man. I made sure that I kept my hands under the table so that they did not flap around. I also tried to keep the pitch in my voice monotone, repressing any impulse to raise it too revealingly high when I talked.

As the focus group wore on, we all relaxed and I found it easier and easier to pretend to be straight. At one point, during an exercise requiring us to select positive and negative images about potential shopping centre development in the nation’s capital, I picked up the stereotypical image of a happy family going shopping. When my turn came, I waxed lyrical about them: “This photo makes me think of my seven year old boy, and myself going shopping. This photo makes me think of my wife and myself holding hands and walking through the shopping centre.” Of course, the seven year old boy I mentioned was really my seven year old cat, but my story was met with the approval of the other men.

At some point during my story, I realized that my hands had unconsciously appeared from under the desk and where attempting to speak on my own behalf, punctuating my verbal sentences with corresponding hand gestures. Immediately, I whipped them back under the desk and resumed without the visual accompaniment. Thankfully, I don’t think anyone particularly noticed.

I won extra points for my straight performance when I choose an image of an attractive woman dancing to the accompaniment of a violin player. As it turns out, most men picked this one (as apparently did the women’s group). I played my straight card by saying that I thought she was attractive, which got a pretty good response from the blokes! They also said that they wanted to see more attractive women dancing in shopping areas!

I caused some minor controversy when I said that “my wife” and I both liked the post-modern National Museum of Australia in Canberra. My straight pals seemed to think that it was ugly. Being the good husband that I was pretending to be, I jumped to my ‘wife’s’ defense by saying that many people probably said the same thing about the Eiffel Tower 100 years ago. Much to my surprise, ‘Grey Top’ agreed with me, noting that this was indeed the case.

‘Grey Top’ also had another clue to send my way when it came to his selections: they were, shall we say, a bit ‘different.’ While most men picked out stereotypical images of happy, cuddly, hetero family ones, ‘Grey’ selected images foregrounding the architecture of the place, rather than the people. Perhaps his most revealingly deviant selection was that of a woman with her tongue pierced. He was the only participant to make this selection.

While I might not have been clear about ‘Grey Top’s’ sexual orientation, I was quite sure about the other men in the group and what they wanted out of shopping – from a market research point of view. In a perfect world, they wouldn’t shop at all, opting instead to sit at home watching television sports programs. But since they were occasionally obligated to accompany their wives, they wanted shopping centres that they could get into and out of as quickly as possible (no multilevel car parks!).

Unlike my fellow marketing research participants, I loved to shop. I could spend hours shopping - looking for that wonderful new shirt to go with that sexy and tight pair of jeans. But – at least based on this group of men – to be straight required two things: a hatred for shopping and a love for sitting in front of the TV watching sport. Yuck!

I wasn’t the only other deviant shopper in the group, however. ‘Grey Top’ admitted that he loved going to shop at Newtown. But wait – it gets worse. He didn’t just love to shop, he loved to shop for second hand books! A silence came over the group. Obviously, the other men were not used to hearing straight guys ever admitting, publicly at least, that they loved to shop.

By the time the focus group ended, I had managed to pass as the real thing: a straight, married man with kid right under the noses of my straight colleagues. My performance ended as soon as I picked up my pay check and headed out the door. Oscar Wilde would have been impressed!

While I was happy to have succeeded in my efforts, I was relieved to remove the straight jacket that had been hindering my behaviour for two hours. If the experience taught me anything, it was that to keeping up such an act all your life would be exhausting, if not impossible. I knew that no matter how hard I prevented my hands from flying into the air, the pitch of my voice going above a bass level, or avoiding ‘chick flicks’, there would always be something that would give me away – I love to shop. Give me the wide, open, air-conditioned malls, Sale Time and my MasterCard over a place on a couch watching boring TV sports programs about hot, sweaty men playing with their balls any day! 

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ShaunB said:

I am not gay (and perhaps greytop wasn't either), but I definitely relate to your experience here. I hate the straightjacket of straight male culture as well, and if you were able to reach most straight men on an emotional level, I'm sure most of them do too. I hate the uniforms (slacks/shirts, suits), I hate watching sports on TV, I hate speaking in a monotone manner, I hate it all!

It bothers me that you felt you had to act straight for this research. The reason it bothers me is that there is probably no gay male/lesbian demographic in their study, and as a result, they'll find that women love to shop and men hate to shop... with no oppossing viewpoint. In order to get a realistic idea of what men "want", they need gay men in the study... families or no families. The end result of a study without proper representation is an impoverished public arena for men, designed for the needs and desires of women only.

Our male minority, gay and straight, needs better representation. It's no wonder why our bathrooms are small, dank and lounge-less, our clothing dull and uniform, and our lives wittled down to leather chairs with cupholders positioned in front of the plasma TV.

Posted at: December 30, 2010 12:46 PM

Permanently undecided said:

I find your stereotyping of straight men this way is ridiculous. None of the men in my family or among my friends is anything like what you describe. As a bisexual man who can pass for whatever he feels like passing for, but doesn't bother, I find your unipolar and unsympathetic viewpoint to be a pale echo of what you must have suffered yourself. Perhaps you are writing out of a need for revenge, or to build yourself up where you have been put down, but either way, your attitude is simplistic and demeaning. My father, brother and nephews do not sit around watching sports and scratching their balls. You need to get over something.

Posted at: September 27, 2012 12:09 AM