I wrote a post several months ago about my disappointment at not being able to hold the direct and highly sexualized gaze of gay men because they would decide, after the first few seconds, that I was “really” a female. That post was about my sadness of feeling, for a split second, what it would be like to be seen as a gay man by a gay man, then feeling that possibility evaporate. Now that I have grown accustomed to passing more often, the situation is a bit different. First of all, I have trained myself to be aware of whether or not men are looking at me as an index of whether or not I am passing as male. Straight men don’t look at each other, so if men are not looking at me, I assume I am passing and therefore feel both successful and safe. If a man is gazing at me, it is usually because he is reading me as gender ambiguous and is trying to figure out whether I am male or female. Male gazes, in other words, have begun to feel uncomfortable.
But how does this translate into the gay world? Last night, I went to meet a friend at a bar. I arrived early, he wasn’t there yet, and I found myself alone in a gay bar, packed with cruisy gay men. Rather than enjoying the scenario and cruising in return, as I would have before, I felt consumed with self-consciousness about whether or not I was passing. Here the normal economy of vision was inverted. When cruisy gay men did not look at me, I assumed that I wasn’t passing as male. When they did stare at me, I assumed that I was passing, but that my presumed maleness might disintegrate at any moment under the heat of their laser vision. So here I was, finally having fulfilled my aspiration of being the object of the gay gaze, but profoundly uncomfortable and unable to enjoy it. The cruisy gazes whose weight I could feel on my body also felt like x-ray stares, threatening to strip me naked. One tall white gay man was giving me a particularly long and focused stare, and I found myself completely unable to react, my training in passing, up to this point, having been about avoiding the gaze of men. When his drunk friend started hitting on me, I was unable to be witty and flirtatious in return, so focused was I on speaking monosyllabically and inexpressively so that my voice would not give me away.
My next step is to relearn flirting with gay men and to feel less self-conscious about how they are reading me. Admittedly, in this situation I felt extra awkward because I was unprepared for a cruisy gay scene, I didn’t know anybody in that bar, and I had not yet had even a sip of alcohol. But I think I also was simply unprepared for the novelty of passing in front of gay men.