I was at Starbucks this morning ordering my overly complicated coffee and there was a guy in line ahead of me with his fly open. Not just a little bit either. It was wide open. Like, I can see your underwear open. My initial impulse was to tell him, but, of course, things are never that simple.
I should probably clarify that he was not just “a guy.” He was an exhaustingly handsome, impossibly tall, mocha tinted masterpiece. “A guy” who clearly spent a majority of his free time at the gym (or worked in construction) and who should (if he didn’t already) moonlight as an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Nestled in his faultlessly chiseled jaw was a perfect set of orthodontically assisted teeth that beamed as bright as a SAD lamp. I was instantly convinced that our destinies were entwined – even though his arm was around a woman. She was probably his girlfriend and maybe even his wife, but in that moment, I decided she was his sister.
All of this matters because if he had been ugly or average then there wouldn’t be any drama at all.
I could tell that the suddenly salivating barista, who is gay, or just really, really loves his job, had noticed as well because his eyes were nervously darting from crotch to face and back again. There were other folks in line and other employees behind the counter – surely it wasn’t just the two homosexually inclined crotch watchers who noticed? I looked from eye to eye to eye and silently shamed them all for their lack of compassion. I mean, it was practically hanging out! Somebody should say something.
I understand that it is an awkward situation. It’s not something you want to scream at the top of your lungs. “Hey Buddy, your fly is open,” in a non-discreet fashion is (almost) worse than yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theatre. One has to be subtle. You definitely need to choose your moment to avoid embarrassing anybody.
However, it was not my concern for his ego that caused me to hesitate. It was another reason, more deep-seated and sinister than simply “caring about another person’s feelings.” I hedged because the little voice inside my head said: “he’s gonna know you’re gay.”
The thought process goes something like this:
“Oh, that guy’s fly is open.”
“I should tell him.”
“You can’t tell him! He’s gonna know you’re gay!”
“Um, yeah, why else would you have been looking at his crotch?”
(INSERT ANY IRRATIONAL FEAR HERE)
I ran this scenario by one of my male friends, who is a committed heterosexual, and he laughed at me. He said he would say something, as long as he could do it discreetly, and that the thought of the other guy thinking he was gay never crossed his mind.
Old habits, old fears die hard… and slowly. My worst nightmare as a kid, growing up in an unsafe environment with no positive role models was that someone would find out that I was gay. It terrified me. The isolation and fear that so many young gay kids endure cannot be overstated. It links directly to a myriad of psychiatric and psychological disorders, including low self-esteem, acute anxiety, depression, and in far too many cases, suicide.
Wait, that’s not funny. Back to the story…
Once I quieted the vigilant voice of the fear-filled little boy who lives inside my head by ensuring him that he was not in any danger, I found an opportunity to tap the guy on the shoulder and tell him his fly was open.
He said, “thanks dude,” and remedied the situation.
That was it.
All of my imagined drama was just that, completely imagined.
Far too often, I find myself reacting to a given situation, not as a 44-year old man, but as a frightened, damaged child. I cannot tell you how many of these “fractured kids” rattle around inside my skull, but I can tell you that there are a lot of them. It used to be utterly exhausting. Now, through age, experience and a lot of therapy, I have learned to recognize their voices and proceed accordingly. If I am suddenly feeling fearful or judged or angry or attacked, then chances are I am not approaching the situation from an adult perspective. These “trigger emotions” are valuable tools. They tell me that I need to stop, breathe and reassess. They remind me that 19 times out of 20 it’s my shit and not yours.
So, the next time we’re out for dinner and I don’t tell you right away about that giant piece of broccoli stuck in your teeth, please forgive me, I’m just processing.