Plains, October 2016
Unless I'm in a gay neighborhood, I'm never out in public. No gay pride t-shirts, no lambdas, no pink triangles, no rainbow flags. No holding hands with my date. My book on a gay topic is turned inward so no one can read the title.
Being Out and Proud is fine, but I've heard too many stories about gay people getting assaulted and killed by random bigots. Even if only one passerby in a thousand is inclined to kill you and has a gun in his pocket, that's too many for me.
But yesterday when I got to the gym, I discovered that I brought along a Gay Pride t-shirt by mistake. A very open one, with literally the words "Gay Pride!!!" in big rainbow letters.
I didn't want to drive all the way home to get another one, or spend $15 on one of the gym's t-shirts that are completely covered with banal "keep moving" slogans.
So for the next 1 1/2 hours, I was going to be out in public. In a small town in the Straight World.
It was my running day. Was assault more likely on the treadmill or out on the wilderness trail?
I opted for the trail. People see you for only a few seconds as they jog past in the other direction, but on the treadmill, they can get a good a good view for an hour. Besides, it would probably be empty. Who runs at 5:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon?
To get out of the gym, I have pass about a dozen people in the lobby, including two Somali women in hijabs, and a group of high school jocks.
They don't seem to notice, but Casey, who is running the front desk, does.
He isn't the usual collegiate twink the gym hires: he's in his 30s, buffed, with severely short black hair, a round face, and the hint of a hairy chest beneath his white shirt. I'm thinking manager, filling in for a sick desk guy.
They're supposed to say "Hi" on your way in and "Have a nice day" on your way out, but instead Casey asks "Going for a run?"
"Yeah, I thought I'd hit the wilderness trail. It will be covered with snow soon."
"Well, be careful out there," he says with a frown. "There are...um...well, this is snake season."
I think he means "homophobe season."
As it turns out, the wilderness trail is busy. I constantly encounter joggers going in the other direction, on their way back t the gym.
On the Plains, you're supposed to say hello or wave to those you encounter on the street or wilderness trail -- a very hard habit to break when you're jogging somewhere else.
Usually it's about 70% "hellos" or waves, 20% Attitude (they pretend not to see you), and 10% hostile stares. .
With my Gay Pride T-Shirt on, I estimate about 25% "hellos" or waves," 50% Attitude, and 25% hostile stares.
Men are most likely to give Attitude; women most likely to either say "hello" or give a hostile stare.
Teenagers and kids usually smile.
The older people start with smiles, but when they get close enough to read my "Gay Pride!!!!", the smiles turn into hostile stares.
Usually when you encounter a male-female couple jogging together, the man says "hello," the woman gives Attitude -- presumably she doesn't want to be accused of flirting. But today in my Gay Pride T-Shirt, it is the opposite: the woman says "hello," the man gives Attitude.
Presumably he doesn't want to be accused of flirting.
The "hellos" and waves seem bigger and broader, even congratulatory, and the hostile stares considerably more hostile, grim and menacing. But that might just be my imagination.
Verdict: most heterosexuals on the Plains are surprised to discover that a gay person lives among them.
At least no one yells at me or starts quoting Leviticus.
Back at the Gym
I run five miles in 50 minutes, not a great time, but a good solid 6 mph, then return to the gym.
Casey is still at the front desk. "How was your run?"
"Great! I saw a deer about three miles in, and almost stepped on a garter snake."
"That sounds scary!"
"Not as scary as some of the other joggers."
"Well, this is the Plains, after all." He laughed. "Need a towel?"
"No, thanks." The gym doesn't give out towels -- you have to subscribe to a towel service for $10 extra per month. I bring my own.
"On the house." He passes a towel at me. "If you need any help stretching or anything, let me know."
Casey is definitely going out of his way to indicate that he is a gay ally -- or gay himself.
The Locker Room
I have to use the urinal and the drinking fountain, so I walk through the locker room in my Gay Pride T-Shirt.
This is fun. Not Attitude so much as deer-in-the-headlights stares as guys read my t-shirt and turn away. Wouldn't want the gay guy to get ideas!
There's a twink in a wheelchair who always works out in the late afternoon, taking forever: 20 minutes on the incline press machine, never moving or letting someone else squeeze in between sets. Then an older guy, his father or brother or boyfriend, helps him shower and dress. Right now the twink is naked in the wheelchair, his uncut Bratwurst hanging out. He reads my t-shirt and smiles. His father or brother or boyfriend quickly grabs a towel and covers him.
I'm tired of these epater le bourgeois antics. I shower, change clothes, and head back upstairs to see what Casey is up to.