I was driving two big guys to a house in Malletts Bay. Apparently they had been downtown on the prowl for women and had struck out. They were disappointed and expressed it with anger the one emotion so many men in our culture give themselves permission to display. Not, thankfully, smash-the-taxi-window-angry; just peeved-and-ornery angry.
We were driving past a downtown bar when my seatmate turned to his buddy in the back and said, Randy, you know I went to school with the guy who owns that place.
Youre kidding, Tommy. Randy replied. That guy is a big, fat faggot a real flamer.
Tell me about it. The funny thing is, his family owns that auto supply place, and theyre all normal.
We turned onto North Champlain Street, en route to the Northern Connector. I just listened to their conversation. I hate this kind of dull, casual prejudice. Sometimes I say something; usually I dont unless the customer tries to enlist me in it.
Tommy did. He suddenly spoke to me. What, man? You must think something about what were talking about.
You really want to know? I asked.
I, myself, am completely disinterested in what another man does with his penis, so long as he isnt hurting anybody. I mean, Christ, dont we have more important things to worry about in this world than that?
Sure, okay, Tommy said. I dont have any trouble with gays. Its just the flamers. They should be sent away to some island somewhere. They make me sick. Do you see what Im saying?
Look, I continued, I got something to say about that, but you aint gonna like it.
No, no go ahead, man. I want to hear it.
I look at it like this: If youre secure with who you are, being a heterosexual and all that, why should it bother you even one bit if some other guy wants to dress up and act all girly-girly? I mean, who cares?
Sure, yeah, riiiight, Tommy came back. Thats it Im insecure in my sexuality. Maybe I just cant stomach flamers. Didja ever think it could be as simple as that?
I dont know what it is for you, man, I conceded. I truly dont.
Ive been in conversations like this before, and it seemed like the right stop to get off the train. At a certain point, these debates are not about logic or reason, so why bother? Still, there was something about this guys attitude a part of him seemed cognizant of how wrong he was, even while he continued spewing garbage.
Okay, I ventured. You wanna try this one on for size? This is the thing about these men youre calling flamers. You know how sometimes acting like a man can be a pain in the ass? Like being tough and macho all the time gets a little tiring? Well, these flamers couldnt care less! I mean God bless em theyve totally opted out of the whole manly game. Aint it refreshing, in a way?
What the friggin hell are you talkin about, man? Randy, who I thought had tuned out of the conversation, apparently had been listening quite intently. And he didnt like what he was hearing.
One of these guys comes on to me, Randy continued, Ill kick his freakin ass so fast, Ill knock out him and his family!
Well, thats something else, I replied. I was in too deep to get out now. Were not talkin about anybody hitting on anybody.
Dont listen to Randy, Tommy said. Believe me when I tell ya, hes a bigger moron than me.
Oh, yeah? Randy shot back. Well, I might be, like, a bigger moron than you, but youre a bigger faggot than me!
Oh, this guys brilliant, I thought. Hes like the mother who, in the heat of an argument, calls her offspring a son of a bitch.
We were nearing the end of the Connector, crossing the wide Heineberg Bridge into Colchester. This has been one dopey discussion, I noted to myself, though not a heck of a lot different from so many of these late-night taxi palavers.
We turned right onto Tommys street, coming to a stop in front of his familys home. Apparently Randy was staying overnight; there was some talk of Spaghettios and ESPN-2. We pulled up to the house, and Tommy turned to me as he fished out the money for the fare.
I want you to know something, he said. Im the only one in my family who thinks this way. Theyre all, like, real liberal and everything. They dont understand how I believe this stuff. So dont hold it against them.
I couldnt hold my tongue. This whole thing started with a conversation about normal families and their supposed black sheep.
Let me get this right, man, I said. Youre worried that your intolerant attitude might reflect badly on your family. Did you ever consider that this flamer guy who got you so in a tizzy, well, his family might be completely accepting and even proud of him?
Jeez, Tommy replied. Thats kinda ironic.
Yeah, I said. Kinda.