The ball might go further if you weren't hitting it like a fag."
I marched back to the cart and stuck my club into the bag. "Thanks," I said, remembering how much I hated golf. "I'll try to keep that in mind."
"Anytime," Pepperoni replied, cracking open another Coors Light.
Ah, yes. Nothing quite like an afternoon of sports with the guys"the guys" in this case being my three former university roommates. And Pepperoni. He was a friend of a friend, someone I'd just met a few hours ago. He seemed pleasant enough at firstan electrician with a name I didn't catch, but "Pepperoni" sounded close. He had the skinniest legs I'd ever seen on a man. Seriously. They were like two furry pretzel sticks. I couldn't figure out how they kept him upright without snapping in half.
Things were fine until Pepperoni had a couple of beers before we left for the golf course. Then another couple before we teed off. And faster than I could say "ESPN," Pepperoni had devolved into one of those annoying testosterone titans. I'd forgotten about men like him, as I'm rarely in the company of men who use "party" as a verb.
When one of my friends bent over in front of Pepperoni to claim his golf ball, Pepperoni told him not to get too close.
"I close my eyes and it feels the same to me," he said.
I rolled my eyes, not believing anyone could seriously be like this. I mean, we were in our 30s, for chrissakes.
Then Pepperoni told us a story about how he got drunk and fucked a fat chick.
"You didn't tell him about me, did you?" I asked another one of my friends as we sped away in our carts.
"It never really came up," he shrugged. "And we weren't sure how he'd react."
"Great," I replied. "That's just swell."
What my former roomies didn't tell Pepperoni was that I was the gay one in the group. I was the one with the color-coordinated dorm room. The one who managed to skip out of every impromptu football game. The one who referred to my shirts as "tops." At the time, I was amazed that they never suspected. But experience has shown me that, all too often, straight men don't. Stop. To. Consider. Things.
For example, did it even occur to my friends that inviting a homophobe to spend the day with us might not be the brightest idea?
"He calls everyone a fag," another friend reasoned. "It's nothing personal."
I watched as Pepperoni pulled out a cigar and began a long process of trying to light it, muttering a string of obscenities every time a breeze kicked up and blew out his match.
I'd spent the majority of my high-school years cowering from guys like Pepperoni. When I moved into an all-male residence my first year of university, I didn't know how I was going to survive. I spent most of the year avoiding everyone, ducking out of the room whenever sports were discussed, and half-heartedly yelling "YEAH!" every time breasts were mentioned. I made a pathetic straight guyand for that reason, I seemed to fit right in. By the time the first year ended, I had my very first group of male friends.
We shared a house for two years and in the last year, I came out to them. At first, there was the usual freak-out as they stopped to consider how many times I'd seen them in their underwear. But after time, they warmed up and everything went back to normal.
Or so I thought.
As I stood there on the golf course, watching Pepperoni roll his cigar between his teeth, I realized that eight holes of golf had gone by. Eight holes of getting called a fag and a pansy with a couple of ass-fucking jokes thrown in for good measure. And I had yet to stand up for myself.
Part of the reason for my silence was that I could see through Pepperoni's machismo like Saran Wrap. The joke would always be on him and I felt a small tug of sympathy knowing that he would likely be oblivious to that fact for the rest of his life.
Another reason was that I had allowed him to call me a fag for close to two hours. I couldn't suddenly throw a hissy fit without looking like a complete idiot. ("Oh, that does it! I didn't mind the first 12 times you called me fag, but you've really crossed the line now!")
Another reason was that I hate conflict and avoid it wherever possible. So, instead of rising to the challenge, I'm more likely to stick my tail between my legs and make excuses for not standing up for myself.
Another reason was that, in spite of the road I'd traveled, I was still a 34-year-old gay man afraid of guys like Pepperoni.
But the biggest reason for my silence was that I was waiting for my straight friends to stand up to the asshole they'd invited to our golf game. And they never did. They golfed in their silence, just like me, as Pepperoni belched through his insults.
When we finally made it to the 18th hole, I almost bent down to kiss the ground, but held back, not wanting to give Pepperoni the pleasure of another punch line. He, by this point, was having trouble balancing his ball on the tee.
"Funkin' faggot," he slurred as the ball rolled off again.
"Just so I'm clear," I said to one of my former roomies. "He thinks the golf ball takes it up the ass now, too?"
I should have told Pepperoni his comments weren't welcome. My friends should have, too. In fact, they should have told Pepperoni that their gay friend Brian was joining them on the golf course. And that if he had a problem with it, he should stay home. But I didn't. And they didn't. Not this time. But I told myself there wouldn't be a next time. I would either stand up or I'd demand my former roomies say something.
Straight men: Stop to consider things. And stand up for your gay friends. We have more to offer than your straight friends. We help get you laid (ladies will love the fact you have gay friends, you sexy, sensitive man, you). We will also give you hair-care product advice, baby-sit your kids, and tell your wives that blowjobs are mandatory for any happy relationship and should be administered at least three times per week. Oh, we'll also assure her that the amount of porn you watch is completely normal.
And since gay men break every single societal rule about what it means to be a man, we'll take you as you are, not as you're expected to be. You want to cry? Cry, damnit! You want to express insecurities about your body? We're all ears! You want to tell us how you like to wear women's lingerie? Tell us your size and we'll shop for you!
Your support should extend off the golf course, as well. It can be a nasty world out there for gay men and lesbians. (Lesbians, by the way, make fabulous golf partners.) Having gay friends means that there are moments when you're going to have to choose sides. It means keeping us in mind when you vote, when you judge other relationships, when you invite people like Pepperoni into your social circles. Simply put, gay friends come with price tags. But in the end, who would you rather have in your corner—someone like me or someone like Pepperoni? (Did I mention the porn validation thing?)
Speaking of Pepperoni, he ended up way over par. I came out ahead of him. But I didn't want to rub it in his face. He had already won the game that day, anyway. ■
Brian Francis is the author of The Secret Fruit of Peter Paddington, published this July by Harper Perennial.