Common Sensual:<br />
Sexuality and Shades of Gray

How gay are you?

Weeks after Frank Ocean released his magnetic Channel Orange—and admitted via Tumblr that the first love of his life was another guy—I found myself in a car cruising the largely gay area of NYC’s West Village in search of a Coldplay concert after-party. As we pulled up, the driver’s wife made an off-color joke about two dudes crossing Greenwich Street hand-in-hand (This right after talk of getting up early for church the next day…another story.) Her comment made me think of Chris Rock’s old line about women who don’t give fellatio: They still make you?

Then I wondered if I would’ve considered her gag funny if my best friend wasn’t a bisexual man.

Blaise and I hit it off right away our first semester of college, forming a little crew of style-conscious hip-hop lovers (rap circa De La Soul) to storm the clubs and the gym with. Male-bonding bromance at its finest, our five-man posse navigated young adulthood through sunrise dorm-room ciphers and other typical school daze adventures. Blaise sang, but he was also the best dancer of us all; we’d always sic him on female students trying to get their Paula Abdul on. When he left school to go after a record deal, years went by before I’d see him again. We met at a McDonald’s in midtown Manhattan the summer I graduated and Blaise made a brave confession. He was bisexual.

His admission wasn’t the biggest surprise. Plenty of people had their suspicions in college, not just about Blaise, but about our whole crew hanging around each other all the time. It’s one of the reasons why I’d never jumped to conclusions about him before. My sexuality had definitely been questioned a few times, and I refused to put that guessing game on other people. Like Blaise, I grew up in the androgynous ’80s era of Prince (my biggest teenage hero) and Michael Jackson. When hip-hop grew a little softer and nuanced with groups like A Tribe Called Quest, I saw my reflection. I never gave a damn about sports (except maybe boxing), never defined my manhood by the size of my ride or my deltoids. I always thought that living up to society’s mandated model of what it considers a man was a little bit corny.

For many men, any homeboy’s coming out would pretty much be a deal-breaker for the friendship. A homophobic knee-jerk reaction might be fear that your boy could be sexually attracted to you. Another might be panic over everyone assuming you’re just as gay as he is, some sort of secretive down-low brother. (Just by writing this week’s column, X amount of readers will assume certain things about where I’m really coming from.) Facing a close friend’s bisexuality is a self-defining moment. Do you drift apart? Does the gay thing start shading your entire relationship? To keep it real, would my own reaction have been different if Blaise was more flamboyant? Blaise and I remained close friends. In fact, he quickly became even more of a BFF. Not even a near argument with my ex-gf strained things between us.

Just by writing this week’s column, X amount of readers will assume certain things about where I’m really coming from.

The night started innocently enough. My Jamaican gal Bangladesh, Blaise and I sat at my kitchen roundtable talking about Brad Pitt on the cover of that week’s Rolling Stone. The magazine had styled Pitt wearing a bunch of dresses to promote Fight Club. Bangladesh complained about the emasculation of pretty-boy celebrities, as if the first thing the media always wants to do is serve them up to a homosexual audience. She hated Brad Pitt in a dress. Blaise, unsurprisingly, said the dresses were just pieces of fabric, and what’s the big deal? He brought up manly Muslims wearing hijabs, and basically stood his ground in disagreement. I had nothing much to say, too busy doing tennis match head-turns watching the two of them go at it.

“My homegirl thinks he’s in love with you,” she told me after Blaise bounced.

“Somehow, I doubt that,” I said, cracking up. Down the line, the two reached an impasse. By the summertime, I was dating someone else, but Blaise was still my homeboy.

Male sexuality, sexuality in general, has always been a much greyer area than advertised. When your best friend is bisexual, those grey areas get a lot more obvious. Taking off the Super Straight Man blinders for a second, isn’t hardcore hip-hop one of the most homoerotic things you’ve ever seen half the time? Isn’t football too, muscled men in tights bending over in front of one another, smacking each other on the ass? Aren’t historically Black fraternities, just a little bit? (C’mon, admit it.) Anal sex figures in most homophobic punch lines, but in private most Super Straight Men brag about taking girls from behind in exactly the same way, spazzing out on porn featuring the exact same act.