“Baby, have you seen my black belt?” I frantically search through the drawer where we keep our belts hoping it is there.
“There’s one on the dresser.”
“Are you kidding?” I scoff. “That belt is for jeans. I’m looking for the thinner one for dress trousers.”
My wife thinks I might have a gay man trapped inside my hetero body. She wouldn’t be the first and I’m guessing she won’t be the last. In fact, I found out the other day what I long suspected – many people where I work thought (some might still think if they don’t know any better) that I am gay. My wife knows I’m not, and judging by the state I left her hair right before bed last night, she woke up this morning after I had gone to work wondering why she ever believed there was a gay man trapped inside me somewhere.
For most of my adult life I have been asked, or it was assumed, that I was gay. I have no brothers, only two incredible sisters to bond with. The wonderful thing about having two sisters and no brothers is that you learn to shop; you learn to dress so women will notice you. The trouble is; men will notice you as well. When you’re younger, cocksure and arrogant, the unwanted overtures of a man are enough to raise your anger and send a shudder down your entire body. Naivety, immaturity, and a lack of knowledge are kindling for arrogance and attrition. While I never caused bodily harm, or even threatened anyone who approached me, my reaction was to utter a few curse words in the general direction of my suitor and leave as quickly as I could.
Gradually, my reactions started to tame and I just accepted it as a mighty compliment and moved on. When I got to college (in my 30s) I had had enough worldly experiences to know a thing or two about life, and I knew who I was, who I wanted to become, and how I fit into the chasm my friends and I existed in. Having witnessed so many of my single friends out at bars and in other social settings, I picked up on many things I thought would give me the edge in a sometimes cruel dating world. And many times, they did.
I can remember sitting around between classes in college and a group of us were enjoying lunch and some candid banter. One of the girls, Jo, decided to go around the table and check to see how many of the men were wearing matches shoes and belts. It turns out, only one: me. I was the only one who had an idea how to color coordinate as well. When she sat down she just said, “if I didn’t know that you lived with your girlfriend, I’d be setting you up with my friend Michael.” Naturally the jokes followed, lasting the entire four years of schooling, but it didn’t bother me in the slightest.
At about the same time my stutter seemed to vanish enough to hold conversations and I forgot that I was pigeon-toed. I discovered, that with a bit of effort, I good be a good-looking guy. I was never going to impress anybody with my physique (I think I’m a little scrawny), so I thought the best way to stand out is to physically stand out. I’d wear a hoodie with a blazer and jeans for a twist on things. My own personal style carried off with confidence. I would buy shoes, lots of shoes, sometimes having a pair that could only be worn with one shirt. While I never used any facial products or went for manicures, I did have hairdresser at one of the top end salons, and would get my monthly pampering that way. And if having 35 pairs of shoes is excessive for a straight man, the other straight men just don’t know what they’re missing.
The fact I went many years without a girlfriend probably did me no favours. My string of flings, as we all call my early relationships, meant that my friends never saw me with any girls for any length of time. And when I paid more attention to the wives and girlfriends of my friends than I did to other girls getting drunk at a bar, I guess I can see where an outsider might misinterpret my actions.
Oh, and there’s another thing, just because I can spend hours in a shopping mall doesn’t necessarily mean I’m gay. And get over your insecurities already; Johnny Depp is a good looking guy! I’m man enough to say it.
When I got to Saudi, my natural instincts of flirting and small talk took a back seat to shyness and safety. I had heard stories of people being fired, or worse, for being too friendly to people here – and people have a very different view of what constitutes sexual harassment. I decided it was easier to avoid eye contact, and only speak when spoken to. If they said hello, I’d say hello. With most of the population out looking for a spouse, I was just watching my shoes...that matched my belt of course.
Coming out here single is difficult. The clock ticks during the day; at night it can get awfully quiet and awfully long. As such, many local expatriates do they all they can to get you involved in social activities as soon as they can. I was soon involved in a running club, a theatre group and was playing soccer. Throw in a party every week and I was never at home during the evenings. My best friend here, an American, and I were inseparable. He even went on my grand tour of Africa, where we spent 4 weeks touring 4 countries with 10 other people. The theatre group put on a pantomime performance of Aladdin and I played Widow Twankey, Aladdin’s mother, and had 6 costume changes. I felt like Cher. And all the while I would avoid the Arab women who wanted a man who was not an Arab.
So when I ran into a woman who used to work here and she said she was surprised when she saw my wedding photos on Facebook because she thought I was gay, I wasn’t completely surprised. I checked my hair in the reflection from the metal strip on the door, checked my watch (with a strap the same colour as my belt and shoes), commented on the photo of her new husband (I said he was a good looking guy – she had done well) and walked away.
So when I say I will wear a blue shirt because it brings out my eyes, I mean that blue is my favourite colour. When I sing along to the Sound of Music and other musicals, it just means the Welshman in me is holding onto his heritage; Wales is the land of song after all. And when I tell Kirsty she should do more yoga because it makes her skin look healthier, like it cleanses her pores, I have no idea why she giggles and calls me “the gayest straight man ever”.