Calum McSwiggan

The Gay Chameleon

In Eat, Gay on June 8, 2012 at 8:08 am

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but rather the one most adaptable to change’

– Leon C. Megginson

As I sit writing this in a coffee shop in Portugal, one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, I can’t help but think about the way I adapt my personality to suit my environment. I happily mince around the accepting countries of the world like Spain, England, and Holland, but when it comes to countries with homophobic beliefs, I cover up my sexuality like it’s something I’m ashamed of.

Whilst teaching in Italy last year, I stayed with several different host families, and although they were all friendly, loving, and generous, my employer had warned me not to mention the gay thing. Despite my conflicting ideals, I heeded this advice and routinely slipped my engagement ring into my pocket before every breakfast, lunch and dinner, hoping to avoid any unwanted questions.

Sooner or later the truth would surface, though, and they’d ask about my fiancé. I’d fumble nervously and make up spur of the moment lies about the girl I was engaged to, and when they asked to see pictures, I showed them drunken photographs of me and my best friend kissing- it was proof enough, and the subject wouldn’t be brought up again.

One family, though, were relentlessly homophobic- they treated me with such generosity and kindness, yet, because of their Catholic background, were against everything I stood for. They made outrageously inappropriate jokes over dinner and one evening the father even told me that gay people disgust him.

I felt like I was having dinner with the Berlusconis; you can imagine my discomfort when they later told me that I’d have to share a bed with their seventeen year old son. I could hardly explain to them why this was massively inappropriate, and if I complained I would have seemed ungrateful, so, later that evening, I reluctantly climbed into bed with the homophobes’ son.

Despite being tired from spending the whole day playing Olly Olly Octopus with energetic ten year olds, I couldn’t catch a wink of sleep. I had to keep reminding myself where I was and who was in the bed beside me, terrified that in my half-asleep state I would try to give him a reach-around.

I never thought I’d say this, but spending the night with a semi-naked seventeen year old Italian, was, without a doubt, the worst night of my life.

I’m flying back to Italy this evening, and I’m preparing myself to once again pretend to be a straight man. My hard-drive is readied with pictures of my ‘girlfriend’, my gay pride flag and Little Box of Big Gay Love are hidden away in the recesses of my back-pack, and luckily I no longer have to worry about wearing that troublesome engagement band.

Although I hate not being true to myself, I look forward to playing this game of pretend. Gay men are like chameleons, we’re incredibly talented at adapting to our surroundings; through growing up we learn to disguise our sexuality in the face of adversity, and in a world where we can’t be true to who we are, wherever we are, it’s a tool that serves us well.

Now, I must dash, I think Ronaldo’s house is near here and I’m going to go see if I can blend into his bed-sheets.

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