It usually takes me twenty minutes getting ready in front of the mirror. If I had hair, it would take more. But beyond the silent questions whether I stand out in a crowd without being too conspicuous, whether the prints and colors compliment each other, another blatant one nags: Do I look gay?
“A little vanity,” according to Bunny Jeans, “reflects a healthy ego.” Unlike Narcissus, I’d like to think that all my primping is far from egotistical. Though I’ve always considered what other people think of me to be somehow important, I am not consumed by it. Not to the point that it renders me immobile or riddled in pretention, but other people’s impressions of me does matter in a way.
Ever since I started sporting the skinhead look, impressions have hounded me. They’re mostly the wrong ones, but all fascinating nonetheless. People are intimidated, often perceiving me as arrogant, a bad boy, or terribly temperamental. The negativity seems to increase whenever I keep silent, smoke my cigarette, and let my facial hair grow. Dark circles from lack of sleep or a self-imposed fast can make me look like a rapist or druggie. In my commutes, I see people either avoiding me or carefully minding their space. When I stayed with my brother in California some time ago, I remember that no amount of sorbet-colored clothes could shake off the impression that I may be some Mexican thug. Passing by a gasoline station one time and seeing an American teen glare and spit in my direction made me really nervous.
A friend of mine once said that I look straight, but when I open my mouth it becomes another story. Yeah, I can talk a lot. I usually have a lazy and soft inflection, which is possibly influenced by my Southern upbringing. But I can dribble like a thespian too, especially when I get carried away in a conversation. I must admit that my penchant for proper enunciation and pronunciation borders on the compulsive. I play with accents randomly and have been mistaken to have gone to school or grown-up abroad, either in the United Kingdom or the United States. Honestly.
My voice is peculiar and another matter altogether. I can bellow like a cow when I sing as a bass-baritone, but my speaking voice straddles breathy and light. I rarely shriek but howl like an ogre when a cockroach flies by. It never fails that whenever I’d like the attention of a server in a restaurant, I call them in the lowest voice possible. It really works. I get what I want and I get it fast.
I’ve also been accused by my students before and some acquaintances of being a party boy. I do listen to house music and actively socialize whenever I’m out and about, but I’d rather a quiet night. I like to watch movies, have dinner, dessert and coffee, a chill nightcap, and meandering conversations with friends. When I ask them why they see me that way, it’s apparently how I dress. If you asked me what my fashion aesthetic is, I’d describe it as “edgy preppy.” Sometimes I experiment with monochrome, adding a dash of loud colors, but never like the freakish abandon of Lady Gaga. I’d like to think my bald head brings to mind images of a DJ, a rowdy club, and parties that break at dawn.
So, do I look gay? My sister is usually swift to reply: “But aren’t you, hunny?” It’s funny how both questions are rhetorical. True. I am. But my concern lies more in people’s perception of me. Nobody likes to be misunderstood, misconstrued, or even mortified with some miscast idea of themselves. The truth is, impressions can be frustrating because we are unable to justify ourselves immediately with reasons or explanations. Impressions are private thought bubbles that can be dangerous. They can ruin relationships before they even start. They also weaken paranoid, over-thinking, quasi-vane individuals like me.