Okay, I had a bit of a revelation this past week. As I wrote here, for most of my life, I have had trouble maintaining eye contact with many men for fear of what they might see in my eyes, i.e., that I’m gay. I have written how I have been consciously working at maintaining eye contact in an effort to affirm myself and conquer that fear. I’m still working on that; every day I work on that. And I enjoy the small victories when they come and coach myself when I think I could have done better.
Well, a couple of days ago, I went to a local tire shop to have my snow tires put on. The guy who helped me was probably about 27, clean-cut, not unattractive. As soon as he handed me the form to fill out, however, my developing gaydar went off ever so slightly. He seemed a little nervous. But I thought: tire place? This is a bastion of deer-hunting, truck-driving, sports-watching, pot-bellied masculinity. Nah, not him. (Besides, it’s probably, I thought, just my gay adolescence again.)
I went and sat down to wait for the tires to be changed. It wasn’t long, however, before he came around the corner and told me that my existing tires were totally shot and that I really needed new tires. He told me he could give me a “killer deal.” Again, the look, the je ne sais quoi that made me sense that this guy was covertly attracted to men. I asked him to get me a price. He came back a few minutes later. Again, the same feeling. I decided to get the tires. He smiled a big smile (did his face redden slightly?) and he disappeared around the corner.
By then, the place was filling up with several men that fit the description of the type of men I would expect to see in a tire place (see above). And, again, I thought, Naw, Not this guy. I must be mistaken.
But the clincher was when my car was finished and I went to pay the bill. Glances. Eye contact. Hand my card. Trouble with their card transmission thing. Said I’d pay by check if that was ok. Eye contact. Nervous smile (on his part). (I was being, I’m very proud to say, cool.) The clincher was when – during this going back and forth, smiling, eye contact – he actually blushed – profusely – at one point. Then, I felt I knew. I smiled, thanked him and left.
Okay. So what’s the point of this story? It didn’t dawn on me until the next day: I realized – duh – that not only have I spent my life avoiding eye contact with certain men because I was afraid of what they might see in my eyes, but also because I was afraid of what I might see in their eyes.
Simple to say, but this realization hit me like a ton of bricks: I have, since puberty, been so paranoid, so afraid of being “recognized” and called out to any degree (even when it could have led to what I secretly desired), that I have studiously, assiduously avoided eye contact with many men for fear of what I might see in their eyes. This experience with the guy at the tire store taught me that, and for that, I am grateful.