by: Jason Waddell
“Never turn down an event with free food.”
My college money-saving mantra led to dinners with a group called “Jews for Jesus”, an underground tour with a university group that called themselves the “KGB”, and the vice-presidency of the Carnegie Mellon Astronomy Club (colloquially referred to as “Pizza Club”).
As a gainfully employed adult, the mantra has evolved into the nourishment-neutral “never pass up unique experiences.”
Last Sunday, despite some fairly strong base instincts to curl up in bed with a Murakami paperback, I biked across town to my friend Dave’s hipster-themed surprise birthday party.
There I met Dave’s gay friend Paul.
“The last time I went dancing, I got asked if I was gay. Twice. I took it as a compliment.”
This comment piqued Paul’s interest, and conversation moved to Paul’s passion: the Eurovision Song Contest. Despite being a cultural sensation in Europe, Eurovision-fever somehow hasn’t penetrated the North American market. For those unaware, Eurovision can be described as a campy, over-the-top American Idol on LSD.
The party turned to dancing as classic Eurovision anthems played on the iPad. I educated Paul on trashy American dance maneuvers like the two-person fishing line and the funky chicken, and shared my secret three-step procedure for looking like the world’s biggest creep on the dance floor.
Paul tells me that he’s involved in Eurovision fan club, and next week club members are gathering from around the world for a week-long meetup in Leuven, Belgium. He extended me an invitation to their Saturday evening festivities.
Days later I would receive a late-night message from Paul. Apparently my dance moves had given him some insecurities.
Saturday arrives and I drive to Leuven for the second time in as many weeks. I join the group at the end of their meal, and am welcomed with open arms. But there’s no mistaking that I’m a bit of a black sheep.
“So you’re a Eurovision fan?”
“Well, I actually didn’t even know it existed until last week.”
“Oh, but you’re a good friend of Paul’s then?”
“I met him last week too.”
Still, the group is very friendly and inquisitive, and they warm up to me as I do dramatic readings from some atrociously written self-published book about a Eurovision love story.
“A 500 page story about two men falling in love during Eurovision week and not a single sex scene”, bemoans the man to my right.
“Well, it is written by a woman. Maybe she just isn’t familiar with the, uh, mechanics?”
We move to a museum’s cafe that has been rented out for our private dance party.
The demographics of the party are unlike any I’ve ever attended: 30 gay men, 3 straight women, and me. It’s the first time I’ve felt that being a straight male made me in any way unique.
The first couple hours at the cafe are spent chatting, and everybody is refreshingly open with me. One of my complaints about Belgians, and perhaps Europeans more generally, is that most people are very emotionally guarded, and consequently I find it very difficult to connect. But the vibe is different here. Complete strangers talk with me about very personal topics, like how long they knew they were gay before coming out, and the experience of dating (or in one case, being engaged to) women while knowingly in the closet.
Dancing finally picks up and I hit the floor. I’m decidedly at a disadvantage, as I don’t know any of the music. Others around me mimic choreographed moves from the Eurovision competitions, and I’m left to improvise. It’s nice to dance without any romantic or sexual pretext though. I’m not there to attract anyone’s attention, but I’m noticed nonetheless.
“You dance very gay.”
I sit out one of the numbers, and the only woman in my age group comes to chat. She arrived late to the party, and isn’t a part of the fan club either, but lives in town and happens to be a Eurovision enthusiast. From the way that she talks to me, I can tell she assumes I’m gay.
“I think you’re very sexy out there!”
As we talk she digs into her bra to retrieve a drink voucher, then adjusts her exceptionally low-cut top in front of me. For the first time in my life I employ the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach. Later in the evening she’s apparently heard something through the grapevine, and asks “wait, so you’re straight?”.
The jig is up.
There’s a noticeable shift in the dynamic. She’s still friendly, but I don’t think she’s going to be calling me sexy again any time soon. I mention this to one of the men later on.
“As a gay man, you can kiss a girl on the neck and cup her breasts, and it’s fine because there’s no sexual pressure. I’ve touched more breasts since coming out than when I was straight. A gay man can finger a girl and she’ll think you’re just being flirty.”
That last bit may have been for effect.
Every time I go to take a breather someone inevitably drags me back to the dance floor. Paul initiates a fishing line and I flop my way across the floor to thunderous applause.
A visibly drunk guy named Bart approaches me.
“Can I talk to you under the table?”
under the table
“On a scale of 0 to 100, how gay are you?”
“Pretty close to zero.”
“So you never fooled around with boys when you were growing up?”
“No, I’ve never looked at a man and felt attraction towards him.”
“Oh don’t worry honey, I’m not trying to hit on you. There’s like, two other guys at the party I’d try to fuck before you.”
Later in the evening Bart returns.
“Hey Jason, can you help me make Stijn jealous?”
I can do nothing of the sort.
I return to the dance floor. An older Swedish guy fashions my hair into a faux hawk to match his own. As the party nears a close, I dance myself to exhaustion. The penultimate song of the evening is the consensus pick for gayest song ever produced.
The party ends at four in the morning, and I’m far too tired to drive back to Antwerp. Paul offers to let me crash at a flat he and some of the other club members have rented out, and I gladly accept. Paul thanks me for coming out. He says he has a very segmented social life, and most of his friends aren’t willing to cross the threshold to see what the Eurovision side of his life is like. Even if they try, nobody has dived in the way I did. I thank him for inviting me. It was a really fun night.