If my wife dressed better, would gay guys stop hitting on me?

I'm a snappy dresser, and the other night, my wife and I were hanging out in this gay bar ...


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Cary Tennis
March 27, 2006 4:00PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My wife and I have been together since college and married for over six years, and recently had an incident with a male gay couple that has left us debating clothing styles. I have always been the snappier dresser between the two of us. In many ways, she has never left the hippie look from college. She is hot but has always chosen to downplay her looks. On the other hand, I was frequently referred to as a metrosexual (when the word was in). I always iron my shirts, wear form-fitting clothes like leather pants, polish my shoes, etc. I have been occasionally asked by random strangers if I am gay. Both of us have always accepted the way each other dressed.

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We are both socially liberal, and were out recently at a bar that is frequented by gay couples. We were seated at a table listening to a band when I received a drink from a waitress who told me that the drink was from two guys seated a few tables away from us. I waved to them and suggested that my wife and I join them, thinking that they were just being friendly. Big mistake. It turned out the two guys were gay and were soon all over me. Needless to say, my wife was not amused, while I just laughed it off. While sharing the story with a couple of good friends later, I suggested that if my wife took the trouble to dress up more then perhaps gay men would not hit on her husband. We have been debating that issue since then. I thought I would ask you.

Would a gay guy be less likely to hit on me if my wife were dressed up more and even had makeup on, as opposed to the hippie look that she favors? There is the option of my changing my dress style, but I think that since I was not the one complaining about the incident, I should not be the one to change. Any thoughts?

Amused in North Carolina

Dear Amused,

Sometimes, in trying to discover the hidden message that might be lurking in a sentence, it is useful to stare at it until it begins to look like something else. I have a feeling this is what poets do sometimes, and perhaps also psychoanalysts.

I have been staring at this sentence for a while, watching how it changes shape and meaning: "I suggested that if my wife took the trouble to dress up more then perhaps gay men would not hit on her husband."

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I recognize in this rather impossible formulation the trickster, or rather the mind working as the trickster, inverting meaning in order to serve desire's purposes of subterfuge. I certainly don't think it's anything as simple as just "You're obviously a latent homosexual." Rather, I imagine that in your world, certain kinds of play provide an outlet for socially unacceptable notions as well as for the erotic in a larger sense -- not the homoerotic particularly but more generally the love of style, color, fashion, appearance, theatricality, fine things: the sensual realm.

The sentence itself, being so absurd, reflects a reality that is utterly unrecognizable, like an inkblot. It has no clear meaning of its own; it is, rather, a conundrum, a shadow, a mystery.

In staring at it, it's hard to know what to focus on at first. But I focus on "gay men would not hit on her husband." It sounds like a trope for something gone awry. "Gay guys hitting on me" is a metaphor for something, a displacement of desire perhaps, an erotic frustration, something.

It might be restated thusly: "I suggested to her that if she took the trouble to dress up more, then perhaps X might happen," X being some positive and desired outcome. But what would that be?

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Perhaps "gay men hitting on me" is a metaphor for your own heterosexual desire being misdirected or misinterpreted. Then by playing this game with her, what you are saying is that you want her to change the way she dresses in order to reorder your own desire. That's a roundabout way of asking. But then you are playing a complicated game.

I'm familiar with the use of riddles and circuitous, apparently nonsensical formulations to address taboo topics. It's very "amusing" but also can be cruel toward those who are left guessing what it is you are really asking for.

And it can get very complicated. Perhaps you do have homoerotic desires that are playing out here. Or perhaps they are only a metaphor.

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If we reverse the phrase "gay men hitting on her husband" to "her husband hitting on gay men," then we have an expression of your desire possibly being channeled into forbidden areas. Not necessarily homosexual areas; it could be women or anybody; it's the desire and its rechanneling that are significant

And what about this: What if it had been two women at the bar who sent you over the drink? You wouldn't have gone over there. Flirting with gay men is presumably OK because they are off limits. By choosing something that is by tacit agreement not actually an option, the taboo desire for others can be raised.

So I think the homoerotic represents something that you cannot have or are not allowed to want. You are uncomfortable telling your wife that you wish she would dress differently, so instead, your anxiety and discomfort wind through back channels to become this odd riddle. It is your way of raising an issue without appearing to raise it.

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Very clever of you. But also a little vexing.

It could be very frustrating for someone else to figure all this out. So I suggest, for your wife's sake, that at the expense of being so amusing, you try to be a little more direct.

So now why don't you two just sit down and talk about what is actually going on? Because it's not really very nice to toy with people -- either gay guys or your wife. If everyone understands the game, I suppose it is fine and amusing. But I would ask: Do you really understand what you're doing? And does your wife? Does she really know what you're asking for? Do you?

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