Do you have to be gay to tell another guy his eyes are pretty?

My gaydar says my good-looking co-worker is gay, but he pretends otherwise.

Published June 26, 2007 10:35AM (EDT)

Dear Cary:

Not long ago, I started working at an office that deals with HIV/AIDS. Most of the men who work there, including myself, are, unsurprisingly, gay, but there are a handful of men who work there who apparently are straight.

One of my male co-workers, whom I'll call "Mike," was an immediate blip -- a big blip -- on my gaydar when I first laid eyes on him (and my gaydar is pretty damned accurate). However, when I first saw him, he worked in a different part of the office, and therefore I had little to no contact with him, and I pretty much wrote him off as a pretty boy who considered himself way too good to stoop to even talk to me. (That's a reality in the gay world, unfortunately -- "interfacial" relationships are rare, and while I certainly don't consider myself to be unattractive, Mike is out of my league as far as looks are concerned. [At least the average gay man would deem that to be the case.])

Well, not too terribly long ago, Mike was moved close to my work space, and lo and behold, I have found out that not only does he talk to me socially, but he actually has a personality and some brains to go along with his gay-porn-star-level body and face.

Mike maintains his heterosexuality, although in a strange, indirect way. He hasn't really ever come out and said, directly, that he is straight or he is not gay, but apparently he likes to keep people guessing. He doesn't talk about his love life at all. Someone who is as attractive as he is could get just about any man or woman he wanted, but again, he doesn't kiss and tell.

Today at work, Mike did something that rattled me: He looked at my face for a few moments. I thought there must be something wrong, maybe a booger hanging out of one of my nostrils or something. Finally he stated, "You have pretty eyes." (My eyes are probably my best feature.)

You know the saying "Them's fightin' words"? Well, "You have pretty eyes," to me, is what I'd call "mating words" -- words that you don't say to someone unless you are sexually interested in him, especially if you are a guy saying those words to another guy.

When I expressed my surprise that he would say something like that to me, Mike didn't claim that he was just joking or playing around, but made some comment to the effect that he is comfortable enough with his (alleged hetero)sexuality to be able to say anything and not worry about how it might be taken. (He has used this "defense" before, when he has said or done something suspiciously "Brokeback" and it has been called to his attention.)

So, Cary, my central question is: Um, do straight guys ever say to another guy, "You have pretty eyes"? I mean, I can see a straight guy thinking that, perhaps, but saying it?

I'd like to be with it and think that of course a straight guy could tell another guy, "You have pretty eyes." But my gut tells me that no straight man would tell another man, "You have pretty eyes."

Anyway, the only problem I have with Mike's unexpected compliment is that, as I said, I take such words to be mating words. Therefore, his words rattled me, and it took me a little while to compose myself. I don't want Mike talking to me like that unless he's sexually interested in me, in which case he and I can discuss it and go from there. Mike might find it fun to keep people guessing, but I like affairs of the heart to be black and white: Either Mike and I will be friendly co-workers or we'll be more than that, but we won't be some strange thing in-between.

Oops -- have I just kind of answered my own question?

In any case, I would appreciate your insight.


Old Blue Eyes

Dear Old Blue Eyes,

You know how I hate to generalize.

But as a straight guy, I can say that in general, in the workplace, we usually do not say to another guy, especially a guy we hardly know, "You have pretty eyes."

It probably happens about as often as we'll say, "Gee, I wonder what your balls look like."

I guess it happens. But not that often.

But that's straight guys talking to guys they believe are other straight guys. Straight guys talking to guys they think are gay may be a different matter. Because some straight guys, if they're around gay guys, will take the opportunity to say things they wouldn't say to other straight guys. I've talked about this complex mix of taboos and enticements here and also here.

And then there are the professional exceptions -- when ophthalmologists and urologists get together, anything goes.

But generally speaking, no, if a straight guy says your eyes are pretty, it's worth pondering.

Now, as to the intentions, identity and possible subterfuges of the tall, dark, handsome and presumably gay co-worker at the next desk, your gaydar may be very good, but no gaydar can tell you his intentions. You have to establish voice communications.

Gaydar Tower to tall dark handsome object -- That remark about the eyes, confirm, please?

Tall dark handsome object to Gaydar Tower -- Confirmed, yes, you have pretty eyes. Over.

Tower to object -- Are you requesting rendezvous? Please respond.

Object to tower -- Just want to say, I'm very comfortable in my ambiguous fabulousness, and I like to keep the tower guessing. I may be and I may not be.

Tower to object -- You may be or may not be requesting a rendezvous?

Object to tower -- I may be or may not be what I appear to be. I can say that I feel very attractive today. Very attractive, indeed.

Tower to object -- What is your situation? Do you need a runway?

Object to tower -- Not as much as the runway needs me!

Ha ha ha. That is silly, I know. I feel ashamed already.

So enough silliness. Here is my practical advice to you: As far as possible given the social norms of your group, put aside your set of rules and assumptions and try to communicate clearly about what you want.

If you like this man and want to go out with him, make a decision. If you are willing to risk rejection and possible embarrassment, then initiate a conversation with him away from the workplace. Ask him out on a date. On the other hand, if you do not want to risk rejection, or you think it would never work out because he's too good-looking, or if you think it's possible he really may be straight (imagine that!), then back off and don't look at him. Screen him out. Forget about him. Banish him from your gaydar. Erase him from your dreams. Just another pretty face. Dime a dozen in this town. See them come and see them go. Yesterday's news, etc.

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