I'm Not Your Girlfriend: The Gay Code Switch
I’m sure you’re familiar with code switching. Even if you’re not aware of the term, you’ve likely participated in it at some part of your life. In a nutshell, code switching is when you change the way you speak when you’re around a certain group of people (i.e. speaking in a “blaccent” when you’re around other black people). Code switching, in a sense, is abandoning your normal way of speaking to fit in with those around you. It’s almost like speaking in a code that only you and this particular group of people can understand.
Gay code switching seems to serve the opposite purpose. At a time when the human rights movement is fighting the good fight for gays to be treated like everyone else, gay code switching serves to set gay people apart in an unnecessary way.
Take for instance this personal example. My boyfriend and I went out to brunch in Soho on a Saturday morning. The restaurant host was clearly gay but doing his best to keep things courteous and professional as he escorted other patrons to their seats. I don’t consider myself or my boyfriend obviously gay (not that it matters), but as soon as he saw us, he practically transformed into a castoff from Rupaul’s Drag Race. He started speaking to us through his feisty black woman alter ego. Our pre-meal banter was quickly buried in a sea of “Yes, Honeys”, “Girl pleases”, and numerous references to the three of us as girls. He even tried to get us to chime in on trash talk about another gay couple dining in a different corner of the restaurant. It was as though the host had been saved from heterosexual purgatory. There were finally other gays in the restaurant and he was free to be himself.
I thought the whole scenario was a bit ridiculous. I get it. It’s always nice to connect with other gay men. There’s often this automatic sense of camaraderie and identification. But why become this extreme version of who you think we’d like to connect with? Maybe that was just how he communicated and he felt comfortable being himself with the two of us. But my gut instinct told me he was just playing it up because he had a gay audience. And it’s a shame because aside from the grandstand comedy routine, perhaps this could have been a true friendship connection. But neither my boyfriend nor I were in the market for new girlfriends that day. We just wanted brunch.
The gay code switch seems to uncover a need for acceptance within the gay community. As we all search for the ultimate acceptance in society, we have issues right here at home that still need to be solved. Like high school kids, we still feel the need to transform to make new friends or make a good first impression. Even in the company of people who share our struggle, we still search for a common bond in an artificial way.
We should not have to be gayer around other gays to feel comfortable. Nor should we have to be blacker around other black people or smarter around other scholars. And so on and so forth. We all deserve the right to be ourselves, and we all face enough adversity and prejudice outside of our “own” groups. Shouldn’t we feel most at home around those who are most like us?