Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: Label queen — a dizzying new set of assumptions

“I’m sorry to walk so far in front of you,” I said to a former co-worker as we were returning to a wedding after smoking a blunt in her car. “I just want to make sure no one is confused or doubts that we are both – independently – fuckable.”

“Thank you for thinking of that,” she said earnestly, gesturing her hands to scoot me further ahead.

“Yeah, I’m that type of gay friend,” I said once we got back to our table. “We probably won’t go shopping or do mani-pedis together, but I can offer tips for finding sex all night.”

There are malicious connotations to cock-blocking, but I imagine an overwhelming majority of it is inadvertent, benignly perpetrated by sisters, best friends and, in this instance, former co-workers who potential pursuers might assume is your boyfriend or wife. This was my first time in years being a guest at an opposite-sex wedding; my co-worker and I came separately, but knew few other people beside the groom we once worked with, so we spent most of our time together; and we were a different complexion than everyone else at the wedding.

It would’ve been perfectly reasonable for anyone to mistake us for a couple, but neither of us were in the mood for such a misunderstanding. I wish I could report that either or both of us got a phone number or fuck buddy, but the funnest parts of being single can’t begin until folks know you’re available.

The company I’ve kept over the past few months has led to amusing interpretations of my relationship status and sexual orientation. I’m most often with my young nephew, whom many people, most notably single heterosexual women, assume is my son.

His adorableness emits a natural lighting that helps me appear more remarkable and procreative than I would if I were alone. More than any time in the 14 years I’ve lived here, I’ve enjoyed a friendliness and chattiness with Atlanta women, sometimes followed by polite awkwardness and abrupt best wishes.

My presumed heterosexuality is even more pronounced when we’re hanging with my cousin and her young son, the four of us walking, dining and riding rollercoasters à la a biological or blended unit. Either way, we appear to be an interracial family, which produces its own curious glances and inquiries.

My enigmatic lineage has steeled me to the aggressive assumptions strangers sometimes make, and how casually and unthinkingly we can ask the most private questions. I’ve had a lifetime to hone a satisfactory response to interrogatories about my race/ethnicity/nationality/color, but with the new probing into my relationship status and family structure, I still struggle to articulate the most tactful translation of, “None of your fucking business.”

Whether my cousin and I are married, or I am the father of both boys or just the youngest, has nothing to do with the cheese steaks we’re trying to order. Misguided hunches are sometimes easily corrected, but too often it would require way more personal information than I want to share with someone I will know for 10 seconds.

There are people whose ease or attractiveness prompts an oral essay in response to any question they ask, but in most passing situations, I’ve found the best way to avoid an amateur census interview is to answer without explanation, and almost always, the answer to people’s assumption is, “No.” It clarifies almost nothing, and they either ask more questions until they recognize their intrusiveness, or maybe they settle into new assumptions.

The most unfortunate consequence of leaving things ambiguous is that anyone might be left with the impression that I was a straight man. Aside from the political and cultural importance of being homosexuality incarnate, whether in the grocery store or at a wedding, it increases the odds of finding a partner or hook-up when there’s some indication of what you’re trying to attract.