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   b e y o n d    t h e    f r u i t    l o o p:    t o o    g a y,    p o s t -g a y    w h o s e    l i f e    i s    t h i s ,a n y w a y?

--- J O H N   M C C A L L A

The Russian dressing bled freely, dripping from slivers of corned beef and old rye and settling into the crevices of the chipped plate. I tried in vain to juggle the mess of a sandwich while the man across the horseshoe-shaped counter at Little Pete's pontificated proudly to his cohorts.

Blocking out the man's anti-Clinton tirade, I finished my reuben without sauerkraut and devoured a couple of Dorothy Parker short stories, laughing out loud at "A Telephone Call" and "You Were Perfectly Fine." Just another Sunday evening at my favorite diner.

Three stools down, a young woman with floppy brown hair and the relaxed demeanor of someone twice her age lit a Camel and buried her nose in an oversized text. When she ordered a reuben with no sauerkraut, my mouth dropped open and I filled it with a Marlboro - close enough on my continued-coincidence-scale since Camel is the new Marlboro, brown is the new black, etc.

Rather than manipulate the situation, I decided to let it alone, chalking the similarities off to one of many urban pleasures stumbled upon in a smoke-filled diner on a Sunday night. When I closed my book and the young woman confessed that she had been reading Dorothy Parker just the day before, I felt oddly in love. Still, I didn't engage it further. I paid my bill and headed home, pausing in Rittenhouse Square long enough to be utterly confused by the encounter.

What business did I have, a gay man of 30, being smitten with a smart-looking woman at a diner? Whatever. Sure, the encounter was more romantic than sexual. Yet, for at least a bit, I indulged in a distinctly hetero fantasy. Now that would be truly post-gay, I thought, as I moved on to mull my ire at a new school of thought that calls itself just that - post-gay.

In August, about the same time a tearful contingent of reformed gays, fresh from right-wing macho-makeover camps, bravely graced the pages of Newsweek, an inane debate swelled among active gays over a novel nomenclature that catapulted a condescending few into the realm of post-gayness. Great, I thought, paging past the confessions of sex addicts/ex-gays passing off their behavior as inherently gay; rather than countering a campaign that had successfully garnered far too much press and reinforced stereotypes of gays as drugged-out sluts, gays were again fighting over semantics. In the same reformed-gay issue of Newsweek, Out magazine editor James Collard took a page to defend his call for post-gay identity and whined that he had been greeted with hostility when he discussed the term at a symposium at New York's New School. Post-gay, as Collard sees it, is not anti-gay, or ex-gay, but "simply a critique of gay politics and gay culture - by gay people, for gay people."

It's also, in the Newsweek case, a prototypical example of self-centered short-sightedness. Gay ghettoization, looksism and mainstreaming seem to be the phenomena Collard wants to talk about, but a new school of thought need not be invented for such discussions. Some of my best friends are straight, but it doesn't mean I approve of their lifestyles. Case in point: my poor, wretched, married sister, an overworked mother of three who admittedly gets her vicarious kicks through me.

I sometimes think I'm living vicariously through myself, as well. On the surface, I'm pretty much inhabiting a gay cartoon. I hang out at Millennium Coffee, the William Way Gay & Lesbian Community Center and other haunts of the Fruit Loop - the Center City East area from 12th to Broad and Spruce to Walnut Streets.

I volunteer for gay causes, march in pride parades and never mask my gayness in my workplaces. But at the same time, I decorate for shit, possess no showtune knowledge and couldn't tell a Barbra from a Judy from a Liza.

Recently, a friend took me to a Bernadette Peters concert at the Mann, and though I was surprised to hear she sang, I went for the weather and the serenity of the Mann at sundown. When she sang something from Gypsy and I asked what that was, my friend sternly asked for my gay card. Backstage later, I stifled the urge to tell Peters, "I loved you in The Jerk." That many of my gay friends are the same way - while many others are gym-bodied, rainbow-flag-waving overachievers with oodles of disposable income - should be evidence enough that we don't need a new term for what should be cherished diversity.

At a recent party celebrating the 25th anniversary of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, attendees mostly sneered at the post-gay movement and scolded its cavalier connotations of being beyond basic struggles, such as the plight of gays like James Dale, the party's guest of honor, who had been expelled from the Boy Scouts for being gay. Mayor Ed Rendell said he hoped an organization like Lambda wouldn't even be necessary in another 25 years - which would be post-gay in the best sense, if you ask me. Others, after years of activism, said they were ready to be "less gay." The latter was something I could identify with - a brief stint working full-time for the gay press had me feeling way too gay. Maybe not too gay like Ellen, but too gay for a Philly boy who drank away his college years in the comfortable clutch of McGlinchey's instead of the dance floor at Woody's.

So, Collard and company can champion post-gayness and a world beyond sexuality till Rosie O'Donnell gets over her Tom Cruise crush. I want to get laid, and to do that requires lots of Fruit Loop fun mixed in with the mainstreaming, and I'm grateful to the activists who made gay "ghettos" flourish with rainbow flags and foliage. To really separate sexuality from my self-identity is something I will not do, no matter how many cute girls wander through Little Pete's - I will do anything for love, but I won't do THAT.

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