Have you ever known people who seem to lose their identities to a new love interest in their lives? The friend who thinks that roughing it means having to budget an entire month without a mani/pedi then suddenly goes rock climbing because that’s what the new Mr/Ms Right likes doing? Who becomes a vegetarian just to please a potential romantic partner? Who’ll take a ballroom dance class when his idea of a fun night is throwing darts down at the pub with his buddies?
There’s a fine line between finding activities you can enjoy together and faking interest in something. In my younger years, I was guilty of plenty of what I now call “trivial pursuits” just to please or be compatible with someone I was dating. When–if–we grow up, we realize Mr/Ms Right is one who not only likes you for who you are, but who, rather than causing you to pretend to be someone you’re not, inspires you to be the best person you can be.
I was reminded of that by the first story in Best Gay Romance 2014, Eric Gober’s “Strange Propositions.” It’s set during the election season of 2008, when Prop 8 was on the ballot to eliminate Californians’ right to marriage equality at the same time Prop 2 would provide safer living conditions to farm animals. The narrator, Kenny, now living in L.A., has lost himself in a relationship with Trevor, a guy back home in Kansas. Then he meets Nate. After a shaky beginning, they go out on a first date just after both propositions pass.
Our trek had started on Beachwood Drive, with the HOLLYWOOD sign sitting on the mountain ahead, grinning at us. We’d wound through a land of storybook cottages and castles and hiked up steep green slopes. Now we were atop the mountain, grinning at the sign’s backside.
“L.A. looks like a giant chessboard from here,” I said. “That tall skyscraper downtown is a queen.”
“I’ve always thought that.” Nate pointed out the city’s other skyscrapers. “She’s surrounded by shining knights and rooks. She and her army want to march rightward, capture all those pawns in the middle and take down those two dark bishops by Fox Studios.”
I couldn’t help but smile at him. I was liking the way he saw the world. Unlike Trevor, he had an imagination. Must have come from working… [as] a property master. I’d marveled at his ingenuity when he told me about a sci-fi fantasy production he’d worked on that had almost no budget. He’d created talking books, magic wands, cosmic ray guns, and feathered druid staffs from sale items he’d found at Kmart and Home Depot.
“What are you doing tomorrow evening?” he asked.
“There’s a demonstration against Prop 8 in Silver Lake. You wanna go with me?”
I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of attending a protest. It seemed so radical. However, I detested Proposition 8. “Okay, sure. I still can’t believe Californians gave rights to chickens and took them away from human beings.”
Now he smiled at me. “I’ve got a wild idea.”
“C’mon, let’s hit Hollywood Boulevard.”
…[Later, Nate] led me toward a blue-and-gold art deco building with a neon sign blinking HOLLYWOOD TOYS & COSTUMES.
Inside was a prop master’s paradise. Nate slowed to eye cases displaying faux gangsta bling and fake Crown Jewels. I couldn’t believe he was brave enough to be holding my hand in public. Or that I had nerve enough to let him.
“C’mon, the suspense is killing me,” I said. “Are we shopping for a movie shoot?”
“Nope,” he said, resuming his mission through this world of fantasy. He tugged me through an arsenal of plastic weapons and past shelves of outlandish hats, spooky skulls and creepy rubber masks. He guided us around carousels of bright makeup and styled wigs, and we sidestepped bins filled with all sorts of plastic tchotchkes. He finally stopped and let go of my hand near a wall lined with packaged costumes.
“I have a proposal for you.”
“But it’s too soon—and too late—for us to get married,” I joked.
He smiled. “Bud, I like the way your mind works. I think I’m really gonna like getting to know you.”
“I’ve been thinking about chickens since we were on the mountain. I bet they’re thankful for gays like us who voted to support their rights. I bet they’d support our rights if they could.”
I was thankful Trevor wasn’t here listening to him. He’d say chickens are the stupidest animals on earth and call Nate a fool. I said, “You’re probably right.”
He reached for a package stuffed with fuzzy bright yellow material. Then he grabbed another and handed it to me. I eyed the label. It was a chicken suit.
“What do you say we represent those thankful chickens at the protest in Silver Lake?”
When I tried imagining myself in that big yellow costume, weirdness grabbed hold of me. I wouldn’t blend into the crowd tomorrow. Thousands of staring eyes would be upon me as I marched through Sunset Junction. Suddenly, all the strange things in the costume shop began closing in on me.
From that moment, the decisions Kenny makes show us far more about who he is as a person than as a potential boyfriend. You can read the rest of his story in Best Gay Romance 2014, on sale now in ebook format and soon in trade paperback.
Excerpt reprinted with permission from Cleis Press. All rights reserved.