Gay / Straight Advice: Put-Down or Pick-Up?

A question from a reader...
MOST of the guys I know are straight. They use humor...almost always at another person's expense. The guys think it's funny...and have absolutely no problem if someone does it to them, but I think it's bordering on torture. My girlfriends all agree with me and say it's immature.

Example: A friend called me two days after I was released from the hospital following a traumatic ambulance ride. He claimed to be from the ambulance company and was calling to see how I was. Had me on the phone for 10 minutes before he admitted who he was. I was NOT amused.

My straight guy-friends think this is two gay friends say NOT FUNNY. So...I wanna know....what's your take?


I agree. It's not only immature, it's practically animal. It's called social ranking -- think wolves and monkeys -- and it works. How do we know where we fit in the group are if we aren't constantly testing them (and ourselves)? Based on the folks I meet out there in the real world, aren't the real jerks the ones who think TOO highly of themselves? Where are their friends who should be belittling them into humility? This is one reason I keep Gay Guy around.

If your guy friends are poking this kind of fun at you, then think of it as a "welcome to the pack." It's not every straight guy we're talking about, right? Most of us grow out of it, or at least refine our sense of humor with age. But guys like this do tend to stick together, because this brand of humor works best when it's shared by the whole group. Remember that male conversational skills crumble when we lose an important tool like this. (Ever try talking to your father on the phone?)

Your example is pretty tame. It was based on circumstance, not on your beliefs, personality, or looks. Certainly could have been worse. If you were hurt, and they aren't sorry, then it's a problem. That's just common sense manners. So your choices are to set better boundaries, find more mature friends, or watch Don Rickles for tips on devastating comebacks.

We tease because it's the first method of communication boys master in dealing with girls. I caught a bit of VH1's "Pick-Up Artist" the other day (yes it's disheartening, doubly so because it works), and they were recommending that the best way to sustain a conversation on a cold pick-up is NOT to be complimentary, but to tease. Maybe there's some attraction with this guy (only takes a smidge). Maybe he just couldn't find the words to say that he cared about you.

And, before the stereotype gets slapped on straight guys, please know that some of the most withering put-downs I've ever heard have come from Gay Guy. Yes, they are more articulate, but they still sting. I've got the welts to prove it. There's definitely some give and take in the barbs we trade. Thankfully, both of us try to direct the harshest taunts at the most deserving targets... ourselves. You can't trust anyone who makes fun of other people, but never takes himself down a notch or two.

Besides, you should be grateful that your male friends tease and belittle you to your face. Can you trust all of your girlfriends to do the same?

--Straight Guy


Me? I'd love to meet the guy who can sustain pulling your leg for ten minutes without breaking character or you catching on. That's some talent. Were you still under the effects of Vicodin?

Oh, wait. Did that border on torture? I'm sorry, didn't mean to hurt your feelings.

All guys -- gay and straight -- are fairly adolescent here and there. Women are too, but we'll just focus on the guys today. Humor is a tricky thing. I laugh, guffaw even, as the crew credits are read out every week at the end of NPR's "Car Talk." Yes, I like "Car Talk." If you don't listen, tune in, at least for the end. The humor --Our Russian driver: Picov Andropov; director of our women's support group: Eramus B. Draginn; personal make-up artist: Bud Tuggli; museum guide: Desdemona Lisa. It's not even adolescent humor, it's straight off the comic wrapper around a piece of Bazooka gum. But it cracks me up every time. And, those brothers are the epitome of boys torturing each other. It actually gets boring after a while.

I think guys admire the technique in the put down. If it's objectively funny and no one gets hurt, we're fine. Heck, if your friend led me on for ten minutes, I'd be telling the story myself.

"If no one gets hurt" is the hard part. A put down that's mean, personal, or just plain bullying, no one's having fun, even if we're laughing. Put downs where someone loses aren't fun to be around. Not to go all sociologist here, but remember that traditional games for boys are all about winning or losing; traditional games/ activities for girls are about socializing and community building. Not matter how evolved we get, boys think that losing sucks.

Some guys don't like to be teased. I once had a vacation melt down in front of my very eyes when this guy thought I'd teased him too much. I couldn't even tell what I said that tripped his switch, and I was genuinely sorry that he was hurt. A lot of guys, me included, think being razzed or teased or poked is being told you are one of the boys, that folks are comfortable with you. I never heard of "Pick Up Artist," but yes, teasing, gentle teasing, with a guy I am attracted to is a form of flirtation -- but it only works in the right amount.

Straight Guy, I am so sorry to learn that I have wounded you. Welts, you say? I'm so sorry. I try to remember to tell you when you get a good haircut. Withering humor has a long and proud gay history, probably beginning with Oscar Wilde.

--Gay Guy


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