I sit in a complete stranger's living room where I am supposed to stay the next three nights. I am trying to make small talk, but I can’t stop the crazy thoughts running through my mind: What if he kidnaps me? Drugs me? Rapes me? Maybe I should leave, just grab my stuff and go. Why did I do this in the first place?
I had just arrived in Spain and was staying in a quiet beach town called Sitges. It was a quick thirty minutes outside Barcelona where I was checking out a film school that I was enrolled in. I say ‘checking out’ because I had some recent doubts about the school and still had yet to pay tuition. I had an ocean between me and my side of the world and a pretty shaky plan. I was feeling a little sick for home to say the least.
I tried to settle into a couple of different hostels but both were baron of travellers and lacked the regular hostel vibes. After a few days of doing my own thing, I figured I’d checkout Couchsurfing to see if I could stay with someone in town. For those who don’t know, Couchsurfing is an amazing community where members offer up their couch or extra bed for other members to come stay for free. The whole idea is to connect, share and enjoy the company and culture of people from all over the world.
After sending out a handful of messages, the only person able to host me was a 50 year old gay man, let's call him Jose. He offered up a spare bed in his room to ‘men only’. Considering Sitges is known as one of the gay and lesbian capitals of Europe, I figured ‘When in Rome’. Get the real Sitges experience. After chatting a little, we arranged that I’d come stay for 3 nights after the weekend.
Monday rolled around and I smoked a joint with a classmate after my first day of class. I don’t smoke very often, so with lots on my mind I started to get a little paranoid about what I was going into. Why did Jose host only men? What if he expects something from me? What if there is some unwritten message I’m not interpreting? All his references looked good but maybe they were all gay too?
By the time I arrived at his place I was feeling ready to pull the plug on the whole thing. If someone was watching I would have looked like a complete nutter. Pacing back and forth in front of the entrance for five minutes, unable to make up my foggy mind. In the end I said screw it and gave his buzzer a ring.
Jose was tall and tanned, with a bald shaved head and a finely manicured salt and pepper goatee. He spoke softly with intent, and listened with an intense gaze. We sat in the living room awkwardly chatting. Although it was quickly obvious we came from very different places we tried to find some common ground in messy Spanglish. I awkwardly made sure to mention something about an ex-girlfriend unsure how forced it may have seemed.
He toured me around his apartment which was stacked with all sorts of unique collectables, plants, and books. They gave the place a warm but cramped feeling. As I awkwardly stood by watching, he prepared the bed where I would be sleeping. It was indeed in his room and no more than a few feet from his own. He explained that his home was a bed and breakfast. Stoned and hungry, I wondered if he was going to make me breakfast tomorrow.
We continued chatting in his living room but I could feel my temperature rising and I needed fresh air. Panicked, I suggested we head out for some dinner. Looking at my phone I realized it was barely 6pm, a laughably early time to eat in Spain.
We headed out and drove outside of town to walk along the ocean front first. Instead of enjoying the view I couldn’t shake this horrible uneasy feeling. I had left all my valuables in his living room. I asked him if it was okay considering the other guests and he explained that there were no other guests. My paranoia dialled up a few more notches. Why couldn’t I just stay in one of the empty guest rooms or on his couch downstairs? Why in his room?
We kept walking further from his car and eventually around a big white complex. It looked like an old medical clinic that long since shut its doors to patients. I saw a man looking at us from around the corner of a wall in the distance. Another man was walking slowly behind us. I thought this was all a setup. That I was about to be kidnapped. I was barely listening to what Jose was saying anymore. All my senses were on full alert. Ready to run. Ready to fight.
We turned around and started to walk back. We passed by the man who walked behind us. We got to Jose’s car. We drove back to town. I eventually breathed a sigh of relief as we parked to find a place to eat.
Once we sat down and grabbed a couple beers I finally started to relax and I had a moment to reflect. In the end, everything I was feeling was plain and simple homophobia, escalated by some THC induced paranoia. For the first time I was in a situation where I didn’t feel in control, mixed with the possibility of being sexually pressured or assaulted. All together it lead to this completely irrational fear.
Homophobia: irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals
Before that moment I didn’t think I was homophobic in the least. I have gay friends. I have been hit on by guys and partied at gay bars. I have made out with guys in some of my more experimental moments. This was something different. I was becoming homophobic because I wasn’t in control. I was in this man’s house, a visitor to his town and country. He was easily as large as me physically and in turn he really did control some power over me. I was at his mercy in that I had to simply trust that he would respect my boundaries.
In the end, everything was of course fine and as always stepping out of my comfort zone led to a beautiful learning experience. We shared a couple of really nice dinners together and found out that we did have more in common than first appeared. We talked about our experiences with life and love. Youth and adventure. Travel and the world. I even tried to feign some interest in a book he wrote about the mosaic tiles of Catalan. He treated me with generous hospitality and expected nothing in return other than some company and good conversation. As it always should be.
After parting ways I started to think about the whole experience further. I realized that this homophobia must be similar to what women experience throughout all their lives! They are constantly in a position where men are trying to pursue them sexually and sometimes deviantly. They are often in a position without power as they can be physically overpowered. Often they are stuck trying to tell our drunk clueless asses that they aren’t interested without being called a bitch. If I had to constantly walk this fine, awkward and paranoid line I would go insane. Kudos to you ladies who have to deal with the overbearing weight that is man’s sexuality on a daily basis.
So lads. Next time a girl tags along with your friends to a crappy apartment after party, it does not necessarily mean she is looking to get down. I’ve even got an idea for you: Instead of going for that 5th awkward thigh touch on the couch, just let her know that you are interested. This can be subtle. Girls are good at picking up on these things. Then if she’s keen, let her come to you!
Think about if a gay guy was putting the moves on you, like you are to her. Think about how that would make you feel. A tad bit uncomfortable, no?
I truly think if we can create a world where women’s space is respected, they won’t have to constantly be on the defensive. In turn we are all going to have a lot more fun and get laid a hell of a lot more. So if that isn’t motivation for you, I don’t know what is.
Conor D Homophobe