There's a classic episode of "Seinfeld" in which Jerry and George inadvertently give people reason to think they're gay.
It started as a joke. Noticing that the woman in the booth next to theirs was eavesdropping on their unorthodox conversation about the ugliest political leader in history, Elaine intentionally raised her voice and asked why Jerry and George hadn't come out yet, hoping for some innocent fun. George, snorting and squinting, went along with it; Jerry, ever the straight man, didn't.
Little did they know that the eavesdropping woman was a reporter for a local college newspaper waiting to interview Jerry for a biographic article. Long story short, wires got crossed, words got misinterpreted, and Jerry and George wound up the newest gay couple in the media, unashamed, unabashed in their mutual love for each other.
"I've been outed!" Jerry whined ecstatically after reading the news. "I wasn't even in!"
The episode is brilliant for many reasons, but most people remember it for its progressive catch-phrase: Whenever Jerry or George would complain that people might think they were gay, the line "Not that there's anything wrong with that" quickly followed. Jerry and George didn't have anything against gay people - they just didn't want to be mistaken for them.
I think I know how they feel.
For the record, I don't even totally believe in the "gay-straight" dichotomy. I prefer the idea that human beings, like many animals, are simply sexual, that we all exist within a loosely constructed spectrum of tendencies and preferences. Some people are just more gay than others, and some are barely gay at all.
But as I also recognize our culture's tendency to box people into separate categories, I proudly wave the flag of heterosexuality.
Lately, though, I've found it increasingly difficult to convince others of the validity of that flag.
People love gossiping about the sexual orientation of others, usually falling back on clichÃ©d stereotypes to frame their argument. If they're a snappy dresser, they're gay. If they can cut a mean rug, they're gay. If they inexplicably don't have a girlfriend, they're gay.
I am a T-shirt and khakis kind of guy, and I commonly hear strangers remark, "Who is that poor, poor soul?" while doing my thing on the dance floor, so I know that's not the problem. I do not currently have a girlfriend (wink), but I'd like to think I've covered myself pretty well with random "she's so hot" comments here and there, making sure to point out said unfortunate females who look confused and bothered by my random attention.
Obviously, I'm using stereotypes to debunk stereotypes, but you get my point. There's no formula to tell if a person is gay or straight.
Which is why my latest quandary is so perplexing. In the last year, my two best male friends have come out as gay, one of them just a couple weeks ago. We had always been, and still are, a triangle of friendship, bound by the same hobbies, sense of humor and school activities.
People know us as such. Wherever a pair is, the other is not far behind.
You see where this is going.
I will always be so proud of my two friends for acknowledging their sexual orientation, as it has, brought us closer than ever before. And yet, the egotistical part of me cannot help but reflect on how it has affected other people's outlook on me.
Just days after the latest disclosure, other friends began to joke - "So, when are you coming out, Bill?" or "You're the only one left, Bill" - comments that should have rolled right off my back, but nonetheless irked me.
And then, as a cruel, cyclical trick, I wondered why such comments bothered me at all if I was so secure in my sexuality to begin with. BAH!
Like Jerry and George, it's not so much the fact that I had a gay cloud of suspicion hanging over me - it's that when you've carved out an identity for yourself, you like to hang on to it, however mainstream it may be.
I believe we live in a world where you're considered straight until proven gay. So, when the proverbial judicial system was slightly bypassed in favor of quick judgment, I felt vulnerable, like I was susceptible to the elements more than I was able to control them.
I'm not at all trying to compare the experience of coming out and my recent ordeal. My unnecessary paranoia does not come close to approaching the worry and plight that many people have concerning their sexual orientation.
I am, however, arguing for discretion in reaching conclusions about people, be it sexually related or otherwise. While I try to not care what others think, I'd be lying to myself if I said I didn't. Just like people can't ignore their sexual orientation, so too can I not neglect the fact that suspicions about my heterosexuality bother me. If I'm gay, I'll say so; "gay by association" doesn't jive.
But I'm working on it. My two friends recently invited me to The Q to celebrate their coming out, and I went with them. I have a knack for attracting more men than women (a trait that's not helping my cause), so I had reservations.
But it ended up being a great time, moving me one step closer to being OK with over-the-shoulder glances, breathy whispers and curious speculation.
I may have no closet to come out of, but I can still enjoy the company of my friends, even if people think I'm gay.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Bill Fech is a senior English and film studies major. Reach him at email@example.com.