Sex and our city:

Tova Piha
November 3, 2005

I  was in DC’s hotspot Lauriol a couple weeks ago, indulging in their signature drink – a heavenly (looking and tasting) swirl frozen margarita, and catching up with a friend I had not seen in over a year.  Next to us, a white man sporting a band-aid across his cheek Nelly-style, takes out a white debit card and asks us if we’ve ever seen anything like it.  I assume he’s trying to sell us something, but turns out he’s a Katrina victim, and he’s been issued his white card by the Red Cross.  It’s got a whopping 360 dollars on it, and we’re glad to see he’s putting it to good use: drinking beer and picking up girls.  

He laughs and compliments us on our choice of beverage, saying, with full gentlemanly Louisiana twang, that our “beautiful” drinks “look good” on us.  Of course he should order his own; Lauriol is notorious for its ‘pink yet potent’ strawberry and lemon swirl margaritas, but he cringes at the thought, and explains, raising his mug, “beer looks much better on me.”


Which reminded me of the very first time I interacted with a random Italian guy at a bar in Florence.  He was receiving from the bartender a capiroska alla fragola – a very pink drink, and I, oblivious to my own surprise, was unwittingly, unabashedly, inadvertently staring.  “What?” he asks me quizzically, and I, realising that I’ve been anything but conspicuous, reply, somewhat embarrassed, “Oh, nothing, it’s just that da noi, in the States, it’s rare to see a guy drinking a pink drink.  Unless he’s gay.   Oh – are you gay?” I blurt out, only half-joking.


He laughs heartily, shakes his head no, and so I discover that in Italy, the concept of a ‘girly drink’ does not exist.  In fact, Alessandro is rather amused that American guys are willing to stick to the more unpleasant of alcoholic beverages for the sake of bravado.  Of course there are exceptions, but as a rule, you will be hard-pressed to find a straight guy in Manhattan drinking an apple martini, a cosmopolitan, or the like, unless he’s got a girl on his arm drinking the same.  And if he doesn’t, he will most likely have to defend his masculinity for the rest of the evening.  Indeed, Maxim ran a sidebar a couple years back on the subliminal connotations of guys’ drinks, which read more or less as follows.  Beer: chill and easy-going; mixed drinks (bar screwdrivers): corporate and mature; on the rocks: distinguished/ghetto fabulous; shots: frat boy OTT; and girly cocktails: simply a no-no.


Two days back in the US and white card guy was already proof that the ‘girly drink’ prohibition was still alive and well.  It’s silly, really, but like any other social stigma, it’s likely to be around for a while.  Italian practicality in contrast, is refreshing, but also somewhat paradoxical.  American white card guy is more interested in what drink looks bello on him than Alessandro is?!  Not really.  It’s just a matter of who’s beholding the beauty.  Alessandro maintains that he drinks what tastes best, and will continue to do so, whether he is deemed gay by Florence’s Anglo-American population or not.  But gay is very different from brutto, from ugly.  On the contrary, gay men are known for their superior style and taste, so if anything, being mistaken for a homosexual should be a compliment!  For white card guy, though, looking good means looking manly.


In Italy, such a correlation is not obligatory.  Which means that practicality and belleza can coexist (at least for men).  Alessandro can order his daiquiri alla fragola, frozen, and Riccardo does not have to don unflattering cargo pants so that he can bring with him his phone, his keys, his cigarettes, his wallet, and his tissues.  They all fit comfortably into his bum bag/fanny pack, which he wears across his shoulders, allowing him to wear form-fitting trousers without obstructing his trim waistline!  Luca can wear a crisp pink shirt paired with a shimmery white tie and outrageous sunglasses (at night), with tightie whities beneath it all, and not diminish his hetero game, nor have to employ neologisms to explain how he can possibly be both straight and stylish.


But the very best part of the fact that Italian men are not paranoid about being called gay is the affection they feel at ease displaying for one another.  Truly comfortable with their sexuality, men here have no compunction about calling each other caro and bellissimo, about exchanging kisses and caresses, about demonstrating their love for all their friends – not just the female ones!  When they do, on occasion, jokingly call each other omosessuale, for caring too much about the brand of their jeans or the product in their hair, the comment, not nearly the insult here that it is in the States, is not only issued light-heartedly but is actually taken as such as well.  It’s just not that big a deal, which bespeaks a level of tolerance and acceptance yet to be achieved in the US.  And if the price to pay for that is men sipping girly drinks in effeminate cocktail glasses, I say here’s to them!

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