First impressions

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com August 28 2005 11:00 PM ET

I was a senior.
He was a junior. I edited one small section of the
college newspaper. Derrick, as I’ll call him, had
quickly leapt to a leadership position at the paper.
We barely spoke. I was a recently out Yankee attending
a Southern university and hung out with other gay guys
and social outcasts. Derrick was an umpteenth-generation
Confederate overachiever whose dad had been a star
athlete at the same school 30 years earlier.

I dressed like a
dork. He was handsome, well-groomed, and appropriately
preppy.

I thought he was
standoffish. He probably thought the same of me.

We went our
separate ways—me to a small-town newspaper; Derrick
to the Ivy League—without ever connecting. What
did we have in common anyway?

A few years ago I
ran into Derrick at an AIDS fund-raiser. He was with
his partner; I was with mine. He recognized me and said
hello. We exchanged cards—and still
we’ve barely spoken. But ever since, I’ve felt
like I missed out on a friendship that could have been
remarkable and fun.

I had judged
Derrick too easily. It wasn’t who he was that I was
responding to, but what I thought he represented. He
didn’t seem gay (and may not have been out)
back at college. He seemed the epitome of the Southern
establishment.

I wonder if
Derrick shares some life experience with Portia de Rossi.
“I’ve got to tell you, I had a hell of a time
convincing people I was gay,” she tells The
Advocate
in her remarkably candid interview.
“You…tell people and they go, ‘I
don’t think you are gay. No, no, that
doesn’t seem right to me.’ ”

Back when Derrick
and I were in college, the band Talking Heads was at
its peak. I always smiled at their spoken-word song
“Seen and Not Seen,” about a man who
believes he can through force of will reshape his face to
match his personality. “This is why first impressions
are often correct,” intones singer David Byrne.
“Although some people might have made
mistakes.”

None of us need
to make that mistake anymore. We need not hide behind
faces that we imagine don’t match our identities as
gays and lesbians. And none of us should assume
anymore that a certain kind of face just can’t
be queer, just can’t be friendly. Actions should
speak louder than faces.

I wrote here in
our last issue about my first impression after seeing the
smirk that often appears on the face of Supreme Court
nominee John Roberts. Days after that column went to
press, the nation learned that Roberts had worked with
gay rights advocates in prepping for the Romer v.
Evans
case, the historic outcome of which outlawed
blanket bans on gay-protective laws.

First impressions
can be wrong. They are at best inconclusive. Advocate
columnist Paris Barclay went to prep school and Harvard with
Roberts, but as with me and Derrick, they went their
separate ways in college and after. Paris is still
wondering where Roberts stands on LGBT equality.

Clearly Roberts
is more complex than I gave him credit for being and more
accomplished than Paris ever dreamed he’d be.
(Roberts would likely say the same about the multiple
Emmy–winning Paris.) None of this means that
he’ll be a friend to gay equality on the bench, but
it does mean we can’t just assume he’ll
be an enemy.