Straight Flush

Commentary: In Exile

We’re all out of toilet paper, and apparently no one is going to buy more.

It’s been nearly two weeks, and what started as simple laziness has turned into a battle of wills, with every roommate waiting for one of the other roommates to buy more Charmin, Angel Soft, anything. The cardboard cylinder that held the last roll is still sitting there on the cistern like a little brown totem to our toilet paper cold war. I’ve been using the bathroom at work and stockpiling beverage napkins from bars for emergency situations.

When you live with four people, the bathroom is like the last escape pod on a spaceship about to explode. Everyone’s trying to get in there at the same time, but subtly. You emerge from your bedroom, towel in hand, just as your roommate is doing the same. You freeze and gawk at each other, then go through the formalities of pretending neither one of you cares about being first, but no one likes getting into an already-wet shower. Bathrooms foster awkwardness. That’s why we close the door.

We’re co-ed. And co-sexuality, for lack of a better term. I’m the sole gay roommate of our strange, stubborn foursome, and I’ve found that the bathroom is a good barometer to measure how at ease you feel with certain types of people. I have no problem urinating while one of the girls washes her hair in the sink not two feet away, but I don’t like to so much as floss while my straight male roommate stands next to me and pomades his sideburns in the mirror.

I’ve never been big on sex in public restrooms, unless it’s in the ADA-compliant stall. Otherwise, there’s just so little room. But bathrooms, even home bathrooms, are intrinsically intimate spaces.

Our shower could not hold one more product and still have room for water. There’s a spongy ball in there covered with rope netting and I don’t even know what it’s for. And plenty of revitalizing, rejuvenating products. Full-body sugar scrubs. Kiwi shampoo. Oatmeal astringent.

“I’m showering in a pantry,” I think to myself. But what I’m actually showering in is the shower of the now-famous “metrosexual.” These products belong to my straight male roommate. I’m fairly sure the loofah does, too. And the eye cream and the Nautica body gel.

Straight men are waxing and preening and moisturizing more than ever. This is old news. Also old news is the Adidas-ization of gay men — the biceps, the tank-tops, the swollen calves in the striped silky track pants. But even the gay jock thing is often well-manicured, moussed up, fake-baked, exfoliated and Crest White Stripped. Clearly, gay and straight men are finding common ground in the bathroom. So why can’t I pee in front of my straight roommate?

Much has been made of the shifting standard of masculinity. Straight men can now fret about their appearance like the rest of us without compromising their manhood. They can support gay rights, have gay friends and, in some places, even dabble in the bi world occasionally. And gay men increasingly butch it up, lift weights the size of truck axles and wear Yankees caps, regardless of whether or not they’ve been to a game.

Gay is increasingly trendy. Here in New York, it seems that every straight man needs to have a pair of aviator sunglasses, a vintage sofa, a rudimentary knowledge of hip-hop and a gay friend if they don’t want to be considered square. It’s nice to be part of the package.

But it all comes screeching to a halt in the bathroom. When you’re out on the street or sitting in the living room, people are just people. In the bathroom, suddenly people have bodies and bodily functions. It’s in the bathroom, when my roommate and I are sharing the sink to brush our teeth because we’re both late for work, that I remember that our straight male/gay male platonic relationship comes with a caveat that will probably always be there. There’s always going to be a divide at the personal level, even as society increasingly indicates less and less difference between gay men and straight men. There’s something ingrained that we can’t seem to get past.

The other day I took a trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond. It’s one of the cavernous box-stores that have recently been appearing in the grand, pillared edifices along Sixth Avenue that used to house all those Rockefeller-era corporate headquarters. Bed, Bath and Beyond is more than a store. It’s Pangea. Nothing exists beyond its borders when you’re in there. And when you’re in there, nothing exists except billions of straight couples shopping for billions of reasonably priced bath products.

It’s all so sterile. Anything awkward about a room meant for nudity and defecation is vacuumed right out of the store by Egyptian cotton bath towels, sea-green soap dishes and tastefully chromed toothbrush holders. Couples look more than normal, almost ultra-wholesome, shopping at this store. A woman holds up one of those no-slip friction mats for bathtubs to her husband or boyfriend and asks him what he thinks. Amazingly, he seems to care. If straight men care about shopping for bath mats, clearly some revolution has quietly occurred.

But for whatever reason, gay men and straight men continue to have trouble being close, even in the most progressive arenas. Sharing a liberal, pro-gay mindset remains a lot easier than sharing a bathroom.