I’m not really into being naked. Nudism is something that’s never appealed to me. Although I have some insecurities about my body, I have no problem shedding my clothes if a romantic situation calls for it. But being out and about with everything hanging out–that I don’t understand. Just as with Christmas, if public nudity happens every day it’s no longer special.
I do, however, enjoy underwear. During high school I wore utilitarian, nondescript grey boxer briefs from The Bay. After I started dating my first boyfriend, I realized for the first time somebody would actually see my underwear and it mattered if they looked nice. I ditched the boxer briefs and, like a good hipster, collected American Apparel cotton briefs in all the colours of the rainbow.
So when my friend Giovanni invited me to an underwear party last night at Levack Block I thought “What the hey?” Why not see what happens? At least I knew what to wear.
“Are we allowed to wear t-shirts?” I replied via text. “I’ll be wearing a t-shirt.”
Picking a pair of knickers was the easy part. After conducting a poll on Instagram, I settled on a pair of dark navy briefs with white polka dots. I assumed I’d be the only one in polka dots. Choosing the rest of the outfit proved difficult. I knew that in a room filled with pant-less gay men everyone would notice everyone’s shoes. Luckily, I just bought a new pair of retro high tops. But what socks to wear with them? I first tried on long, white soccer socks, then decided it looked too fetish-y. I settled on short black socks to really let my shoes stand out.
Choosing a t-shirt was a pain. A lot of the ones I wanted to wear came down too low, covering most of my briefs. I wasn’t prepared to look like I was wearing nothing at all down there like a toddler.
After several combinations, I put on a dark blue shirt with a cute breast pocket. All and all, it was a very French look but with big-ass American shoes. After inspecting myself in my full-length mirror, I took off my sneakers, pulled on my pants, put the sneakers back on, and headed out.
Giovanni was pre-drinking and watching reruns of Designing Women when I arrived at his place.
“What pair did you decide on?” I asked.
“These black, white, and red ones with an anchor on them,” he said. He lifted up his shirt and lowered his pants to show me the waist band. It felt like an intimate gesture until I remembered we’d be standing around with our underwear in full display soon enough.
“Where do I keep my wallet and my phone?”
“I guess you could leave all your stuff in your bag, but last time there wasn’t really a coat check.”
“If you think I’m leaving my Filson bag unattended, you’re crazy.”
“Okay, fine,” Giovanni said going to his room. He came back with a small, flat leather side bag. “I’ll bring my satchel, even though all my friends make fun of it and call it a purse. I’ll put my stuff in one side, and you can put your wallet, cell phone, and keys in the other one. Just don’t lose track of me because if we lose each other, you’re screwed!”
The rain was really coming down as we walked to Dundas and Ossington. The bright side was that it made taking off our damp clothes easier when we arrived.
We checked our jackets and pants at the back. I am one of those uncoordinated men who will never be able to take off his shoes without sitting down. After I wiggled out of my jeans and had the odd sensation of putting my shoes back on without them, I became oddly paranoid. What if, God forbid, I slipped out of my underwear in some manner? Would anyone tell me? Would Giovanni? That’d be a once in a lifetime test of a friendship.
Why had I intentionally walked into a situation reminiscent of a nightmare?
“Okay,” I said. “I need another drink…right now.”
A rivalry of sorts exists between the gay village of Church and Wellesley and it’s scruffier competition of queer theme nights housed around Queen, Ossington, and Dundas. Dubbed ‘Queer Street West’ the most successful of these events are inspired by music genres that have not always embraced the LGBT-community–‘Steers and Queers,’ Giovanni’s favourite party, is dedicated to country music while the popular ‘Big Primpin’ is supposedly about hip hop and R&B. (Last time I went it was all Beyonce, who gay guys hardly need an excuse to listen to.)
Of course I think it’s a step in the right direction for Toronto’s queer community to spread out from the Church and Wellesley ‘gay ghetto’ and demonstrate that other neighbourhoods are fun, tolerant places to hang out. My problem with ‘Queer Street West’ is they feel just as cliquey as anything that happens on Church Street. The attendees are often less ethnically diverse as the ones who go to the village and intimidate me more than the college kids and ‘fag hags’ who go to ‘Buddies in Bad Times’ and ‘Crews and Tangos.’
This swirled in my head as I stood in my underwear, nursing a beer. There weren’t a ton of people at the bar so it was more noticeable that the ones who were there were grouped off in twos and threes. You could tell the cliques by how they dressed: a couple older, hairy bears in v-neck t-shirts and underwear as short and tight as speedos. A pair of trendy twinks wearing polyester low rise boxers from Priape, baseball caps, and undershirts with arm holes so wide you could see their entire torsos. My sartorial favourite was a cute boy with a gap in his teeth who paired his boxer briefs with a dress shirt and bow tie.
I was hoping that underwear would prove the point of entry for conversations, but it didn’t. Not only did no one compliment my adorable polka dots, but no one seemed to be approaching anyone about what they were wearing. It was as though it was an unwritten rule–we’re all in our panties, but don’t mention it! I should also point out that some guests kept their pants on, which hurt the team spirit of it. If you’re going to do something embarrassing with a group of strangers, I’d prefer everyone commited to it.
The handful of times I tried to talk to someone it went nowhere. The only new person to talk to me was a red haired girl (also wearing pants).
“Hi!” she said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. Are you having fun?”
“The most fun you can have with your pants on?” I joked.
“What? Oh, yeah!” She explained that she had just showed up and had already lost her friends. We chatted for a couple minutes. Then she said,
“What I’m really looking for is some drugs. Do you have any?”
“I think I have some lip balm somewhere.”
After an hour or so I yawned. Then I yawned again. The drag performances were diverting enough, but at some point a certain complacency set in. We understood that everyone who was going to come was already there and nothing of note was going to occur.
“Only in Toronto could you have a room full of gay men in their underwear and feel like nothing was going to happen,” I said to Giovanni.
“Max, sometimes you have to make it happen yourself. Sometimes you have to be responsible for your own fun.” He pulled me onto the dance floor. As people went home, we were the last ones dancing. When I realized that my legs weren’t getting sweaty I remembered that I was in my underwear. By that point in the evening, it had become completely normal. More than that, it was comfortable.
As we went to get our stuff from the back, the bowtie kid approached us.
“I just wanted to let you know,” he said to Giovanni, “You won the award for the being the hottest guy.”
“There’s an award?” he asked, not getting it. “I didn’t know we were voting.”
“No, there isn’t one. You won my award for hottest guy!”
“Oh. Okay. Thanks.”
I waited awkwardly between the two of them.
“Can I get my stuff from your purse?” I asked loudly.
Afterwards, walking up Ossington, I complained about the state of Toronto’s gay world in the 21st century.
“What kind of flirting was that?” I asked Giovanni. “He didn’t ask for your name or number! And why did he wait until the very end of the night to talk to you? I don’t understand.”
“The problem is a lot of guys of our generation have to go out of their comfort zone to talk to someone new. It’s unusual for them.”
“The problem is,” I added, “Everyone’s on their cell phones, even at an underwear party. That handsome bearded man was talking about some boy he was chatting with on Grindr. I was like, ‘There’s men all around you in their underwear! Why are you preoccupied with the one on a little screen?’”
“Have you not heard of addictions, Max?” The gay community has survived so much. Can it survive the iPhone?
As I sleepily chomped on French fries at The Lakeview, I reached my conclusion for the night–you can take the gays out of the village, you can even take them out of their pants, but, in the end, we are who we are– for better or worse.
Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_.