18 December 2008

Unabashed Abashedness: The Other Matt Siegel

While perusing a friend's Facebook page a few months ago, I noticed a comment left by a man with my exact first and last name--almost. His last name had a few letters switched but otherwise it was a funny coincidence. Since he was a mutual acquaintance I sent him a message (re: Look at our names!):

Matt Siegel
August 6 at 12:29pm
you are the reason people misspell my name

The Other Matt Siegel*
August 6 at 12:45pm
OH - I've heard of you! You live in LA also, which makes this even more strange. We should probably be in the same room at some point, just to confuse people.
"Siegel" is more common than mine, so I argue that you cause my misspelling?

Matt Siegel
August 6 at 1:51pm
If we were in the same room I would address you as Matthew See-glee.

*I am referring to him as "The Other Matt Siegel" in an effort to protect his identity as much as possible without losing the point of the story.

It also turned out that he was attending graduate school with an artist friend of mine. We had a nice exchange--seven emails back and forth. From the way he was engaging me I suspected he was gay.

It is a common notion that artists have as many social graces as someone with Asperger's. With that said, my dearest friends all happen to be visual artists. On a recent Saturday night, said artist friend took me to a holiday party at one of his classmate's homes. The first seemingly-gay-but-straight art student hipster I met with his oversized, attention-seeking, red, Sally Jesse Raphael eyeglasses, looked down at the floor and away upon introduction. Charmed! My friend informed me that the other Matt Siegel was at the party so I told Sally Jesse that I would catch him on the flip-side, that I was going to meet the other Matt Siegel, and perhaps he would look me in the eye. (To his credit, Sally Jesse apologized to me later. And to his parents' credit, he was hot.)

I jauntily approached the other Matt Siegel, looking forward to revealing my unexpected presence. "Matthew See-glee," I exclaimed, making reference to our email exchange just a few months earlier, "I am Matthew Siegel." His endearing dimpled chin and strong jaw fell. I looked him in the eye like an adult awaiting some response. All I got were a bunch of "Whoa's" while his shoulders tensed up and he stammered away. Utilizing my stellar communication skills, I pulled the conversation out of murkiness referencing our mutual Facebook friend and the conservative Ivy League college they attended together. I commented that he must certainly be a fellow Hebrew with that name of his--our name--but he promptly thwarted my assumption. He was a Protestant, 100% all-American WASP. In fact, he spent some of his teenage years as a missionary spreading the gospel or whatever they spread. [For extra credit: This Matt Siegel (meaning me), spent some of my teenage years spreading a. my legs b. Chlamydia or c. A & B?]

Things became quiet after the WASP flew out of his nest so I resorted to interview mode asking questions that might indulge his ego. It didn't work. The other Matt Siegel was shell-shocked. It was as if I had just informed him we had been switched at birth à la Big Business (one of my favorite movies but probably not one of his). He was examining me from head to toe -- surely he was admiring my navy Nom De Guerre short trench and accordion boots. I was mystified as to what might be irking him. It seemed that in 5-4-3-2-1, blood would spurt from his ears. To my surprise, he acknowledged his strange behavior. "You're going to have to give me a minute to take this in -- I just need to adjust." Take this in? Adjust? To what? What's there to take in? We have the same name, there's nothing to take in. With silence befalling us and my interest waining, I bid the other Matt Siegel, adieu.

I tried to shrug off his reaction unsuccessfully. How did this meeting that should have been delightful at best and uneventful at worst, result in a seemingly embarrassed and shaken other Matt Siegel? I walked back through the scene in my head. There we were, face-to-face, the two gay Matt Siegels. He was a handsome man, not visibly queer like me. I, too, handsome, but the man part debatable. That was the most striking difference. He wore a basic sweater with one wacky accessory, some shoes he probably considers risqué. My effortless style reeked of gayqueerfaggotry as usual. It has since I was a child, pairing my mothers navy blue silk skirt with American flag-like stars on it, a red cashmere sweater that accentuated my sock bosoms, and twirling around in her closet. An Independence Day outfit. The other Matt Siegel stood rigid and controlled while I moved like Stevie Nicks tramping about like a gypsy on acid. Artists spend their entire professional lives trying to make a name for themselves and here, in front of his disconcerted eyes, was another faggot, close in age, with his same name -- almost -- living an unabashed queer existence. I was his worst nightmare.

The devil on my shoulder closely resembles Bette Midler in a huge hat and lizard pendant on her lapel. Initially, I began devising a plan to drag our name through the gay dirt. Visions of masquerading as the other Matt Siegel, skipping through the streets of LA filled my head. I, too, would be a missionary, spreading the queer word under the guise of the other Matt Siegel, the WASP grad student, the one who feared the defilement of his name via me. I wanted to exorcise his gay shame. And maybe we could fuck afterwards.

After working on this blog for the past week, I happened to run into the other Matt Siegel last night at a party. I caught his eye and he turned away. Very carefully I approached him--not at all jaunty this time. He gave me a labored hello. Getting right to the point I inquired as to why he had reacted to me the way he did that night. "Well," he said, "you just came up to me and mispronounced my name. I thought that was kind of rude." Now, my jaw hit the floor. It was my turn to be flabbergasted and dismayed. "Are you serious," I said getting heated, "I was nothing but warm and friendly toward you." He gave me a half-assed apology, "Look, I'm sorry if I came across as rude but--" and proceeded to tell me since he apologized to me, I should apologize to him for mispronouncing his name. I declined his request.

More times than I care to remember, I have heard gay men bitch that their sexuality does not define them and to that I say it does define me. It's not some tiny part of me that only takes place in the bedroom. I don't desire straight approval or some verification that I am "normal." I was never the status-quo. My gayness and queerness proceed me naturally. It affects all of my feelings--my loves, my hates. The most infuriating bigotry I face on a regular basis is from other gay men who are embarrassed by my organic, unabashed queerness.

The other Matt Siegel stopped me on my way out of the party and sincerely apologized and took responsibility for his behavior. "Look, I don't want there to be bad blood between us. In fact, I'd like to be your friend. I was being an ass that night." That meant a lot to me. Finally, more than simply posing as a man, he was acting like an adult. After that I began to question whether or not I should even publish this piece at all. After all, he had apologized and I have no interest in causing strife for him or being a jerk. I realized, though, that this piece is less about him and more about my struggle for acceptance within my own people and myself. And though I firmly believe his initial problems with me run much deeper than a simple mispronunciation of his name, I am reminded that a name is only what you make of it. My name--our name--means very little to me. I'd change it tomorrow if I came up with anything better. Over the years my name has been marked by slander, infamy--I take credit for some of it--and as I evolve I hope it will carry new meaning: compassion and authenticity.


Sam said...

oh, for gay shame!

the other matt siegel has you to thank when he stops crying himself to sleep at night...

Hillary C. said...

Beautiful gorgeous piece. Moving, chilling, infuriating, maddening, inspiring. Stevie Nicks tramping about like a gypsy on acid, indeed!!! YOU ROCK!!!

See you at Curves!


Kate said...

Wonderful piece, Matt Seagull!

Truly though- wonderful!

Sarah said...

oh my god this was great.
You know, people act weird and inappropriate. And rarely does it even have anything directly to do with us. It usually stems from their own insecurities, their wounding, their egos. And you, Matt Segueway, can handle any weirdness that is thrown at you by these unconscious fools with the grace of - yes -Stevie Nicks. Or "Bette Midler in a huge hat and a lizard pendant on her lapel". gawd that's great.

patty chocolateMilk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
patty chocolateMilk said...

hey matt

well, you've confirmed what one of the most influential people in my life once said about people who may suddenly take us aback w/ unnecessary behavior, "consider the source..."

and i mean no disrespect to the other m. s.'s angst, whatever that source is.


"merrappy chriswaanzukkahmas!"

that's for the jewish matt siegel & the protestant matt siegel...and the black one that i know is 'out' thar somewhar's

Anonymous said...

just amazing. your blog is one of my most favorite things to read. keep up the amazing work.

- tom o'connor