It was a warm, spring day in northern Mississippi when I asked my brother’s friend to humor me with an impromptu photo shoot. Despite his insecurities, he obliged, pulled off his shirt, and let me click away, never once saying anything inappropriate about his near nakedness or my eagerness to capture it on film. Several more shoots would follow the first, and as I got to know him better, I became quite comfortable teasing him and cracking jokes, all of which he took with a grain of salt—that is, until the joke centered around his sexual orientation.
The topic of conversation was his perpetual bachelorhood, an innocent inquiry on my part, and something he blamed solely on the disinterest of females. That struck me as odd considering his pleasantly structured face and perfectly chiseled abs, and like any good friend would, I jokingly promised I wouldn’t enlighten anyone as to his current whereabouts—the closet. Having a relatively high number of male friends, I expected the typical response of a scoff and grimace, followed by some form of playful retaliation, but what I got in return surprised me. He looked at me with his brow furrowed in anger and through gritted teeth said, “That’s not funny. Where I come from, saying those things about someone will get you punched in face.” I took that to mean my joke was not appreciated, and had I been a male, he probably would have hit me for implying he was gay.