January 10, 2022 / Ty Marsh

It seems to be a common notion on the Internet that gay people just walk differently than straight people. While we’re all aware that our queer counterparts walk with a quicker skip in their step, have you ever wondered why?

I begin most of my days nearly late to class. Sure, I still have time to dress to the nines and make myself an iced latte with honey and oat milk for the walk there, but only out of necessity.  With my door locked and Maps open on my screen, I read that my trek should take roughly eight minutes, with my estimated arrival time set at 11:02 AM. Yeah, it’s very much giving late.

Well, I’ll probably get there before 11 anyway, I think. These maps run on straight-walking time, but I’ll be there in five. With that affirmation in mind, I’m off.

I’m sure we’ve all heard some form of the joke by now:

“Gay people walk so much faster than straight people!”

“Gay people move so fast because they’re walking to the BPM of ‘212’ by Azealia Banks.”

“If a straight person turns around on the street, there’s probably a gay person behind them trying to get past!”

It seems to be a common notion on the Internet that gay people just move differently than straight people. And I can’t even say it’s incorrect. I usually manage to get to class with time to spare thanks to my gay legs, and it would be a lie if the lyrics, “Hey, I can be the answer,” didn’t accompany me on my journeys from time to time. While not every gay person should be expected to walk fast, you can take my need for speed as a fact of my life. But the question remains: Why do some queer people move around so quickly? 

In my first week of college, I walked everywhere around my campus. My first exposure to life in a city, I was eager to explore my surroundings and find my new favorite places. I remember the corner I was on when a truck pulled up to the red light next to me as I waited for a walk signal.

“Haha! Nice bag,” A man yelled from the truck, pointing out the small, leather backpack I carried around my shoulders. I could tell from his tone that such a call-out was not a compliment. Rather than speaking and causing more potential problems, I gave him a thumbs up and stared back with resolve. I stood alone, blank-faced with my thumb up as he hurled harassments towards me until the light turned green and he sped off with a, “Fuck youuuu!”

With a smile, I watched him speed away and walked, a bit brisker than usual, across the street at the sight of my pedestrian signal.

I’m not afraid of a straight man in a truck. I was never afraid of being hurt by him, nor was I that fearful of the words he said to me. But to this day, every time I wait at that crosswalk to go to class, I remember him and how he felt it was okay to yell at me in public, all because of a backpack he thought I shouldn’t wear.

The clothes queer people wear, the way we look, the way we act, all of our “otherings” turn our public existence into something political. When we step outside, we must face the world and whomever we cross paths with before our destination. Especially when walking, the places we experience violence remain to remind us of what once happened there. When we move from place to place, queer people are exposed to the judgment of others who may wish to do us harm. We must face the glances, the comments, and sometimes the physical assaults to which others subject us. And we have to remember these things so that they don’t happen again. The public domain isn’t safe for a queer person, so we walk with urgency from point A to point B out of necessity. It’s not a laughing matter, but we do our best to make light of the absurd situation, and even find power in it at times.

When I’m walking, I always have my surroundings in mind out of necessity. But my imagination often wanders. I find myself thinking of the past – of those who walked before me.

I think about the people who walked the streets before me, those who made my city the weird hub it’s now known as. Did people yell at them from trucks? I think of the ballroom scene, which celebrates the calculated steps and extravagances of queer people in all forms. Did they walk the same speed as me? I think of Grace Jones, strutting down 1970s YSL runways, unapologetic in her androgyny. Did she know that I would find inspiration from her courage in 50 years? I think about the people I encountered in my childhood, who I couldn’t help but stare at and feel an odd connection to. Did they realize the impact they had on me?

That is the beauty of the “gay walk.” A measure of safety turned into a self-identifier. An act of protection which draws eyes as it averts them. Having a “gay walk” is a silent triumph; its agency exudes confidence to the drawn-in eye. It is a flash of something different in a world that encourages sameness, instantly memorable to those who recognize something within it. It’s a reminder to the world that people like us exist, have existed, and will continue to exist.

It’s not always easy, but I remind myself how important it is to be seen so that others don’t experience the same things in the future. So I walk with confidence. I keep my head up and pass strangers by with pep in my step, sharing glances with those like me who look and walk ahead of their peers.

When I’m walking in a crowd of unfamiliar faces, each with a different opinion on my existence, I do so with a smile – It’s the trope of my people, after all. And if any one seems to be moving a bit too slow for me, I always know I can pass them by with a simple, “Move, I’m gay.” ■

by: Ty Marsh

layout: Elianna Panakis

photographer: Alec Martinez

stylists: Gabi Vergara & Justin Gonzalez

hmua: Serena Rodriguez

models: Vio Dorantes & Cameron Wesley
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