"How can I date a cop or fireman?" asks a poster on DataLounge, a lively gay forum that is one of Nightcharm's favorite web stops.
Describing himself as a 41-year-old office worker, who is tired of meeting fellow cubicle slaves, the writer confesses that those cops and firemen "look great in uniform" and wonders if any posters can drop him a clue on how to meet these guys.
Naturally, all the jokers had to weigh in first ("Hang out at fires and crime scenes"), as did the village idiot ("Why would anyone want to date a cop? They are about the most no-talent knobs on the scale? It takes zero education to be a cop, and half are on the take. They get paid shit and have to work proms just to make ends meet. They commit suicide by the age of 40. No thanks.")
But there were more thoughtful responses. You can never be sure on an open forum who is legitimate and who is not, but DataLounge regulars have developed pretty accurate bullshit detectors, and the following anecdotes had, for us, the ring of authenticity:
"Not an attempt to burst bubbles here," begins one writer, "but the cops and firemen I've known were good guys over all, but there tended to be a LOT of ego there, a deep need to be right, a slight self-destructive streak, and a lot of passion for conservatism and tradition. Awfully cute though!"
Then came this utterly wild, utterly believable ride on the Firetruck of Crazy Love:
I had a nine-month affair with a fireman.
What to say? While he was very hot, the novelty wore off in about a week. What was left was a deeply entitled personality who felt he deserved to do anything he wanted, and that he was 'owed' something by society, despite the fact he worked only two days a week. He lied, cheated, and betrayed me repeatedly.
I won't lie. He was attractive, had an amazing body, gave me the sense that he was grounded and settled, everything that you would want from that particular situation -- at first. Without a doubt, the most fucked up, flawed wreck of a gay man I have ever encountered. There were pros about him, but they were huge cons, cons that were insurmountable, and believe me I tried to overcome them.
The fantasy is exactly that, a fantasy. He had little to no understanding of culture or intellectual pursuits outside of going to circuit parties, and he was generally a devious emotional wreck. Fucking a fireman may be fun, but I would never date a blue-collar man again. It was a major mistake in my life, and while I rarely regret things, this I regret.
Finally a real fireman spoke up, "FDNYGuy." We believe FDNYGuy is the real deal because he's a regular on DataLounge and we have never heard him slip into the self-aggrandizing fantasy talk about his life or looks that scammers quickly degenerate into. (That's not him at right, btw. That's a model. But we're not going to leave you hanging about FDNYGuy for long. Keep reading ...)
FDNYGuy is also an out gay man to his family and fellow firemen. He suggests that posters who want to meet cops and firefighters join the Gay Officer's Action League (GOAL) or Fire-FLAG, which he himself is a member of and which is open to supporters as well.
"I do hear the words faggot and fairy often (and much, much worse sometimes)," admitted FDNYGuy, after one poster decried the bigoted atmosphere in firehouse locker rooms. "But I'm doing something I wanted to do since I was in kindergarten. And honestly, after barely getting out of Tower 2 on 9/11 and working on the pile for two months looking for friends and colleagues, name-calling is a pretty small thing to endure."
This was his first entry into the conversation, and he quickly became the topic of the subsequent posts. Nightcharm was so blown away by what this guy had to say that we've arranged the various questions that came at him and his answers in interview form:
Q: I admire you for sticking to your profession, but you sound like the exception to the rule. Why would anyone want to work in that atmosphere?.
FDNYGuy: A lot of what has been said here about the FDNY rings true. There are guys who join not because they feel a calling but because of what they think is the "glory" of the job: to be admired and thought of as a hero. Those are the guys who usually have the biggest chip on their shoulder.
But most of us do it because it's our way of doing some good in the world. That's also the reason I never hide the fact that I'm gay and a firefighter. I hope in some small way I'm making some minds change about what a gay man (or woman) can do.
Q: God, I'm falling so in love with you now. What is your work life like? Do your coworkers accept you or is it an uphill battle?
FDNYGuy: It's can be rough at times. The duty schedule for the FDNY usually works on a 24 on / 24 off basis. (That's why I can post on DL during the day.)
The guys in my house are good with me. I get teased by them but most of it is good-natured. That doesn't mean that I'm fully accepted by all of them. I don't get invited to family events sometimes (picnics, bbqs, that sort of stuff). And when I get temporarily re-assigned to another house to help cover shifts, it can get pretty brutal when they find out I'm gay.
The worst experience was when I just got out of the academy and was in my first month at my new house. A probie gets ribbed and pushed around a lot, but my first month was met with complete silence -- other than to bark out orders. No one spoke to me, wanted to sit next to me at meals, or help guide me on my duties. It wasn't until I went out on my first couple of calls that they started to realize that though I might be gay I was still able to do everything they could do. I was watching their backs.
Nowadays when folks find out I'm a firefighter, they immediately say "You're really brave". But you know what, the folks I look up to are the gay activists that are out there fighting for our rights or the young folks that are not afraid to come out at such a young age and stand up for who they are. What I do, as a firefighter, is simply do my job.
Q: How about after hours? Has being a firefighter affected your social life?
FDNYGuy: Actually being aware of gay issues has more of an affect on who I am after hours.
I was in a bar on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, hanging out with some friends when a young, gay couple came in. The bar was filled with Wall Street and fratboy types who like to put their machismo on.
Well, a group of these guys decided to make fun of the gay couple. The words fudgepackers and ass bandits were thrown around. The gay couple tried to ignore it but you could tell by their faces they were ready to just leave. That's when my Queens, NY Italian upbringing came out.
I got up from my seat, went over to the guys and kindly asked them to knock it off. When they asked why the fuck I cared, I said "Because we faggots stick together." I don't think I'm intimidating looking but my friends tell me I am -- I used to play college football so I have a stocky build.
They stopped. The gay couple joined my friends and me at our table and we had a great night.
Well after that college-football crack, DataLounge went off the charts. The demand to see a picture of FDNYGuy became deafening (even though we were only reading it!)
And did he provide one? Yes he did! Here!
Nightcharm [hearts] FDNYGuy!