This is a tough time for the Heterosexual.

He or she lives in a world of uncertainty, the validity of his or her values and relationships in question. If the Heterosexual finds him/herself swaddled in anxiety, perhaps it is because America subjects him/her to a bastinado of mixed messages. That is, when not employing him/her as cheap comic relief on network TV.

We--and I say "we," because I am totally not gay, OK?--may be on the road to recovery. But the lifestyle some call "The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name at Banana Republic" still has a long way to go.

Not that "society" is to blame for our marginalization. The Heterosexual was the architect of his/her own cultural demise. A lazy sense of entitlement--those dead-end middle-management jobs would always be ours, right?--bred complacency.

For a glimpse of modern straight desperation, let's turn--with due respect to my hetero sisters--to thoughts from a 31-year-old white Portland man we'll call "Balthazar."

"I grasped the concept of traditional male masculinity mainly through the writings of Ernest Hemingway," muses Balthazar. "I dreamed of fishing off the coast of Cuba, being gruff to women, and always standing up to and prevailing over people who sucked."

Small wonder our kind is in trouble. As Balthazar dreamed of bagging trophy marlin, running with the bulls and firing his literary agent in a legendary fit of pique, the zeitgeist was busy kicking his ass into the next century. Now, like many heteros, he finds himself adrift, glancing enviously at the aquamarine Mini Cooper (or fully loaded Subaru Outback, as the case may be) in the next lane.

"It's a bad cliché to say gay men are promiscuous," Balthazar says. "But I have always had the impression they are at least unafraid to approach one another flirtatiously and openly. It is dangerous territory for a man to flirt with women just because she is heterosexual and present--the rules can suddenly change."

It is only a small exaggeration to say this state of affairs has reduced Balthazar to cosmic, cavernous, echoing, forlorn despair--wide and arid as the Sahara, as deep as Marianas.

"I think it's important to explore the idea of whether or not women need guys like me around," he says. "Sometimes I wonder when it will be my day to shine."

And while some might find Balthazar's ennui a tad on the pathetic side, he's hardly alone. Portland psychologist Margaret Wolszon spends a lot of time holding male heterosexual hands in her role as an individual and group counselor. Fears, anxiety and groveling are not uncommon among the species, she says.

"There are fewer ways for straight white males today to feel better about themselves," Wolszon says. "It is still a man's world more than a woman's world, and a white man's world more than a black or Latino man's world. Straight white males still have most of the top jobs in society. The entitlement they feel is enormous. That's why they are so shocked when someone else gets something [like a job or promotion] that they want."

Yet hope may yet crest on the horizon. Even in this hour of heterosexual darkness--when we can't even claim to rule the roost at Home Depot--signs of revival bloom.

Politically, Bill Clinton's presidency, though widely derided in the media, is now seen by some heterosexuals (and others) as a high-water mark of recent White House history. Many pundits believe the 2004 election could turn on the straight vote, especially in "battleground" states like Oregon. Both major-party presidential candidates are openly straight.

There is a growing appreciation for the contributions of straight people to the arts and culture. Straight writers like John Grisham and Erica Jong have penned moving portrayals of heterosexual culture's richness--and, yes, sadness. In America alone, some of our most influential artists, such as Thomas Kinkade and Jackson Pollock, are (or were) practicing heterosexuals. Some of the most powerful women in modern entertainment--Oprah Winfrey, for instance--have in recent years made public peace with their heterosexuality. Tom Cruise, the popular Hollywood star, is widely rumored to be straight.

And despite their hegemony over many aspects of modern life, homosexuals increasingly tolerate many heterosexual practices. Marriage, child-rearing and casual Fridays find a growing acceptance, even in places like Portland and San Francisco.

Finally, as a 100-percent-I-swear-to-God! straight person, I urge everyone to look at the Heterosexual not as a "demographic" or a "statistic," but as a human being. When you see the Heterosexual in his shapeless chinos, or at the wheel of her elephantine minivan, please remember: He/she can't help it. He/she was born this way.

Another so-called straight guy, Dan Cook, helped me with this article--but, hey, don't get the wrong idea.

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