The Joys of Not Being a Joiner

Michael Musto’s Movie Club, watching “Daughters of Darkness” on Zoom. Top row, from left: Musto, Sam Adler, Mickey Boardman. Middle row, from left: Scott Lifshutz, Bradford Louryk, Lee Kimble. Bottom row: Lynn Yaeger. | Photo by Sam Adler

BY MICHAEL MUSTO | I did most of my joining back at school, when I was especially desperate to be validated by others. I performed in shows, wrote for the school paper and the literary magazine, was treasurer of the honor society, and even joined the college Glee Club just to get a free trip to Mexico. (I didn’t realize they’d put us up in jail cells!)

But as an only child and perpetual outsider, my best joining of all was in high school, when I became part of fellow student Judy Singer’s group of outcasts called the Bunny Club. Against all odds, Judy and I got some other oddballs to wriggle their noses, eat carrots, and hop around the school’s hallways like idiots! And so, my most concerted joining effort involved doing something relatively anti-social and totally against the grain—a far cry from the prom and football game obsessions the other kids were engaging in.

And that was pretty much the end of my joining—until the ‘90s, when I cofounded a Good/Bad Movie Club, where slightly damaged but totally wonderful people still gather to enjoy camp classics that probably looked good on paper. If there was ever a Movie Club designed to watch Gandhi, then I definitely wouldn’t be interested, but give me Airport 1975 or The Room and I’m ready to both jeer and applaud. My movie club has basically become a cinematic answer to the Bunny Club, a place where square pegs can commingle over shared weirdness.

I’m just not the kind of person who wants to do what everyone else is doing (unless it’s safety related, like getting a vaccine), and the more they do it, the more I rebel. I grew up not playing sports like all the other guys—I played with dolls with the neighboring girls and was amazed when no one stopped me. I also never subscribed to the pressure to find someone of the opposite sex to marry, and in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, going against that prescribed scenario was pretty bold. In fact, I never found someone of any sex to marry. I realized early on that that sort of thing is strictly for joiners.

When watching TV went from lowbrow anathema to required viewing, I was the lone soul who refused to stay home and take in the latest Sopranos or Sex and the City episode. People swore that I couldn’t possibly live without all that, but here I am many years later and I’m still alive!

As someone who covers theater, movies, nightlife, and cabaret, I wanted to actually leave the house and do, do, do, not become hooked on series like I had done as a kid, when there were no other options. Now that the whole world stays home and binge-watches the same series, I avoid doing so, especially when the show is about something so familiar to me. Why should I sit back and watch what everyone else is watching, especially when it’s the pop version of something I actually lived? I’m continually mystified by people who post on Facebook that they just took in seasons one through seven of some series, as if watching TV is now considered an accomplishment we’re supposed to applaud!

Similarly, when everyone on social networks adopts the same pose—like duct tape over the mouth on their profile photo, to protest hate—I don’t do it. I feel like I represent that kind of thing every day, not just when there’s a communal cry to step up and be uniform about it. I also do not take part in Throw Back Thursdays or Caturdays. I don’t even have a cat! What’s more, I generally abhor line dances, I don’t wave rainbow flags, and though I had a free gym membership for years, I only used to it to go once in a while and weigh myself. I also have never gone to a Starbucks, except to use the Wi-Fi. (I like dollar deli coffee, thank you.)

In 1987, I did join the AIDS activist group ACT-UP and found it quite productive, but other than that, when I’m involved in some kind of march or rally, I tend to stay off to the sides as a way of announcing, “I’m with them, but I’m also my own person.” It’s just the way I roll.

When I finally got a desk at the Village Voice after years of waiting, it was a great advance, though I suddenly was privy to a lot more of the politics of the workplace than before and started looking back fondly at the times when I was more of an independent free spirit. I had always been a freelance writer who eschewed the 9 to 5 lifestyle, finding it soul destroying and not fun at all. I always felt comfortable as a glamorous guest star who swept in with my contributions, just like I’d rather be a visitor in someone’s Hamptons house than own the house and have to deal with all the logistical problems and cleaning too.

Admittedly, a lot of this comes from a deep-seated insecurity and a feeling that I never quite belong to any one group, but the up side is that it’s helped me do my own thing rather than be a “sheeple” who waits for the masses to cue me as to how to behave. And at this point, I’m not going to change. If anyone wants to restart the Bunny Club, I’ve got some carrots in the fridge.

Michael Musto is a columnist, pop cultural and political pundit, NYC nightlife chronicler, author, and the go-to gossip responsible for the long-running (1984-2013) Village Voice column, “La Dolce Musto.” His work regularly appears on this website as well as Queerty.com and thedailybeast.com, and he is writing for the new Village Voice, a quarterly which made its debut in April. Follow Musto on Twitter, via @mikeymusto.

 

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