I’m currently living at my mother‘s house, waiting for my work permit to come through so that I can start my first real job, teaching in England. Suffice it to say, I suddenly have a lot of free time.  I’ve been watching my way through Six Feet Under, a show which aired before I had either the emotional capacity to enjoy a program about a funeral home or HBO, which means frequent trips to our local movie rental for the next few discs.  As people who work slow-moving jobs in small towns are wont to do, the gray ponytailed man at Video Exchange has struck up a bit of a rapport with me, enough that he now feels comfortable commenting on my selections.

While ringing up my latest Six Feet Under episodes, the clerk said to me, “you know, it’s a great show.  But every time I see the blond guy in movies, having seen him play a gay guy, it just doesn’t quite work.”

Michael C. Hall, the actor who plays David Fisher, the gay funeral director on Six Feet Under, isn’t blond.  Furthermore, he’s been in exactly two movies in his career, neither of which this man is likely to have seen. Hall is currently best known for playing the title role on Showtime’s serial killer drama Dexter, the mention of which drew only a vague “oh, yeah” from the clerk.  But despite not having a clear idea of who “the gay guy” on Six Feet Under is or where else one might have seen him, this man was sure that having once played a gay man would make any straight role ring false.

It’s disturbing that there are people who think like this, for whom a gay character is like a stain which an actor can never wash off. But it’s perhaps more disturbing that this man felt perfectly at ease sharing this thought with a stranger, as if the idea that I might be offended by the implications of his statement hadn’t even crossed his mind. This comment was delivered in the same carefree tone of voice as our previous exchanges about comic books and Paris Hilton’s storage unit.

Maybe he didn’t see how casting gayness as a trait so foreign any actor who portrays it invites permanent association could be seen as homophobic.  Maybe it never occurred to him that an average looking-girl with long hair and sparkly earrings, who has had multiple brief conversations with him without once mentioning a sexual attraction towards women, could be queer or queer-allied. But it’s clear that homosexuality is still so bizarre to this man that it’s the first thing his brain pulls up after seeing a Six Feet Under disc, despite the show’s numerous quirks and straight plotlines. And it’s clear that some people still have no mental mechanism in place to question their public statements about gay people.

I drove home feeling a little discouraged about the progress of sexual understanding. But more than that, I felt sorry for the clerk, whose thoughtless homophobia no doubt restrains his viewing experiences. Dexter is awesome. And I’ve never once expected the main character to have sex with a man.