Mark Simpson on Hollywood heartthrobs going ‘gayish’
The appearance of Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike XXL bun-chums Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez on a float at LA Pride shaking their money-makers for the highly appreciative LGBT crowd seems to have marked a watershed moment in the City of Signs.
Not long after Tatum’s float disappeared into the heat haze of Santa Monica Boulevard the Hollywood Reporter ran a piece by Merle Ginsberg, formerly of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, about the way straight male performers like Tatum have gone ‘beyond metrosexuality’ (characterised by the HR as ‘indulging in feminine-seeming pedicures and hair products’) and now want to be read as ‘gayish’.
Ginsberg argued that far from being frightened of gay attention and gay ‘taint’ as in days of yore, straight men these days actively – or is it passively? – seek out, tickle and tease the male gayze on Pride floats and Out magazine covers, and by talking about which other male actor they’d do if they did guys. The piece also looked at how this phenomenon of furiously flirty ‘straight homos’ – or ‘stromos’ as it was dubbed – is blurring the lines of sexuality and jamming gaydar.
Obviously this is a subject right up my proclivity. And sure enough I found myself quoted in the piece – but couldn’t quite remember when I’d given them. I searched my Inbox and found that I’d answered questions from Ginsberg about this phenomenon of straight male ‘gayness’ by email back in 2013. I guess even two years ago I’m still so now.
However the Hollywood Reporter piece seems to have ruffled a few gay feathers eliciting complaints about ‘gay stereotypes’ and ‘exploitation’. While it’s not really for me to defend the word ‘stromo’ – I’ve enough annoying neologisms of my own to look out for – the phenomenon that the article is about is definitely worth anatomising and certainly not ‘made up’ as some claim, offended ostrich-like.
You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I think the only problem with the Hollywood Reporter piece was that I wasn’t quoted enough – particularly since the article strives to delineate a difference between ‘stromos’ and ‘metrosexuals’ which seems to be based more on an American marketing definition of metrosexuality than mine.
So here are the answers metrodaddy gave in full. (Note the bit towards the end where I say the increasing incoherence of what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is troubling for traditionalists – straight and gay.)
MS: I agree that metrosexuality has morphed – though I would say it has always been morphing and that really it’s intensified. Metrosexuality was never about facials and flip flops it was about the male desire to be desired – which is rampant nowadays. Today’s men are totally tarty. And shameless hussies with it. Male self-objectification is very much the name of today’s game.
Funnily enough, I think this presents a problem for male celebs in general and movie actors in particular. Now that the young str8 male movie-going audience are so image conscious and so keen to attract the eye, the man on the screen has to go the extra mile – and get up even earlier for even longer, harder workouts. Likewise as their audience becomes ‘gayer’, they have to become even gayer or else end up looking Dad-ish. They have to push the envelope further and try harder than their male fans, or the boyfriends of their female fans, or else why should they be in the spotlight?
MG: What do you think of these actors/singers (Adam Levine) who look and dress and even move in a rather gay way? Is this the new masculinity?
Adam Levine looks and sounds like a singing David Beckham. With a bit of Marc Jacobs thrown in. But then Beckham is a kind of non-singing pop star.
What’s happening is that a kind of male bi-sensuality is becoming more and more the norm, both with young men and particularly with male performers, appropriating tastes and manners sensibilities and sensitivities that were previously preserved for women and gay men – on pain of emasculation and ridicule.
Men increasingly want to present themselves as available for any fantasy, and responsive to both sexes – even and especially when they’re heterosexual. It’s a useful strategy for a ‘civilian’ in today’s mediatised, mirrored world, but it’s an essential one if you’re a performer.
Is this possibly due to a further acceptance of gay culture in general? How did that happen over time?
It’s partly due to a greater acceptance of gay culture. If homophobia is uncool, as it is for most young people in the US or UK today, then fear of ‘gay’ things also, eventually, becomes uncool.
But I would almost put it the other way around, homophobia has declined because today’s men are less afraid of themselves than they used to be. Today’s straight men enjoy most of the same sexual practises as gay men, though usually with someone with a vagina, and have embraced gay men’s love of the male body too – though usually their own body. Likewise, male passivity is much less of a taboo than it was. The itchy throb of the prostate gland is no respecter of sexual orientation.
Why would a gay magazine put a straight guy on the cover? Why would a straight guy do it?
Gay magazines put straight men on the cover because a) Their readers, however much they may deny it sometimes, really like to look at hot straight guys, and b) it gets them press: ‘You’ll never guess who’s in his pants on the cover of OUT magazine this month!!’. A gay guy on the cover of a gay magazine is not news. Of course, straight guys on the cover of gay magazines is hardly news anymore now that they’re all scratching each other’s eyes out to get there…. Another reason why gay magazines do it is because it helps to make homophobia even un-cooler.
Why do straight celebs and sportsmen do it? Because: a) They get publicity, and b) They get kudos, and c), probably the most important, straight men nowadays love to be ‘gay icons’.
There is money and career points in having a ‘gay following’, to be sure, but I think the need for gay male approval goes deeper and is shared by a lot of young straight men today. It’s that desire to be desired thing again. Straight men ache to be sex objects – and what better way to be objectified than by other men? Straight men know how demanding men’s eyes can be. How penetrating their ‘gaze’ is.
Even if you have no desire to ever have sex with another guy there’s nothing quite so symbolically, deliciously ‘passive’ as being oggled by other penised human beings.
Is it confusing that we can’t tell who’s straight or who’s gay anymore? Is this a good thing?
It is very confusing. But confusion can be a good and liberating thing.
I think we’ve reached a point where straight men are so ‘gay’ nowadays that they’ve actually become ‘straight acting’. Those beards that gays started wearing back in the early Noughties to butch up have been adopted wholesale by a lot of straight guys in the last few years, and for similar reasons. The decorative, imitative machismo of the gay world has become the ‘real’ thing.
Likewise, the pleasuring and pleasured pneumatic porno male body that Tom of Finland was doodling from his overheated imagination back in the 50s and 60s has become the dominant mainstream fantasy. The Situation and his reality TV ‘bros’ have Tom-ish bodies that invite and plead for the gayze.
But of course the bigger picture is that what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is really breaking down into incoherence. Which is troubling for both straight and gay traditionalists. While you might think that gay men would all welcome this glorious confusion some do find it very disconcerting. And no one likes to be upstaged.
But in the end, the total triumph of metrosexuality and male tartiness, terrifying as it is, should probably be seen as a liberation for straight men – and a bloody relief for gay men. After all, they no longer have to embody all the vanity and tartiness of their entire sex just to keep straight men ‘normal’.
“Confusion can be a good and liberating thing…the bigger picture is that what we mean by ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ is really breaking down into incoherence. Which is troubling for both straight and gay traditionalists.”
Isn’t this precisely the point of most social or political movements? To reach a stage where your difference doesn’t matter to anyone but yourself?
Gay men have worked hard to make sure our desires, appearance, and behaviour don’t carry a stigma. You want acceptance? Imitation is the sincerest form of acceptance.
Interesting how this article provides an example of Lacan’s dictum that the subject’s desire is to discover the desire of the object. (Yes, I know Lacan’s style is infuriatingly verbose and wilfully obscure and that his practice was dodgy, even though his theories remain fruitfully intriguing, but much of what he argues does have validity, as MS’s piece confirms). Here the Sunject [the metrosexual] desires to know what the Object [the gay voyeur/the str8 voyeur] desires him to be: in this case, muscled, cute, open to the gayze of the Object. Lacan’s theory enlarges Freud’s theory of the Oedipal complex in which the child (especially the male child) seeks to know what its mother desires. If the mother desires the father’s desire for her, the son has to forfeit his demand for the mother to be his (incestuous) lover, but where the mother is disappointed in her husband, the son can hope to take the father’s place as the mother’s desire, leading to a foreclosure of the Oedipal struggle that can be one component of the turn towards a homo- rather than hetero-sexual focus.