Tuesday, July 06, 2004
by Wayne Besen
Last night I stayed up until 3:30 AM hitting on a guy in Greensboro, North Carolina at a chic straight bar with a large gay clientele. It turns out I wasn't his type. He liked women, which kind of made the situation hopeless because I'd look terrible in drag. Who would of thought I'd find a Metrosexual - a straight guy with a strong gay fashion and culture sensibility - in Greensboro?
I didn't know he was straight. He was ultra-fashionably dressed and had and earring in his lip. He was completely at ease talking to gay men and women and seemed flattered, although uninterested - with my advances.
Thanks to television shows like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy", I can't tell who's truly gay anymore. In the New World Fashion Order we've got straight guys who dress like Richard Simmons understudies and gay guys who look like they belong on a poster for the Young Republicans. The traditional fashion lines have become blurred beyond recognition.
This makes me pine for the days when gay people dressed like the Village People at bars and straight guys went to nightclubs dressed in tacky Saturday Night Fever suits. At least it made it easier to know who to ask out on a date!
It seems this fashion crossover isn't just confined to city-slicker straight guys imitating urban gay guys and vice versa. A revealing New York Times article on lesbian style points out that lesbians are also having a huge impact, with rural straight men mimicking their fashions.
"Trucker hats, wallet chains, cowboy boots and straw Stetsons, all that started with gay women and was transformed into street fashion," said Rebecca Weinberg, a former stylist for HBO's 'Sex and the City'.
Imagine the surprise at truck stops across America when some of the big, tough guys realize they are draped in gay garments. But even lesbian fashion has evolved beyond the stereotype with leading fashion model Amanda Moore setting trends while sashaying across runways and on the cover of glitzy magazines.
Recently, I was debating at a coffee shop with a few gay guys whether the smash television hit "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy" was good for the gay community. For the unacquainted, this show features a modish team of uber-hip gay guys who take a hapless straight guy and tarts him up so he can land the female object of his affection by the end of the show.
Some of the men at the coffee shop said that it was terrible for the gay community because it stereotyped homosexuals as effeminate queens. One guy said, "These guys make Liberace look like Rambo."
A few of the other gay men said they loved the show because it was enjoyable, increased visibility and it was only fair to show the lives of all gay people, not just those who acted "mainstream". I personally like the show and find it fun to watch. These days we have enough macho role models like former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Esera Tuaolo to balance the more stereotypical portrayals on Queer Eye.
While debating, it suddenly occurred to me that the real question is not how Queer Eye will affect the gay community, but how will it impact heterosexual men? Many straight guys are unwitting victims of homophobia, immobilized with a ridiculous fear of being labeled gay that keeps them from embracing the Metrosexual within.
Some of these guys want to study ballet, become hair technicians, interior designers or florists. Sadly, they often forfeit their dreams to "fit in" and instead end up in lame, unsatisfying jobs selling gizmos or crunching numbers in bland cubicles located in a sterile office parks.
What Queer Eye does is brilliant. They make Metrosexual guys cool by having them land the sexy girl at the end of each show. The message is, if you don't take care of yourself, you'll be by yourself. Thus, trendy straight guys can break out of the narrow confines imposed by closed-minded people and follow their hearts.
Gay men now face the opposite problem. As long as they aren't too flamboyant they can gain acceptance in many places. But will assimilation mean annihilation of the gay sensibility? Some people think so.
"The gay gene for fashion is like the gay gene for musicals, it doesn't exist," said Valerie Steele, the museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in the New York Times article. It "is the reality that being an outsider heightens awareness."
So, it seems progress for the next generation may mean gays exchanging musicals for the mundane, while newly liberated heterosexuals muscle in on our fancy hairdo salons and aerobics studios. Who thought leaving outsider status behind would have us working inside the coalmines and wearing polyester? If fashion foreshadows the future, the world has already changed more than we as a society have acknowledged.
posted by will, at