Meet the Gaybros
By Mike Albo
Photography by Joshua Scott
"I’ll drink a beer before a mixed drink any day,” says Jon Allen, a 23-year-old rugby-playing graduate of Columbia College in Chicago. For people like Allen, there is now a place to talk about that.
“Gear, Grub, Guns, and Guys” is the tagline of Gaybros, a Reddit subgroup that has grown from 200 subscribers at the beginning of 2012 to nearly 28,000 today, with more than 3 million pageviews a month. For Allen, who joined the forum as a moderator just a few months after it was created, the site offers a community he can’t find elsewhere — a place where he and others like him can talk about anything, from sports to microbrewing to the military.
“There isn’t necessarily a safe space for gay people to talk about these subjects, or for me to talk about how I love playing rugby,” says Allen, who grew up in Oak Park, near Chicago, and came out to his parents when he was 15. “We had a very organized GSA [gay-straight alliance] and a school board that would bend over backward to make sure we projected acceptance in school,” he recalls.
Despite accepting parents and a supportive school environment, Allen felt confined. “When I came out, I think I naively jumped out of one closet and into a different one. I started behaving really differently — how I thought an out, proud gay person should behave — and I think I used stereotypes as a guideline of what was expected of me. It was really after I started playing rugby midway through college that I came to the conclusion that there was no expected behavior other than one expected of me from the less-than-educated sect of the heterosexual population.”
This sense of having swapped one set of “accepted” behaviors for another is a common thread in conversations with gaybros. Many posters on the forum are moved to declare their alienation from the “gay scene,” rejecting it as an artifice of tropes and myths. “I had this picture in my mind of the gay scene, where you needed to be model-hot, financially successful, have a perfect body, and a variety of other cultural stereotypes to ever ‘fit in’ the gay community,” writes ArmyofOne86, in a comment that is fairly typical.
The same is true for Alex Deluca, who created the group shortly after graduating from Northeastern University.
Although out at the young age of 12 and, like Allen, the beneficiary of a supportive school and community, Deluca also felt under pressure to play a certain role. “It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized my interests and passions weren’t really aligned with the things I was actively taking part in, because I hadn’t met other gay guys who shared those interests,” he says. “That thought process was a spark that eventually resulted in the creation of Gaybros.”
Like so many Internet memes, the rise in popularity of Gaybros was rapid and somewhat unforeseen. Today they have events and meetups in several U.S. cities, as well as in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. “I knew I wanted to start a lifestyle community around shared interests,” says Deluca. “By using the word ‘bro,’ it also strengthens the message that this is not a dating service and is meant to create a fraternal and friendly atmosphere among members who may not have had those shared fraternal experiences or groups growing up.”
Deluca estimates that the biggest age group on Gaybros is 18 to 25, with some 80% of its members falling into the 18 to 34 category. He describes the group as being “low-pressure,” with a friendly atmosphere that welcomes anyone. More than anything else, the forum seems like a place for gay young men to ask questions and find community. Some recent forum subjects have included “First date etiquette,” “What is your most porn-like encounter?” and “Gaybros in a country where homosexuality is illegal, what is your life like?” (It’s also sexual; they’re connected to another Reddit subgroup, Gaybros Gone Wild, which has plenty of young men showing off their erections and looking for sex, just like any hookup app or dating website.)
The gaybros have been getting some attention lately: a profile of Deluca on Salon.com, an interview on Buzzfeed, an effort at taxonomy on EdgeontheNet. Are gaybros an identity, like bears? A trendy adjective, like metrosexual? In some ways they appear to share the most similarities with the ’90s trend of lipstick lesbians — gay women who flouted stereotypes and made a point of showing how feminine and stylish they could be.