Meet the Gaybros
By Mike Albo
“I don’t feel comfortable with effeminate men,” writes another commenter. “I like hangin’ with my buddies… We enjoy our manhood—being masculine — and a man is fun and comfortable. What I don’t get is why out guys are prejudice[d] against us just because we feel comfortable not being obvious.”
The common bond within the gaybro community is sports. Coinciding with the coming out of Jason Collins and Robbie Rogers and the growing certainty of gay acceptance in major league sports, gaybros could be a sign that coming out of the closet is reaching a new comfort level among a segment of men, the kind who consider themselves sporty, “regular,” beer-drinking.
Jared Max, an ESPN sportscaster, came out publicly in 2011. “I always thought I would meet that friend and we would keep that secret together,” he concedes. “A majority of my friends are straight… I couldn’t relate with the flamboyant characters out on TV.” Max, who as a child had been passionate about sports and sports reporting, worried that being out and gay would irrevocably change his life. “I had great fears of whether I would still be the same guy I have always been,” he says. “That was the biggest focus for me: How do I go through this and come out the other side intact as who I am?”
Sports is changing, but identifying yourself as gay in that world is still daunting, and many sports-focused young men may need a checkpoint along the way, such as identifying as a gaybro. In a passage in Collins’s open letter, he explains that the timing of his coming out coincided with the NBA player lockout: “The lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want… I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.”
These coming-out stories may be a bellwether. Max predicts that in five years there will be several out players on major sports teams. “The way that masculinity has been defined as ‘not queer’ has been breaking down over the last decade or so,” says Mark Simpson, author of Metrosexy and Saint Morrissey who coined the term metrosexual. “Increasingly, you can be openly queer and still part of the masculine world, whether in sports or the military. And this does raise an intriguing possibility. Because once the loudly and compulsorily homophobic aspect of men’s sports and camaraderie falls away, the homoerotic aspect is no longer hidden any more.”
Max is a good example of this shifting paradigm. His bar of choice in New York City is Boxers, a hugely successful gay sports bar that recently opened a second Manhattan location. “I found my own Cheers at Boxers,” he says. “It speaks to the modern gay man. I watch NFL Sundays there, the Raiders game.”
In May, I attended a gaybro meetup in Hoboken, N.J., at a sports bar called McSwiggans. A baseball game was on and a group of dudes wearing baseball hats and drinking beers were glued to the screen, erupting in howls, arguing with the referees. At first I thought that these dudes—doughy, sports-fixated, “straight-acting”—were the gaybros. Then I noticed two young men walk in who set off my gaydar. I followed them as they milled through the space and looked around. They went outside to a patio area I hadn’t noticed before, where a group of about 15 or 20 young men were gathered, sitting at tables far from the TV screens. They looked friendly, more approachable, and, well, gay.
“Is this the gaybro meetup?” I asked. It felt awkward to walk up to someone and ask this, as awkward as asking, “Hey, are you gay?” They looked at me nervously at first. They were all young, collegiate. Many wore short-sleeved collared shirts and khakis or cargo shorts.
I started chatting with a blond guy and his friend. I asked where they were from. Many lived nearby, the friend said, in Jersey City especially. I asked the blonde if he was from Jersey City as well. “No. I’m from nearby, in the contiguous region.” Do you go out in the city? “Eventually I will, but not yet,” he said, carefully.
I remember being like this: guarded, tentative, not so sure I was psyched to become part of gay culture. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, I was in college. I avoided the Lesbian/Gay Student Union, at first — the president of the organization seemed precise and wore pink oxford shirts. Being “out and proud” looked intimidating and consuming and not like who I was. I remember watching The Boys in the Band on TV and being frightened by their bitchy repartee; one false move and you could turn into a bitchy queen. It was also a time when gay men who were not much older than me were dying in great numbers. Simply becoming gay and coming out seemed risky, like an infection. But that didn’t stop me —eventually I got a fake ID, started going to bars, took gender studies classes, read Dancer from the Dance, joined ACT UP rallies, and started my path toward self-acceptance.
Now it’s 2013. Creating a gay identity may be getting easier, but it still seems that becoming gay can be a daunting and painful process at first. Whether you choose to wear a football jersey or fabulous sequined top, trying to define your sexual self is a long, aching, and often awkward process. Becoming a gay man — becoming a man — takes time, a lot of missteps, and constant inquiry. Perhaps being a gaybro is just a phase.