Hollywood Gayze

Magic Mike XXL

The appear­ance of Channing Tatum and his Magic Mike XXL bun-chums Matt Bomer and Adam Rodriguez on a float at Los Angeles Pride shak­ing their money-makers for the highly appre­ci­at­ive LGBT crowd last month 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" (char­ac­ter­ized by THR 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 ana­tom­izing 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.)

Mark Simpson: 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?

Merle Ginsberg: 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 medi­at­ized, 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."

Mark Simpson is the daddy of the metrosexual, retrosexual & spornosexual. Read more at MarkSimpson.com

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