Circling the Square

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IN JULY 2003, Bravo premiered Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a reality series in which five urbane gay men give lifestyle makeovers to straight men, and it became an overnight cultural phenomenon. That same summer, The New York Times made the coinage “metrosexual”—a straight guy who grooms himself like a stereotypical gay guy—a household word. Both of these pop culture phenomena reveal that a gay makeover of the straight American male has literally reached prime time.

While the media’s reporting on the subject revealed the obvious—that indeed straight men are looking more gay these days—the real and radical change in straight American men has gone virtually unnoticed. Much more than a matter of heterosexual men simply working out, waxing, and wearing Prada, straight men are liberating themselves from homophobia, leaving themselves open to gay influence, and thus to a more expansive idea of what it means to be a man. No longer averse to “gay traits” in the way that straight men of Ronald Reagan’s and John Wayne’s generation were, the new American man has made his way out of this narrow, homophobic ideal of manhood and embraced a larger world. Those in the vanguard include actor Eric McCormack of Will & Grace, who has said that Will is close to his own (non-gay) personality; San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, who has become a leading gay activist; and the Carlson twins modeling in unabashedly homoerotic poses for Abercrombie & Fitch. Right behind them is every straight guy who auditioned to go on prime time TV to be made over by a team of gay men. Call him the “post-straight” American male.

The rise of the post-straight male constitutes a drastic shift in the Zeitgeist, because in traditional American culture homophobia in men has not only been indulged, it has been respected. And the impact of this phobia was by no means limited to maintaining the great divide between straight men and gay men. Anything associated with male homosexuality—from dancing and creativity to male beauty and friendships with women—has been stigmatized, too, estranging the straight American male from human traits erroneously labeled as “gay.” Exerting what is surely the greatest impact on American manhood since the rise of feminism in the 1970’s, gay liberation is not only helping to heal relationships between straight men and gay men, it is also allowing “gay” qualities back into the construction of masculinity, and many straight men are realizing that they’ve been on the losing end of homophobia, too.

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