The Straight Men that Made Me Gay



Joe Namath, quarterback of the New York Jets (1965-1977) in 1965 (Photo courtesy of FineArt America).

For as long as I can remember, there has been a faction of conservative politicians and church officials spinning an alarmist claim that the gays are actively recruiting children, spewing statements like “Guncle Sam Wants Your Children.” Drag Queen Story Hours are just the latest alleged venue for boosting enrollment.

Of course, no gay man or cohort made me gay. The thought is ludicrous.

I grew up at a time when there weren’t any visible or out homosexuals. Liberace had stated under oath he wasn’t gay. Elton John was married to a woman, Paul Lynde was a harmless, snarky coot on Hollywood Squares, and Charles Nelson Reilly, a regular on Match Game, just seemed kooky.

As a kid, only a librarian gathered us together for story time. The librarian was always a woman and, in accordance with stereotypes, she favored horn-rimmed glasses and frocks from Amish yard sales. Men in drag campaigned for laughs rather than queer rights as Jonathan Winters donned a dress to become Maude Frickert, and Johnny Carson transformed to Aunt Blabby for skits on The Tonight Show. On his top-rated variety show in the ’70s, Flip Wilson drew big laughs in drag as Geraldine Jones. I didn’t suddenly yearn to buy skirts and high heels. My allowance covered a weekly pack of hockey cards and a 3 Musketeers Bar, that’s all.

There were occasional whisperings about a man being gay but, if someone were actually gay back then, I’m guessing keeping his job was a bigger concern than getting laid. I can only conclude that straight men made me gay.

Mr. Leslie, the only male teacher at my elementary school, made me gay. He had a big mop of curly hair and a bushy beard. He also had a wife

whose picture sat on his desk. He was never my teacher, always the teacher next door, so I only studied him when our classes rotated through themed learning days. His room represented reptiles, Europe, and papier-mâché. His pronounced Adam’s apple was very distracting.

Cartoons swayed me, too. Fred on Scooby-Doo caught my eye. He always seemed attached at the hip to Daphne, but I still ogled at his blond hair and orange ascot every time “those meddling kids” captured the bad guys. There was also Hermey, the blond elf and aspiring dentist in the stop-motion animated classic, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. I suppose back then I connected to the phrase, “Gentlemen prefer blond(e)s.” The expression was the only thing associated with Marilyn Monroe that made me take notice.

Joe Namath made me gay. I know, I know, a Super Bowl MVP quarterback from a place called Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Admittedly, I didn’t know him from football but from watching Sonny & Cher. He also appeared with shaved legs and pantyhose in a Beautymist commercial. Joe the jock.

Along came Parker Stevenson. He had my attention long before his then-wife Kirstie Alley thanked him for giving her “the Big One for the last eight years” during her 1991 Emmy acceptance speech for her role on Cheers. I was firmly in Parker’s place from his Hardy Boys days. That hair, so golden, so wavy, so much.

GQ made me gay. I got a subscription from my parents for my birthday one year, along with Sports Illustrated. I was a man in the making. Long before GQ started putting celebrities like Ryan Reynolds, Michael B. Jordan and swimsuit-clad Martha Stewart on the cover, it stood out on checkout racks as hunky, stoic models with chiseled faces stared at me with penetrating eyes. Come to think of it, covers with Ryan Reynolds and Michael B. Jordan would have done it, too. (Martha, of course, nurtured other gay elements.)

You’d think watching wholesome ’70s TV would have set me straight, but I had daddy issues over Michael Landon from Little House on the Prairie, and I felt a strange yearning to have the privilege of bidding “Goodnight, John-boy” to eldest Walton, Richard Thomas. America’s official Family Viewing Hour corrupted me.

I wasn’t much for cop or detective shows. Still, I sensed I was supposed to soak up some of the genre’s machismo so I eyed Magnum, P.I., particularly when Tom Selleck took to the beach, shirtless. Hawaii never looked better. There were also crime-fighting partners who seemed to have a special bond. Oh, my Starsky! And Hutch! My eyes ping-ponged from Erik Estrada to Larry Wilcox on CHiPS

Mitch Gaylord, a four-time Olympic medalist, made me gay. His gymnast body made me feel patriotic. Or something. Gaylord was the first American gymnast to score a perfect 10.0 in Olympic competition. The judges nailed it.

Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon are excellent actresses, but Thelma and Louise will always be the movie where Brad Pitt gifted moviegoers a first glimpse of his abs.

While Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole for president in 1996, I took a liking to Republican running mate Jack Kemp during the campaign. Kemp was a silver fox, a former AFL quarterback with all-American good looks. It’s a good thing you can’t split the vote at the top of the ballot.

When I first went to gay bars, wondering if that’s where I belonged, it felt safer staring at TV screens playing music videos than making any kind of contact with patrons. I’d perk up whenever Janet Jackson’s “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” aired. She looked fabulous, but I’d always order another Tom Collins after getting overheated by the male models. Straight, avowed Republican Antonio Sabàto Jr. made an impression.

There are many straight men who helped me realize I was gay. While there are now plenty of out and proud gays, here’s a sobering reality: There’s a whole new generation of straight men making younger males discover all sorts of gay feelings. They’re doing more than any of us average gay guys and glamorous drag queens could ever do to add names to gay registers. On behalf of gays everywhere, I’d like to thank all the straight men who’ve helped advance the Big Gay Agenda.


Gregory Walters is a full-time writer after stints as a lawyer, teacher and school principal. He is currently working on several novels while his writing has been published by The New York Times, Funny Times, The Globe and Mail, CBC, Sprudge, Next Avenue, Vancouver Is Awesome, Cottage Life, Junto Magazine, and Writer’s Digest. He posts weekly on his blog, Aging Gayly, and can be found on Instagram.



Read More from Gregory Walters