Homosexualist text and subtext in “men’s” magazines

Details, March 2004

A plump, juicy ish this month, with the still-handsome but now-underfed Ethan Hawke on the cover. (Oh, but whoops! He was also on the March 2002 cover.) And to my enormous surprise, they’re improving.


Actually, above the nameplate runs the screamer hed EXCLUSIVE: THE REAL TRUTH ABOUT STRAIGHT MEN AND AIDS, but we’ll get to that later. Rather less auspicious is the mutterer hed “Running with Scissors’s Augusten Burroughs on Sex, Stereotypes, and Switching Teams.” He’s hardly what I’d call an authority.

Bare chests in this issue

Must be open to the waist to be enumerated.

Ladies and gentlemen, a new record!

Advertising analysis

It’s the spring fashion issue, as the editorial excerpted below will indicate, and this is the second magazine in which I have been pleased to see the new campaign by Perry Ellis (“The DEATH Collection”) featuring Paul Rudd. I feel bashful and inhibited in admitting I find this B-tier actor impossibly cute and good-natured. (And hirsute. And, unfortunately, circumcised: He’s an American son of two British Jews.)

It’s a four-page spread and I hate the intro (a flat-out technical failure: The photo is too dark) and the extro (an also-too-dark sepiatone makes him look girly). But, mother of God, you’ve never seen anybody in a pinstriped suit and yellow shirt look so good seated on a couch. (It’s the correctly-rendered dark skin with five-o’clock shadow that does it.)

Unfortunately, he doesn’t read as gay in the tiniest possible way, rather ruining an already-bad movie. You know the one I’m talking about.

Editorial: I was right after all

This month’s editorial from he-man Details helmsman “Big Danny” Peres shows the now-prototypical Tom Ford spectacle – a photo of Ford in trim black suit with open-necked white shirt. Big Danny writes:

I think it’s important to note, for the record, that my full-on ass-kiss to Mr. Ford will in no way positively affect the revenue of this magazine.... Anyone fortunate enough to witness these shows in person was always as excited to see the man himself as they were to see his designs come down the catwalk. That’s because he, like the clothing he designed, oozes sexiness.

Just ask Tom – he’ll tell you.

Or I will.

Gay or Eurotrash?

Well, this month’s instalment pokes poor Mel in the eye: “Gay or Jesus?”

One hoards Madonna’s records; the other calls her Mother. Whether you’re stealing a kiss from Peter or cruising for disciples with Paul, a good son requires a righteous staff. So come out of the wilderness, remember that man does not live by bread alone, and switch that Poland Spring to Pinot Grigio: From St. Barts to Bethlehem, it’s not officially a party until the Second Coming.

Brilliantly dense with nuance, that.

Leather bands
Accentuates slender wrist on bedpost or crucifix
Easier to walk on water when light in the loafers.

What our Uncle Tom is up to this month

I admit that my sinking heart upon viewing the five-page article quadruplet superhedded “Myths, Mistakes, and Musings about the Modern Gay Man” was a bit of a reflex, even schtick. I was so used to Augusten Burroughs’s being the house nigger of Details that I initially didn’t notice he wrote merely two of the pieces. More importantly, once I calmed down enough to read them, I calmed down further and was shocked to find the stories not exorbitantly offensive. Fluffy at times, certainly.

  1. Burroughs, “Can Gays Turn Straights?”

    If it happens, they weren’t straight in the first place. (And by the way, I’ve never managed it.)

    I decided not to remind him that this example came so easily because I’d tried to initiate phone sex with a client back in my hideously alcoholic advertising days.

    Now it all makes sense: Now I understand why, in a writer profile a few months back that I now cannot put my hands on, Burroughs professed a great love of sitting at home working away all day. He’s overcompensating. He’s substituting. Oh, and you know what else? His Contributors blurb for December 2003 concerned his method of “[g]etting people to open up about taboo topics”: “ ‘I serve grain alcohol to my close friends and then interview them while they’re blacked out.’ ” (Bet you get really good quote then, Gusty.) If I’m not mistaken, the mid-30s Burroughs has published not one but two semifictionalized memoirs about being a drunk. Enabling behaviour, anyone?

    [“Gay guys”] see a handsome, sexy straight man who is maybe even a little flirty, and they rise to the challenge... [as] he can later brag to his friends at the tanning salon.

    Of course, a lot of straight guys are just asking for it.... [T]hey are not truly hot unless a gay guy thinks they are.... The sad fact is, even a pig of a guy can get a beautiful girl if he has money, power, or, put simply, the balls to call her.

    The piece ends horribly, in what appears to be a true story of exhibitionism, which of course isn’t illegal in the workplace if two boys do it and one of them is an hipster belletrist/former drunk.

  2. Ms Whitney McNally, “Faking Gay”:

    But now the film executive was whispering in his ear and a manly hand was grazing his thigh.... Chris was willing to play along – that is, until he realized his potential new partner wanted him to spend the night. “I told him I had to meet my significant other,” Chris says with a smile. “To this day, he still doesn’t know I’m straight.”

    And Details is hardly the magazine to go looking for covert straight guys. Your secret’s safe!

    [S]traight men are increasingly comfortable going covertly girly if it means getting approval from their homosexual bosses....

    Take the case of Matt, a hetero 28-year-old writer at the New York Times.

    Jeez, might as well go right to the top, Whitney. At least it’ll get you mentioned on Gawker, because is it not a fact that there are no gay editors at the Times?

    ”It’s a challenge to be a straight man in certain industries,” [a fashion model] says. “Gay men have the power, and they can get away with extremely forward comments. You’d be an idiot not to flirt back.”

    Personally, I don’t get this. In any workplace, I try very hard not to swear, at least so that bystanders can overhear. (Muttering under one’s breath, yes.) I don’t engage in sexual innuendo. We have the right to a workplace where we are not made sexually uncomfortable. Other kinds of discomfort you may not have a right to avoid, but this kind you do. Where one draws the line is tricky at times, but I don’t know a lot of offices where “gay men have the power, and... get away with extremely forward comments.” I don’t see a lot of powerful out gays, and the one place we can’t get away with “extremely forward comments” is the workplace.

    It’s really very simple. If they can’t talk about boning their wives, you can’t talk about getting boned. They can’t and you can’t.

    I even think it’s improper to swear loudly in an office, even a high-pressure office, like a police station (full of jumped-up working-class slobs) or a newsroom (full of jumped-up middle-class slobs). I feel slightly mortified that I’ve ever done it, in fact, which I have – but not lately, let me tell you that. And I assure you, I don’t go within a million miles of pretending not to be gay. I don’t need to talk like a Sex and the City harlot starlet to get that across.

    I just don’t know how to handle workplaces where sexualism and profanity are genuinely part of the job, as in the various industries in which I work (e.g., accessibility or journalism). There are going to be times when you have to ask how to caption the scene where every fifth word is “fuck,” and on some of those occasions, you have to read your different captioning options out loud.

    In any case, by definition, if you’re flirting with the boss, you’re already crossing a line. Crossing another line of gender or sexualism simply doesn’t matter; you’re already in the wrong. You don’t get to feel good about yourself because deep down you know you’re not a degenerate, like your powerful, extremely forward gay boss. You’re already a degenerate for flirting with your boss, and if your boss is of the same gender, you don’t get to reassure yourself that you’re actually straight.

    Do you think I’m being idealistic? Hardly. These precepts simply don’t get tested very often, though Ms McNally helpfully provides precedent:

    23-year-old model and former Abercrombie & Fitch [!] employee Mladen Djankovich... claimed that Sam Shahid, the mega-adman behind the company’s controversial catalogues, touched him in all the wrong places, and even withheld promotions. That was grounds for a $20 million lawsuit, which resulted in a jury verdict of $70,000 – Shahid was found liable last June.

    Gossipy tidbits:

    “It’s cool,” says Bob, a journalist at a popular celebrity weekly, “when a guy respects my sexuality enough to try and play it to his advantage.” That’s exactly what he says Vin Diesel did when the two sat down in Los Angeles for an interview. “He leaned in really close and did a lot of complimentary talk about how he liked me and how now I was part of his inner circle,” says Bob, who can’t imagine Diesel talking to a straight guy about joining his personal club.

    Plus two other tidbits about Meloni and Affleck, which are worth the price of admission right there. (Oh, all right, I’ll excerpt them nonsubstantially: Meloni is “ ‘very open about loving to spend time out at the Pines in Fire Island’ ” and gave Bob “a generous hug”; homosexualist director Don Roos says he “ ‘totally ignored Gwyneth” on the set of Bounce since “[w]ith Ben batting his eyes, I was too busy flirting right back.’ ”)

  3. Scott Omelianuk, “The New Gay Gut”: Apparently inverts don’t have to work out anymore. I barely do. End of story.

    Just watch Andrew Sullivan hold forth, looking more like a gone-to-seed gym teacher than the chiseled conservative voice of gay American.

    How many oxymorons do you count in that sentence?

    Omelianuk does a Burroughsian “tanning salon” turn of phrase and tritely pigeonholes us as “show-tune lovers.”

  4. Burroughs (yet again), “Passing for Straight,” brings triteness to new levels:

    “Why do so many gays make sibilant sounds with a ‘þ’?” he asked me. [...] [T]he Faggy Fag speaks with a lisp.... I find it creepy that so many gay guys sound alike. “The gay accent” is a little too Stepford Wives, if you ask me. (Both Faggy Fags and Straight Fags will reference campy movies at every possible opportunity.)

    Though few will use “reference” as a verb. In any event, we don’t lisp, we assibilate. I infer that Burroughs and his source know that, since the source “referenced” the highly uncommon term “sibilant sounds.”

    Perhaps future archeologist-semioticians will be able to decode this story’s accompanying photo. Apparently shot at a bathhouse, it shows a white and a black fellow in towels, sneakers, and socks seated in a really very sexy jail cell.

‘The Real Truth About Straight Men and AIDS’

It’s actually entitled “Whatever Happened to AIDS and Straight Men?” by Kevin Gray, but I suspect there is a fair chance the story actually lives up to its cover billing.

At no time at all did I ever believe that guys who only ever had sex with women and didn’t shoot drugs (and, I suppose, weren’t hemophiliacs) were at any significant risk to catch whatever causes AIDS, presumably HIV. That would be true even without condom usage, since female-to-anyone HIV transmission is mechanically and microbiologically difficult. The quantity of bodily fluids involved – an AIDS neologism right there – and the concentration of whatever pathogen we’re talking about are both too small. Plus there are how many orifices on a penis? One? And a small one at that, with, in many cases, an outward flow during sexual intercourse?

I don’t know why so many straight people in Africa and other poor countries have AIDS and so few straight people here do. It is not inconceivable that other “classic” African wasting diseases are being misdiagnosed. I simply don’t know. But when it comes to American heterosexualist males, Gray’s piece seems comprehensive. (Hardcore AIDS dissidents, who are almost as tiresome as Randroids, may not agree, but they can write their own Watch™ pages.)

Only 6% of men with AIDS, the [CDC] says, contracted the virus from straight sex..... Several studies now suggest that most men who claim they got the virus that way are lying. They got it from sex with other men or sharing needles with addicts.

[...] “Gay men don’t want it fixed because they’ll be blamed again for the disease,” [Charles] Sonnabend says. “Charities like AmFAR don’t want it fixed because they’ll lose their funding. And ‘straight’ men with HIV certainly don’t want it fixed because everybody will know they’ve been having sex with men. Those are the ones who will scream bloody murder if you print all this stuff. You’re outing the bastards.” [...]

Well, if the shoe fits, wear it, and tell yourself you look fabulous.

“The right-wingers like the heterosexual message because it’s pro-family and warns against extramarital affairs,” says Michelle Chochrane, a visiting scolar at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of When AIDS Began, a recent book that examines some early scientific and cultural misudnerstandings of the disease. “Gay men like it because it keeps people aware and keeps funding coming in. And the feminists like it because it gets condoms on the guys and forces them to take greater sexual responsibility.”

I certainly recall ACT UP’s efforts to get AIDS taken seriously in spite of the fact that it affected mostly gay men, and who the hell cared about them? Well, we don’t live in that world anymore. The worst that people can say about us these days is that maybe we don’t deserve to get married. I don’t see what’s wrong with saying “Gay men have the most to lose from AIDS. We need so much more attention than everybody else that we need to start being honest.”

Of course, we’d also need to grow up and stop barebacking, but that is an argument for another day.

Odds ’n’ ends

  1. In the still-hideously-designed “Know & Tell” section (perverse corporate orthography: KNOW + TELL):

    Spring training begins
    With every thaw, the bat-and-glove subsection of the overpaid-mesomorph population gathers in Arizona and Florida to practice the intricate art of boring us to tears for seven months.
  2. Christopher Bailey of Burberry states:

    • That American program, those five guys, I have it. They get on my nerves. They’re really annoying and they are such a gay cliché. What does that culture guy do? And that blond one? What is he? I can’t imagine any straight guy watching that. You would just become an emotionally-insecure wreck.
    • [Grooming] has nothing to do with those five guys. It has more to do with people like David Beckham, a straight guy brave enough to go out in a skirt or pluck his eyebrows. And he’s the most masculine soccer player, married to this beautiful woman. That’s more influential than those five guys.

    And in the accompanying photo by Jeremy Murch, Bailey looks tousled and trim. Love the tapered trench coat especially.

  3. Jeff Gordinier, “What Your Commute Says About You,” a hed that’s straight out of a neurosis-inducing women’s magazine: “In the suburbs, asking whether you drive or take the train is the hetero equivalent of asking whether you’re a top or a bottom.” Tops don’t ask.

    Quite the wank, actually, with supbar photography by Peter “Gnarly” Rad. A blurry opening shot of seeming Eastern Bloc subway car (whose floor is too low) is followed by an inside photo that aims for Crewdson sinister gothic banality; trouble is, there’s only so much you can do with a snapshot of a Geo Metro.

  4. “Separated at Birth” by Jerry Stahl (how original) states that “Al Gore, whatever his proclivities [sic], kissed his wife with the stagey fervour of a man trying to make it look like he doesn’t prefer men.”