Homosexualist text and subtext in “men’s” magazines

Esquire, December 2003

2003.11.30a – Obviously it’s unfair to pick on Details (“for men”). In truth, it was merely a ripe plum for the picking, Danny Peres having claimedDetails is a magazine for men – all men,” including the inverts. They’re rather botching the job, but at least they’re trying.

What about Esquire?

I’ve read it for ages, in part because I remain a fan of Roger Black’s overcomplex, super-tight hodgepodge-esque magazine design. But interestingly, Roger Black, as I tediously remind people, is one of the very few out gay-male homosexualist graphic designers on the planet. And with Chip Kidd, he’s also the most famous. Roger Black is nowhere to be seen on the current Esquire masthead. The graphic sensibility is nonetheless clearly his, no matter how much design director John Korpics tweaks it.

So why pick on Esquire? Because it’s the most consent-manufacturingly heterosexualist men’s magazine there is. Not even Maxim tries so very hard to paper over its queer instincts. It’s the goddamned pinups, the centrefolds, the “Women We Love” features, and a “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Women” column invariably illustrated by a grinning starlet in an overtight top, that has added up to so many unknown facts that straight men really must be from Mars. It’s girls-girls-girls as far as the eye can see.

But come on, people. Even straight guys spend time with each other. And the rest of the pictorial spreads in Esquire? Guys in suits. In fact, guys in barely-updated suits. (Look at “By Invitation Only: A Special Promotion for Esquire Readers,” p. 140. One woman plus 19 guys in suits, or, as the copy calls them, “suites.” Many of the guys are hockey players.)

It’s a magazine for successful-too-early young businessmen with too much money on their hands – like the hockey players in the “special promotion”; what reader wouldn’t want to play in the NHL? But those readers also have too many unsettling sexual fantasies vying for conscious attention. These Freudian skirmishes never resolve, just as Esquire never resolves its twin voyeuristic desires to look at pinups and centrefolds and also successful-too-early guys in suits.

And the suits? Esquire is all about tiny upgrades to “classic” fashion tropes that won’t rock the Establishment boat. Slightly newer suits with slightly brighter shirts and certainly bolder ties, but no Alexander McQueen or Cory Doctorow–style techno-fetish gear. There is but a single way to dress, just as there is only one kind of body to look at, except inasmuch as there’s another kind available when it is useful to illustrate the single way to dress.

Esquire, through its overcompensation, spends too much time in its closet, alongside a lot of tweed, bespoke wool, and a passel of really sharp silk ties.

I have to wonder what life is like for the gay staff at Esquire. I know an evolutionary role of ours is to enhance the fuckability of chicks, but assuaging “straight” guys is another thing entirely.

So: Just how gay is a “Man at His Best”? December 2003 issue:

Bare chests in this issue

Must be open to the waist to be enumerated.

‘How Not to Be a Metrosexual’

Wow, a magazine devoted to wardrobe and grooming suddenly decides all that shit is gay, teaching you how to be the uncouth slob you must have been trying to change from. Why else buy the magazine in the first place?

Real men can’t spell EXFOLIATE.

James Oliver Cury, a metrosexualist name right there, writes:

You never though it could happen to you. You started out with a single pomade, and now you’ve become softer than that kale-scented man lotion you rub under your eyes three times a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Actually, there is. So if you’re interested in salvaging even an iota of your fast-fading masculinity, use the chart below to convert the frilly potions crowding your medicine cabinet into no-nonsense toiletries.

(Edited selections)
Metro Hetero
Face-cleansing glycerine bar Irish Spring (“For extra toughness, slice the bar with a big knife like they do in the commercials”)
All-over hydrating shampoo Head & Shoulders 2 in 1
Ultra-shine sculpting putty Royal Crown Hair Dressing
Nourishing cream Lubriderm
Alcohol-free refreshing sticks Speed Stick
Luxurious shaving butter Barbasol shaving cream
Soothing shaving balm with eucalyptus extract Skin Bracer (“After-shave... should reek like napalm and sting like hell”)
Sunless tanning lotion A hard day’s work in the sun (“Get off your ass, you pasty-faced wuss!”)

Evidently real men buy Procter & Gamble. Personally, I swear by Dandruff Control Pert Plus. Surprise, James Oliver.

Putting ‘gay’ in a headline

An illustrated piece on movie blurbs – they seem eerily plausible – includes this pairing of blurb and retort:

“A rare romantic comedy that works for men as well as women”
– Jim O’Brien, Cleveland’s News Channel 3, on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
As long as the men are gay.

Girls and fags watching the same movies. A worst-case scenario for straight guys, I guess. But that selfsame formula, abetted by an unending sequence of untruths about gay life, has made Queer as Folk’s backers rich.


Inverts have little use for vasectomies, unless we have extracurricular affairs with the girlies.

Heterosexualist writer James McManus writes an exceedingly vulgar article entitled “Pearl Jam” about his odyssey toward a vasectomy. The style is intended to be frank and unapologetic. It is merely embarrassing, and contains this clunker: “[N]ature clearly intends a vas deferens between a man and a woman.”

I am just trying to assemble a mental image here. Do you pull it out and rub it between you? Or do you manœuvre your pudendum so that, when viewed from left to right, the order of presentation is MANVAS DEFERENSWOMAN?

Or is the intent to say “Nature clearly intends the vas deferens as a conduit between a man’s spermatozoa and their only natural destination, a woman”? With none of this “damming” of a vas deferens that vasectomies do?

Single men and invert men have relatively well-functioning vas deferens. If we’re somehow putting those to waste, I’d hate to hear what McManus has to say about all those eggs, taken from each woman’s unrefillable supply, that expire every month. He’s almost Vatican in his construction of a sole intended use for the reproductive apparatus.

Why do I think he’s so judgemental? Well, I can be myself, so it does take one to know one. But still (and no doubt further in the intended but unachieved frank-and-unapologetic vein), it is outright shocking that McManus outs a relative as being seriously ill. And he does a lot of talking about his second wife’s health, too. Quite possibly he has permission, but does it particularly matter when the entire theme of the article is McManus’s sperm count? Are there tawdrier imaginable contexts in which to out your relatives’ poor health?

The article is repeatedly off and inappropriate in a surprising constellation of ways. We’re supposed to have editors to avoid this sort of thing.

Further, the allegedly-qualified sex columnist Stacey Grenrock Woods – photographed, “Ten Things You Don’t Know”–style, in tight tank top with laced-up bust – answers a question related to testicle size and “potency” with a host of McManus-esque vulgarisms. She volleys another zinger at the light-in-the-vas-deferens set: “[Y]ou can expect a very gradual decrease in size that comes with age. This is due to testosterone loss and often accompanies an increase in what’s called ‘having brunch.’ ” Of course, straight guys have brunch all the time, where, inevitably, they eat quiche.

We know what these two writers are trying to say. All they end up is trying.

Bonus question for TOEFL students: Pronounce ‘Rudolf Nureyev’

Adrienne Miller’s intro to a short story from Colum McCann fluffs McCann’s novel Dancer, “the brilliantly-fictionalized story of the life of the incorrigible Russian ballet genius Rudolf Nureyev.” Fluffing comes to an abrupt halt with the following proviso: “[A]nd even if your interest in ballet is somewhat, well, limited, it won’t be after you’ve read this amazing novel.”

Straight guys aren’t gonna buy that. A middlebrow critic’s making a genteel bullshit case for the solidity of some upper-middle-class artistic confection or other is the province of Esquire film reviewer Tom Carson, whose attempts to persuade us that stinkers like Company Man are unacknowledged “gems” always strikes me as overpolite cocktail-party chitchat, where the listener adopts a forced smile and pretends to go along.

Want to run for president?

A “parody” Democratic Candidate Application Form by Doug Lansky lists the following options. Choose one.

Political issues
  • No gay weddings; no gays in the military.
  • I’m not personally afflicted with gayness, but I don’t mind contributions from those who are, or even shaking hands with them.
  • I’m fine with gays portraying style consultants.

This is the goods. This shows some knowledge and wryness. And of course it’s on the psychologically-appropriate last page. You can hint at the truth – as you’re walking out the door.