Much derision was directed toward aesthetes in the late 19th century, who, led by Oscar Wilde, declared their devotion to beauty in all its forms. That moment in the history of men and their fashions is remembered today because of the fate of Wilde, imprisoned for what was then the crime of “gross indecency”. But this was not the first sensational trial of a high-profile homosexual. That had happened long before, such as in the notorious “macaroni” case of 1772.
Over the centuries, all manner of dandies have attempted to make their place in society. Wilde’s predecessor, George Bryan “Beau” Brummell became an arbiter of men’s fashion in Regency England despite his obscure social origins and lack of interest in women. Part of the secret of his success was his cultivation of a refined but understated style that avoided the kind of flashiness that could get a man condemned for “effeminate” flamboyance.
In the 1760s and 1770s, there was an explosion of public interest in the “macaronis”, fashionable society gents who were given that name because, in the eyes of the penny press of the day, they committed such cardinal sins as rejecting good old English roast beef for dainty foods from continental Europe – such as pasta. Those finicky eaters, who also sported excessive French fashions in clothing, were in some ways the predecessors of Wildean aesthetes, but they have largely been forgotten today.
Wilde, by contrast, is remembered because of his talent and for the way he was treated by the British legal system. In the 1980s and 1990s, he became a kind of “gay icon” with a new relevance to a generation struggling with the horrors of the AIDS epidemic. His disgrace at the end of the 19th century was reinterpreted as a kind of queer martyrdom that presaged later struggles for lesbian and gay liberation.
Enthusiasm for Wilde on the part of lesbian and gay activists in the late 20th century was connected to the rise of a new form of cultural and literary analysis known as “queer theory”. This development was heavily influenced by the work of the French philosopher Michel Foucault on the ways in which textual discourse operates. The focus was no longer on identifying gay men or lesbians in past centuries but on identifying when and why those terms were used.
It was this thinking that led the prominent scholar of Alan Sinfield, a leading British queer theorist, to identity the Wilde trials of 1895 as a “queer moment” when dandyism became linked with same sex desire.
The stereotypical proto-homosexual man emerged as a being that was attracted to younger men, who was theatrical rather than understated, effeminate rather than manly, and artistic rather than sporting. But it was not true that Wilde became obvious as a homosexual during the course of his trial – for the simple reason that the term “homosexual” was not reported in the British media until the time of another scandal, that surrounding the Prussian Prince of Eulenburg, that unfolded between 1906 and 1909.
And the fact is that Wilde was far from the first allegedly effeminate “sodomite” or “bugger” – and here I use terms that were widely employed at the time – to be disgraced in court.
The scandal of Captain Jones
Hester Thrale (1741 – 1821) was a member of the literary circle surrounding the famous encyclopediast Dr Samuel Johnson. She kept a fascinating diary in which she noted a wide variety of sexual foibles and eccentricities in the society circles of her time. She had a striking ability to recognise homosexuals (both male and female). Thus, in the entry for March 29, 1794 she discussed “finger-twirlers” as being a “decent word for sodomite”. In one passage, recorded in late March or early April 1778, she recalled the time six years earlier when a certain Captain Jones had been convicted of crimes against nature, and sentenced to die:
He was a Gentleman famous for his Invention in the Art of making Fireworks, and adapting Subjects fit to be represented in that Genre; & had already entertained the Town with two particular Devices which were exhibited at Marylebone Gardens & greatly admired: viz: the Forge of Vulcan in the Cave of Mount Etna, & the calling of Eurydice out of Hell – If he is pardoned says Stevens, He may shew off the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; it will have an admirable Effect.
Jones was a man of fashion in society who had been convicted at the Old Bailey for sodomising a 13-year-old boy. The link that Thrale made between camp dandyism and same sex scandal was rife in the papers of the time. As one correspondent put it in a letter to the Public Ledger on August 5, 1772, Captain Jones was “too much engaged in every scene of idle Dissipation and wanton Extravagance”. He was referred to as this “MILITARY MACCARONI [original emphasis]”. And, the writer concluded, “therefore, ye Beaux, ye sweet-scented, simpering He-She things, deign to learn wisdom from the death of a Brother”.
Arguments were brought forward that the boy’s testimony was unreliable and Jones was granted a royal pardon on the condition that he left the country. Members of the public seethed with indignation at the thought of an establishment cover-up and a variety of men fled to the Continent.
The macaronis have, however, been remembered for their style rather than for imputed sexual notoriety. We remember the uncouth revolutionary soldier who was originally mocked by the British as a “Yankee Doodle” for having “Stuck a feather in his cap / And called it macaroni”. But we’ve forgotten how queerly peculiar such an act may have seemed in the wake of a trial that bears comparison with those endured by Wilde a century later. That Americans could appropriate the song as a patriotic air implies a degree of innocence or, perhaps, of convenient forgetting.
I was an 80s Clone…many would have said an arch-Clone! I lived the life, and the look. Levi’s jeans, “Bonds” tee-shirts and singlets, plaid flannelette shirts, “Blundstone” boots (Blunnies), or Doc Martins, huge handlebar moustache, a transient beard in any of a number of styles, short or buzz-cut hair, an “Akubra” cowboy hat. I lived in pubs like The Oxford, and danced…half naked…in nightclubs like “Mandate” (Melbourne), and “Midnight Shift” or “Stronghold” in Sydney. I sniffed Amyl, blew whistles, banged tambourines, ingested LSD & Speed when the mood took me, sprinkled talc on dancefloors, and danced in a jockstrap on occasion. Leather vests, belts, armbands and cockrings. Pierced ears, pierced nipples, tattoos. I loved it…though many other gay men, especially older “dinner party” gays, hated it and thought we leaned too heavily on straight stereotypesfor our look. What they couldn’t see was that this extreme stereotyping WAS gay! That at THAT time, THEY were the stereotype…along with the effeminate, lisping, limp-wristed stereotype that was the general impression of gay men…was what we were trying to move away from, by presenting a more “macho” type of gay men…that we wanted to be seen as men, not as a parody of!The Clone look, along with Hi NRG dance music became looks and sounds that very much defined the 80s.
Don’t ask me why it started, but by the beginning of the 80’s ‘the clone’ was beginning to become a universal phenomenon (and I don’t mean Dolly the sheep!).
Some commentators suggest the first clones appeared in San Francisco’s Castro Street; others that they came from New York’s ‘Village’. Either way, by the 80’s the look had been adopted by gay men around the world.
The most obvious elements were the (obligatory) moustache and ‘the uniform’. Depending on where you lived, the latter would be based on a Lacoste sports shirt, chinos and ‘loafers’ (USA) or checked shirt, jeans and trainers (UK). These minor national differences notwithstanding, the overall look was an overt and unambiguous statement – not just about dress sense but also masculinity and sexuality.
This was an extremely significant act for that time – not least because gay men were, on the whole, still largely closetted. Yet, in spite of this, here were large groups of gay men choosing an image – and a highly sexualised one at that – for themselves. Prior to this, the only ‘sexualised’ images of gay men were as predators – of ‘defenceless’ straight men and, of course, children since we were all paedophiles. And, needless to say, they weren’t images of our choosing.
Within the UK this was also another indication of the Americanisation of gay men or, perhaps more accurately, the gay identity. In a sense, it was almost inevitable, given the sustained hostility to all things gay in the UK (e.g. Mary Whitehouse’s attacks on Gay News, the raiding of Gay’s the Word and other bookshops). The USA was the principal source of many gay resources – from porn to political material. (I shall cover this in more detail in a later blog.)
It could be argued that it was the clones who started to put the sex into homosexual: there are certainly some commentators who believe that they paved the way for other groups such as leather men and bears. Certainly, the collective visibility of so many self-defined gay clones can only have helped put us on the map as a population that was much larger – and a lot less apologetic – than many people had imagined.
Of course, there were always some queens who took it all a bit too seriously. Thankfully, there were others who managed to combine the playful and political elements of the clone. No one in the UK did this more successfully than the artist David Shenton, through his character ‘Stanley’, who appeared regularly in Gay News and then Capital Gay.
I’m not sure if the clone has totally disappeared from the gay scene or simply merged into one of the other diverse ‘identities’ our community now has. But it would be a shame if we were to forget what was our first, ‘home-grown’ positive gay stereotype.
Remaking the Castro Clone
Levis 501 jeans. Skin tight. Sanded down at the knees and crotch for that perfectly worn-in look. Third button unbuttoned to create a bit of allure. T-shirt, also skin tight. A Levis snap-front plaid. That was the uniform of the Castro clone, the gay fashion icon spawned in the 70s that — with surprisingly minor evolution or alteration — can still be seen on the streets of San Francisco today.
Danny Glicker, thankfully, is in love with the look. As the costume designer on Milk, Gus Van Sants biopic of the slain civil rights leader Harvey Milk, Glicker had to outfit hundreds of actors, from leading men Sean Penn, James Franco and Emile Hirsch to an army of extras, all dressed to span a full decades worth of fashion dos and donts.
Period films always present challenges to their costumers, but those based on true stories are that much more complicated. Glicker was saddled with another great expectation while preparing the highly anticipated film: Milks characters are not only real, they lived during a time many viewers can still recall themselves. And Milk owned a camera shop and lived an incredibly well documented life, which took some of the guesswork out of the equation, but also meant that there would be no excuse with eagle-eyed fans for anything less than absolute authenticity.
Simply recreating the clothes wouldnt have been sufficient — the bodies on todays actors are more defined and muscled than those of the leaner Milk and his comrades. Instead Glicker had to tailor the clothes to look as if they were hanging off of a 70s frame.
We created these enormous books of research that specifically address each character within the timeline, says Glicker, a young, unassuming, bespectacled man with a head of thick black curls whose previous work include Transamerica, Thank You For Smoking and HBOs True Blood. It was sort of overwhelming, because after awhile it was hard to edit down the material. I was very interested in recreating outfits exactly as they were, partially because I knew that Gus was going to be incorporating so much archival footage into the movie, and I didnt know exactly where.
Given access to the archives of the San Francisco GLBT Historical Society, Glicker and his team managed to get their hands on a fair amount of Milks actual clothing. Then they went shopping. Glicker, who prefers vintage pieces, combed hundreds of stores and amassed a huge collection of items, which he then authenticated using his research books before altering to fit the actors. No tiny detail of the evolution of fashion went unchecked — there are, after all, key differences between a 1976 shirt and a 1978 shirt (such as the collar width), and Glicker was determined to be accurate.
What couldnt be bought was recreated (and sometimes what was bought was still recreated so that spare sets were available), including T-shirts from now-defunct Castro bars, protest Ts found in the archive, and the suit Milk was killed in, which they had viewed at the Historical Society. That was a very, very meticulous recreation, says Glicker, who had to wear cotton gloves while handling the suit, which is kept in a temperature and light controlled environment and wrapped in acid free tissue. We were measuring everything from the lapels to the belt loops and leg openings. The fabric, every aspect of the fit, it was all done to match as closely as possible.
And when the thrift stores and archives didnt have what he needed, Glicker went to Levis corporate headquarters in San Francisco. The uniform of choice for Harvey Milk, his friends and many in the LBGT community at the time was the Levis 501 button fly jean, says Robert Hanson, President of Levi Strauss & Co.s Levis Brand Division. If you saw anything but Levis in the film it would have been wrong.
Levis gave me a tremendous amount of access to both their archive and retail store, says Glicker. Hanson (who is gay) and Levis, an early pioneer and longtime stalwart supporter for gay causes, thought the film was a perfect match for the brand. The movie is really about a very specific movement at a specific time in the city, Glicker says. These people wore Levis. It was what they were about and where they were. Its more than just a brand of clothes in this case, its an iconic part of America and the Castro.
When I started reading about what people wore, adds screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. I thought, What was that Levis clone look about? It didn’t take much to realize that it was about a group of people who had been called pansies and fags reclaiming their masculinity and being men.
That held true even when going butch went beyond the basics. I remember reading someone complaining that the guys were actually going too far with it — trying to be too butch, actor James Franco, who plays Milks longtime lover, Scott Smith, told Black in his Out cover interview. I saw a lot of guys from the Castro where they [actually] looked like construction workers.
Thats why the Castro clone, Glicker says, is actually a deceptively simple look. It has to be perfectly played, he says. In order to make it look good, you have to find the perfect fit and you have to feel great in it to be able to sell the outfit. It was a uniform because it was accessible for everybody. It wasnt out of peoples grasp. It was about the wearer more than the means of the wearer. And whether or not Milk launches a vintage resurgence, the basic elements havent been put out to pasture. I see the influence of it everywhere. Its not going anywhere. Its like the gay communitys little black dress.
Whether you’re celebrating Pride in New York or Tel Aviv, you’ll be seeing all sorts of flags — and not just those in the traditional rainbow. There are many sexualities in on the queer spectrum, and we’ve identified the flags for each. Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments.
Gilbert Baker Pride Flag
In 1977, Harvey Milk challenged Gilbert Baker, a veteran who taught himself to sew, to come up with a symbol of pride for the gay community. His response? The original Pride flag. Inspired by Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow,” these colors flew at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade celebration on June 25, 1978. Though some dispute whether Baker was the sole creator of the flag that started it all, its symbolism remains. Each color celebrates an aspect of queer Pride:
Hot pink = Sex
Red = Life
Orange = Healing
Yellow = Sunlight
Green = Nature
Turquoise = Magic/Art
Indigo = Serenity
Violet = Spirit
1978-1999 Pride Flag
After the assassination of Harvey Milk, many wanted the Pride flag he commissioned to commemorate his accomplishments for the community and their personal support. The demand was greater than the available fabric, so the Paramount Flag Company began selling this version of the flag, as did Gilbert Baker, who had trouble getting hot pink fabric.
Traditional Gay Pride Flag
This is the most familiar flag. In 1979, the community landed on this six-color version, which was hung from lampposts in San Francisco. Numerous complications over having an odd-number of colors led to turquoise being dropped, at least according to reports. Read more about the modern flag here.
Philadelphia People Of Color Inclusive Flag
Noting that queer people of color are often not fully included in the LGBT community, the city of Philadelphia added two colors — black and brown — to the Pride flag in their honor. The city had previously faced accusations of racial discrimination in its gay bars, which led 11 queer nightlife venues to take antiracism training. Many white men were outraged by the flag, claiming that rainbow includes all skin colors, but with a star like Lena Waithe donning it at the Met Gala, it seems the design is here to stay.
Progress Pride Flag
This new flag seeks to take Philadelphia’s inclusive approach a step further. Daniel Quasar, who identifies as queer and nonbinary, designed this flag. The white, pink, and light blue reflect the colors of the transgender flag, while the brown and black stripes represent people of color and those lost to AIDS. “When the Pride flag was recreated in the last year to include both black/brown stripes as well as the trans stripes included this year, I wanted to see if there could be more emphasis in the design of the flag to give it more meaning,” Quasar explained on his Kickstarter.
Designed by Michael Page, the flag brings visibility to the bisexual community, showing the overlap of the stereotypical colors for boys and girls. The flag was inspired by an older symbol of bisexuality: the “biangles,” two overlapping pink and dark blue triangles.
Created on the web in 2010, this flag has colors that represent pansexuality’s interest in all genders as partners. The pink represents women, yellow nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people, and the blue is for men.
Like the pansexual flag, the asexual flag was created in 2010. Inspired by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network logo, it represents many ace identities, including graysexuals (the fluid area between sexuals and asexuals) and demisexuals (people who don’t experience sexual attraction unless they have an emotional connection with their partners.
Labrys Lesbian Pride Flag
Oddly enough, this sapphic symbol was created by a man. Created in 1999 by gay graphic designer Sean Campbell, the flag has not gained much traction in the lesbian community. It features a labrys, an ax-like weapon used by Grecian amazons.
Featuring the symbol for the infinite numberpi, which shares the first letter of “polyamory,” this flag celebrates the infinite selection of partners available to polyamorous people. The letter is gold to represent the emotional attachment we have with others as friends and romantic partnerss, rather than just our carnal relationships.
Designed in 2013 by the organization Intersex International Australia, this flag intentionally features nongendered colors that celebrate living outside the binary.
Monica Helms, a trans woman, designed this flag in 1999, and it was first flown at a Pride Parade in Phoenix a year later. “The light blue is the traditional color for baby boys, pink is for girls, and the white in the middle is for those who are transitioning, those who feel they have a neutral gender or no gender, and those who are intersexed,” Helms noted. “The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it will always be correct. This symbolizes us trying to find correctness in our own lives.”
Encompassing the fluctuations and the flexibility of gender in genderfluid people, the flag features colors associated with femininity, masculinity, and everything in between. The pink stands for femininity. The white represents the lack of gender. The purple represents the combination of masculinity and femininity. The black symbolizes all genders, including third genders. The blue reflects masculinity.
Created in 2011 by Marilyn Roxie, the genderqueer flag highlights androgyny with lavender, agender identities with white, and nonbinary people with green. Some people refer to it as a nonbinary flag if they feel queer is a slur.
Lipstick Lesbian Flag
If you want the most feminine pride flag, here it is. Although it’s not a widely used symbol, it celebrates the femmes in the lesbian community, lovingly called “lipstick lesbians.”
Leather, Latex, & BDSM Flag
Whether the kink community should be added in the acronym LGBT is a heated debate, but there is no denying that the community has several of its own flags. This one was designed by Tony DeBlase for Chicago’s International Mr. Leather celebration in 1989. This symbol is not exclusively gay, but rather for the leather and BDSM community. The original flag is on display at the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago.
Bear Brotherhood Flag
Though The New York Times named 2018 “the age of the twink,” only the bears — as gay men lovingly refer to the beefier, more hirsute guys — have their own flag. Craig Byrnes designed it in 1995 for the International Bear Brotherhood. Its colors are to match the fur of bears living in the woods.
Rubber Pride Flag
This symbol is for members of the rubber and latex fetish community and is similar to its predecessor, the leather Pride flag. Peter Tolos and Scott Moats created the design in 1995 “as a means to identifying like-minded men and [it] reflects the sensory, sensual, and mental passion we have for rubber.” They say the black color represents “our lust for the look and feel for shiny black rubber,” the red symbolizes “our blood passion for rubber and rubbermen,” while yellow highlights “our drive for intense rubber play and fantasies.” It also features a literal kink, for obvious reasons.
Polysexuality, unlike pansexuality, is the attraction to multiple genders but not all. A middle ground between bisexuality and pansexuality, it is centered more around attractions to femininity and masculinity rather than gender itself. The pink represents attraction to females; the blue for males. The green is for an attraction to those who don’t conform to either gender.
While genderqueer people bend the rules of gender, agender people reject a gender completely. For their flag, the black and white stripes represent the absence of gender, while green, the inverse of the gender-heavy purple, represents nonbinary genders.
While asexual flags use purple to show their lack of sexual attraction, aromantic flags use green to celebrate the people who live without romantic attraction.
Non Binary Flag
Created by 17-year-old Kye Rowan in 2014, this flag was a response to nonbinary people feeling improperly represented by the genderqueer flag. This symbol was not to replace Roxie’s creation but sit beside it as an option. The yellow symbolizes gender outside a binary. The white, a mix of all colors, represents those with many or all genders. Purple stands in for those who feel both binary male and female or fluid between them. The black is for the agender community, without sexuality or color.
Pony play is a distinct fetish where people are treated like horses by wearing hooves, ears, and saddles and pulling carts. Carrie P created this flag in 2007; it uses black in solidarity with the leather community at large.
Straight Ally Flag
The flag equivalent of “I support LGBT people, but no homo,” this makes everyone feel included at Pride marches, even if they’re celebrating other people’s sexualities.
Enigmatic might be the best word to describe this organization, which was variously called the Knights of the Clock or Clocks. Gay and lesbian historians differ in their reporting of who founded the group, when it was founded, and what its exact name was. The ONE Gay and Lesbian Archives in L.A. maintains that Merton L. Bird, an African-American accountant about whom little is known, was the cofounder, and that it started up around June 1951. The other co-founder was W. Dorr Legg, who used about a dozen pseudonyms throughout his life, and whose name appears in virtually every anthology of gay history. He earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture with a specialty in urban planning, taught at Oregon State University, lived in New York and Florida, and came home to Ann Arbor, Michigan to care for his elderly parents. Legg’s lovers were, for the most part, African-American, and he experienced racial discrimination first hand (though not, according to John D’Emilio, in Detroit’s black community). Some historians hold that Bird and Legg met in Michigan, drove around looking for a comfortable place for interracial gay couples, and landed in L.A. in the late 1940’s. Lillian Fader-man and Stuart Timmons hold that Marvin Edwards, not Bird, went to L.A. with Legg. Timmons interviewed Edwards for their 2006 book, Gay L.A., which includes a very youthful candid photo. Edwards was forced to leave L.A. after a year or so, when his landlady discovered he was gay.
Legg has been variously described as charismatic, charming, poised, witty, intelligent, controlling, inflexible, and opinionated. A Republican in politics, he chose to live off the earnings of younger men (according to an interview in Joseph Hansen’s 1998 biography of Don Slater). In Legg’s 1994 book, Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice, he described Bird as brilliant and gives all credit for the Knights’ founding to Bird. “Hostility and harassment were the daily lot of interracial same-sex couples in 1950. … [Bird’s] idea was that by coming together to form a mutual aid society, the group could at the very least offer each other encouragement. The decision was to form a California nonprofit corporation and call it the Knights of the Clocks, a deliberately ambiguous title.” Many historians, such as Paul Cain, have quoted from Legg’s book, Homosexuals Today; A Handbook of Organizations & Publications (1956), which he wrote under the name of Marvin Cutler, stating that the aim of the Knights was to “promote fellowship and understanding between homosexuals themselves, specifically between other races and the Negro, as well as to offer its members aid in securing employment and suitable housing. Special attention was given to the housing problems of interracial couples of which there were several in the group.”
Although most sources give June 1951 as the Knights’ founding date, others range from the late 1940’s to the early 1950’s. Perhaps the L.A. group known as the Cloistered Loyal Order of the Conclaved Knights of Sophisticracy (or, sometimes, Sophistocracy, and known as the C.L.O.C.K.S.) lent its name to Bird and Legg’s Knights. It may or may not have been formally incorporated. Jonathan Ned Katz was unable to turn up the legal papers when he searched back in the 1970’s, but Edward Sagarin (the pseudonym of Donald Webster Cory) states in what was originally his NYU thesis, later published, that the Knights incorporated in 1950. Three undated typescripts in the ONE Archives’ file on the Knights contain some information about the C.L.O.C.K.S. Their oath of office, following a Masonic-type ritual, was to “practice the arts of sophisticracy diligently, honestly, courteously, amicably, faithfully, and with all of my ability.” At the end of the installation, the installing officer and “honor guard” intoned: “By the authority vested in me by the State of California, and as a duly elected officer of this corporation, I hereby declare you [name of office]. Honi soit qui mal y pense.” This, the motto of the Order of the Garter, founded in mid- 14th-century England, can be roughly translated as “shamed be he who thinks evil of it.” Instead of the usual titles (president, VP, etc.), the C.L.O.C.K.S. used medieval ones: Exalted Knight, Senior Knight, Bursar, and Scribe (who kept a Tablet instead of minutes).
In the ONE’s file, a few handwritten entries beginning on May 24, 1951, were recorded in an unused 1944 calendar from what appears to be an insurance company. On that date, “application forms were passed out,” “minutes were approved as read,” and the “Vice President spoke of aims of Club.” Gone is the mystique of the Cloistered Loyal Order. One of the Knights’ events was planned to take place in June at the Wilfandel Club. According to the still-active club’s website, wilfandelclub.com, it was established on November 21, 1945, by two black women to provide “people of all races with a public meeting place in Los Angeles during the 1950’s.” Another meeting note, dated July 1, listed members who would sing, play an instrument, dance, and make speeches at an upcoming party. (Bird was listed as one of the speech-makers.) On that same date, there was an entry for a rough draft of letterhead, “The C.L.O.C.K.S./Incorporated/Los Angeles/Calif.” The name “Josephine Baker” appears fleetingly in a meeting note, leaving one to imagine all kinds of possibilities.
Yet another event, dated August 4, was to be a “midsummer frolic” beginning at 9 p.m., with draft beer and spaghetti. The last social event mentioned was a Valentine’s meeting with a “social program” planned for Saturday, February 16 . Events seemed to be admission-by-card only. Other cryptic entries mentioned the Loan Fund, Housing & Employment Committee, the Membership Committee, the Entertainment Committee, and the Legal Aid Committee, of which Bird was chair. “NAACP” is noted without any further comment. Interestingly, Bird’s name is consistently spelled “Byrd” throughout, and C. Todd White’s book lists “M. Byrd” as Merton Bird’s pseudonym. Some members’ names and addresses are written throughout the entries, and there’s an intriguing mention of a seal and articles of incorporation. Sagarin remarked that meetings were originally held monthly, and then semimonthly. Meetings, he said, usually drew about 35 attendees, with a larger group attending the socials.
Reproduced in Legg’s 1994 book and credited to “ONE’s Baker Memorial Library and Archives” is a 1951 invitation, engraved in Gothic script, to a Knights social event: the fourth anniversary party of “Gene and Edward” on May 12, 1951, from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Legg stated that guests at that event were “a comfortable mix of races and assorted personal relationships including both men’s Beverly Hills employers and their families.” ONE Archives’ handwritten meeting notes do include some female first names, and one name that could possibly begin with “Mrs.”
When did the end come? ONE Archives’ file contains no information about the group beyond a handwritten list, dated February 15, 1952, of fourteen members (including Bird and Legg) who owed dues. On that date, the group had $14.15 in the bank. In 1952, Legg and Bird numbered among the founders of ONE, Inc., a group within the Mattachine that published ONE magazine. White mentions that Bird appeared to have offered the Knights’ charter as a model, or to offer a merger with the Knights, neither of which were accepted. Sagarin noted that “for all practical purposes it had disappeared from the scene” by 1953, though an occasional meeting was held after that date.
A 1966 article in Tangents magazine by Richard Conger implied that the Knights, “formerly of Los Angeles,” were represented at the ONE Institute Midwinter Session, an educational program for gay men and lesbians held on an almost yearly basis in various cities and considered a precursor to today’s academic programs. The Institute was the brainchild of Legg. Sidney Roth-man reported of the Knights: “Its originality lay in its avowed intention to enroll men and women alike and their parents and other relatives on an interracial basis. Its meetings and large social gatherings appear not to have been matched in attendance until this present year (1965) by a few social events staged in San Francisco as the joint effort of several homophile organizations in that city. The Knights continued for three or four years but eventually found themselves overshadowed by another Los Angeles development … The Mattachine.” (Conger and Rothman were, according to Vern Bullough, two of Legg’s pseudonyms.)
When Legg died in 1994 at the age of 89, he was survived by his partner of over thirty years, John (Johnny) Nojima, who died a few years ago. Very little is known at this time about Merton L. Bird.
ONE’s file contains the names and addresses of some of the earliest Knights. Can any of them be traced? Are any of their addresses close to those noted on the map of “significant locations” in White’s book? What might the archives of other California institutions contain? Did any of the Knights’ files migrate to other gay organizations following a very celebrated “heist” of papers in 1965 by another ONE, Inc. founder, Don Slater, due to personal and professional disputes with Legg? Does the NAACP’s L.A. chapter keep records back to the 1950’s? What about the archives of the Wilfandel Club? More research is waiting to be done on this fascinating and pioneering organization.
I’m grateful to the archivists at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in LA., particularly to Loni Shibuyama. This article would not have been possible without Lillian Faderman ‘s assistance, and I would, also like to thank Philip Clark, Wayne Dynes, Joseph Hawkins, and C. Todd White.
Bullough, Vern L. Before Stonewall; Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context. Harrington Park Press, 2002.
Cain, Paul D. Leading the Parade: Conversations with America’s Most Influential Lesbians and Gay Men. Scarecrow Press, 2002.
Conger, Richard (pseud.). Where the Mainstream Flows. ONE 14:2, 1966.
D’Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States. 1940-1970. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983.
Dynes, Wayne. “W. Dorr Legg.” in Gay & Lesbian Biography, edited by Michael J. Tyrkus. St. James Press, 1997.
Faderman, Lillian, and Stuart Timmons. Gay LA.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. Basic Books, 2006.
Hansen, Joseph. A Few Doors West of Hope: The Life and Times of Dauntless Don Slater. Homosexual Information Center, 1998.
Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the USA.: A Documentary. Crowell, 1976.
Knights of the Clock(s) File. ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles. Legg, W. Dorr, ed. Homophile Studies in Theory and Practice. ONE Institute Press, 1994.
Rothman, Sidney (pseud.). The Homophile Movement. ONE 13:12, 1965.
Sagarin, Edward (pseud.). Structure and Ideology in an Association of Deviants. Arno Press, 1966.
White, C. Todd. Pre-Gay LA.: A Social History of the. Movement for Homosexual Rights. Univ. of Illinois Press, 2009.
Martha E. Stone, literary editor of this magazine, is a reference librarian by day.
Imagine watching the Empire State Building suddenly transform into giant spurting penis to ejaculate a figure dressed in a major King Kong look across a stage. Now, imagine this mysterious figure shedding the ape costume and emerging as the most fabulous Marlene Dietrich you’ve ever seen.
No, this isn’t the fever dream of a Hell’s Kitchen gay after watching Kong: Skull Island. This flamboyant and provocative series of events almost happened. The performance, set to take place at the Paris Opera House in 1973, would’ve introduced the world to glam rock’s first openly gay rock star. Through a sea of glitter, the crowd was to feel a potent mix of astonishment and arousal before whispering his name: Jobriath.
That you’re almost certainly wondering who the hell Jobriath is should betray the fact that his grand entrance never happened, but to dismiss Jobriath as yet another failed rock star would do a disservice to his legacy. The truth is, for all his failures, Jobriath paved a path for queer musicians. Without rock’s self-proclaimed “true fairy,” artists like ILoveMakonnen, Frank Ocean, PWR BTTM, Mykki Blanco and everyone in between might not be around to queer up the music industry.
Decades ago, in an era punctuated by the queerbaiting antics of Lou Reed and David Bowie, Jobriath’s star power proved to shine too bright, too fast—he was the Icarus of glam rock with a gloomy ending to match. Spanning multiple identities, enough tragedy to fill a Lifetime Original Movie, and a wealth of ideas that would never come to pass, this is the story of America’s first gay rock star.
The Adolescence and Abandonment of Bruce Wayne Campbell
You’d be forgiven if you thought the story of Jobriath’s adolescence was written by an overeager fiction writer. After all, his name shares similarities with both Batman and the star of Evil Dead and hails from a town that sounds like a history book. Yet, Bruce Wayne Campbell of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania really did exist. And he was even something of a child prodigy on the piano.
Born the son of an Army man in the dirt track town, Campbell spent his youth moving from army base to army base with his family. It was a childhood light on friends and heavy on a blooming sexual identity that infuriated his family. It was an existence that wasn’t meant to last and, after a brief stint in the Army that ended with him going AWOL, he ran away to start a new life as Jobriath Salisbury in the sun-soaked streets of Los Angeles.
Detours and the Discovery of Jobriath Salisbury
Like any great glam rock origin story, Jobriath’s rise began with a little bark and a lot of hair follicles. A short time after arriving in LA, he accompanied his friend to the audition for the notoriously outlandish musical Hair. Despite only going to help the friend with lines, he was cast into the role of Woof and was soon performing to sold out crowds every night. Under the bright lights, he got a taste of stardom that changed his life.
Though as talented as he may have been in his role, he wasn’t immune to the vices of the 1960s. A cocktail of drugs strong enough to tranquilize a herd of buffalo mixed with his overinflated ego and he eventually left Hair in a blaze of glory—taking two of his costars with him to start a band called Pidgeon. You know, because it was 1969 and naming your band after sky rats was glam. The trio recorded a strange, baroque folk album that sounded like a chipper nightmare before the band promptly fell apart.
It was from this point that Jobriath’s AWOL status caught up to him and he was detained by military police. He was thrown into a military psychiatric hospital, suffered his first big breakdown, and then broke away from the padded walls to take on California one last time. It didn’t take long for him to pick up his old habits As he recalled years later, “I was floating down in the gutter. I didn’t eat. I just drank beer all the time. With no money, I hustled for booze and drugs.”
While he hustled, a new chapter in Jobriath’s story was being written thousands of miles away in New York. It was there that Jerry Brandt, legendary manager of Carly Simon, sat in the offices of Columbia Records’ Clive Davis listening to Jobriath’s demo tape. To his ears, he’d found the star he was waiting for.
Jobriath Boone and Jerry Brandt’s Big, Gay American Disaster
The year was 1972 and Jobriath had just shed his steak-themed last name and emerged as Jobriath Boone—–just in time for Brandt to change his life forever. After search through LA to find him, Brandt quickly whisked the burgeoning star back to New York, got him a record contract with Elektra Records rumored to be worth $500,000, and began one of the most ambitious advertising campaigns of the decade.
“Jobriath is going to be the biggest artist in the world. He is a singer, dancer, woman, man. He has the glamour of Garbo. He is beautiful,” Brandt explained to Melody Maker before telling Music Week: “It’s Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, and now Jobriath.” To Brandt, Jobriath was glam rock’s gay, glittered Jesus Christ and he wanted the world to know his name.
Jobriath’s face was plastered across full page ads in Vogue, Penthouse, and Rolling Stone and put on posters on hundreds New York City buses. For Brandt’s pièce de résistance, a 41’ by 43’ billboard high atop Times Square was erected featuring Jobriath naked and posed as a Roman statue broken at the base and crawling across the floor.
When it came time to record the album, Brandt convinced Elektra Records to book them at Olympic Studios, the famed recording studio favored by bands like The Rolling Stones. It was within these soundproofed walled that a 55-piece orchestra accompanied Jobriath on a glam rock journey through the eleven tracks that made up his self-titled debut album. Despite the aggressively sexual S&M ballad “Take Me I’m Yours” and the swaggering bravado of “I’m a Man,” reviews were warm and encouraging.
The problem was that outside of the industry, Jobriath’s flagrant sexuality produced a product the public just wasn’t ready for. By the time the giant wave of marketing finally crashed down, Jobriath’s overhyped debut had become a disastrous joke. A debut concert at the Paris Opera House with a $200,000 price tag and the Empire State building ejaculating the star was quickly scrapped.
He made his television debut in an unforgettable yet restrained performance on a prominent nightly show called The Midnight Special. It was notable for his outlandish costume that could best be described as ‘spaceman by way of hamster tunnel tubing’ and was restrained because, after being barred from performing his S&M jam “Take Me I’m Yours” by producers, he instead performed “Rock of Ages” and his single “I’m a Man.” Late night just couldn’t handle a glitter-dipped gay rocker singing, “Any day you could buy me or tie me up.”
Alongside his TV debut, he headlined two sold out shows at The Bottom Line in all his unsheathed, gay glory to modest, 400-person crowds. The positive response brought some hope to Jobriath and Brandt but that momentum crashed down at a follow-up concert at Nassau Coliseum. There, the crowds immediately bombarded him with shouts of “faggot” as trash was thrown until he fled the stage. Elektra Records quickly pushed out the second and final album, Creatures of the Street, shortly after that disastrous show with leftover material from the Jobriath recording sessions and dropped him from their label.
With no future at Elektra, Jobriath embarked on one final tour and severed his partnership with Brandt. Like any good rock star though, Jobriath went out with a bang. His final show at the University of Alabama led to five encores that ended when the excited crowd pulled the fire alarm and sent the fire department rushing in. It was glorious moment that showcased the star Jobriath could’ve become had the country been ready to embrace that courageous homosexuality of rock’s first true fairy but ultimately signaled the end to his life as Jobriath.
The Downfall and Death of Cole Berlin
In 1975, high above the iconic Chelsea Hotel in a pyramid-topped apartment, Jobriath Boone was laid to rest alongside his brief career. From his ashes, the character of Cole Berlin emerged. When he wasn’t hustling or auditioning for the role of Al Pacino’s lover in Dog Day Afternoon, Cole spent his nights performing 1930s cabaret songs at The Covenant Gardens restaurant. His existence, perhaps for the first and only time, appeared restrained and mundane for a few years. It wasn’t until 1979 that the façade of normality was ripped away in an interview with Omega One magazine.
“Jobriath committed suicide in a drug, alcohol and publicity overdose. That whole hype just drove him crazy,” Cole said of his former identity. It was the statement of a broken man and, as the interview continued, he didn’t hesitate to talk about his personas as if they were a polyamorous family he’d moved in with. “Schizophrenia is my lifestyle. I think everybody is schizophrenic but they’ll all fighting it,” he explained. “I, or should I say we, are not fighting it. Come over. I’ll ask some of us to come out and play.”
Years after the interview, his lifestyle on the streets caught up with him and he soon contracted AIDs. On the Chelsea Hotel’s 100th anniversary in November 1982, he played his last public performance and, on the morning of August 4, 1983, police broke up the front door of his rooftop apartment and found his dead body. A decade after towering over Times Square, he died alone and abandoned—–his body decaying for four days before anyone found him.
The Great, Rock Resurgence of Jobriath
As tragic as his career and life were, time has ultimately been kinder to Jobriath. In the years following his death, the glamorous singer has become ingrained in the rock and roll folklore thanks to one of rock’s most iconic queer artists. In one of the strangest twists in Jobriath’s story, rock legend Morrissey of The Smiths has become integral in establishing the singer’s legacy.
In 1992, Morrissey expressed interest in having him as the opening act for his “Your Arsenal” tour–—unaware that the singer had died nearly ten years ago. It was a tragic request but, ultimately, served as a catalyst for Jobriath’s revitalization. In the two and a half decades since Morrissey first took an interest in rock’s first true fairy, a wealth of information and music has unearthed his story. Previously unreleased music filled Lonely Planet Boy in 2004 and As the River Flows in 2014; his first two albums saw a rerelease in 2008; and, finally, a documentary by Kieran Turner called Jobriath A.D. came out in 2012.
Four decades after crooning for audiences to let him be who he was on the track “I’m a Man,” the repercussions of Jobriath’s fearless embrace of his sexuality, Empire State Building ejaculation and all, are finally being celebrated.
According to a new survey by RSEA Safety, which asked tradesmen how short they like to wear their shorts, a staggering 60 per cent of blue-collar workers quizzed have revealed they prefer their shorts “as short as possible”.
While some of those who voted in the social media campaign preferred the modesty of a longer hemline of nine or ten inches, the much more revealing four inch short-length proved the most popular.
Lilly Lee, general manager of marketing at RSEA Safety, said many new season shorts combine functionality with style, and the trend was definitely thigh-high.
“We are expecting at least a 30 per cent increase in short sales in the coming months, and this season we are noticing an increase in shorter styles, with brands almost in competition with each other over who can offer the shortest short,” Ms Lee said.
“ELEVEN have launched a 4-inch ‘Chizeled’ short and FXD WS-2 have designed a ‘short short’ while Corc’s have introduced a ‘shorty short’ style. We thought it would be fun to ask tradies in our #shortorshorter campaign how they wear theirs and we’ve had some hilarious responses with an overwhelming number of tradies voting for “as short as possible’”
Melbourne tradies Dale Cheesman, Shaun Caton-Robertson and Dyllan Milligan, from The Melbourne Builder & Co, showcased an array of summer shorts at a Prahran building site this week.
Mr Milligan is among those advocating for shorter shorts this summer.
“The shorter the better — they’re easier to work in and the legs are getting a good tan.”
What went wrong with the conversion ministry, according to Alan Chambers, who once led its largest organization
In 2001, Alan Chambers was hired as the president of the world’s largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International. That same year, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report that stated, “there is no valid evidence showing that sexual orientation can be changed.”
Like most conservative Christian leaders at the time, Chambers considered the countercultural nature of his work a point of pride. During the latter part of the 20th century, Exodus and similar conservative groups promoted the idea that gay people could—and should try to—become straight. Ex-gay leaders traveled to churches and appeared on television news programs citing a litany of examples of happily married “former homosexuals” to demonstrate that sexual orientation is a choice and that change is possible.
But Chambers would undergo a radical change of heart. In 2013, he publicly apologized to the LGBT community for the “pain and hurt” Exodus had caused and announced that the ministry was permanently shutting down. Chambers’s decision effectively delivered the deathblow to the beleaguered ex-gay movement. And his story of transformation, detailed in a new memoir, My Exodus: From Fear to Grace with a foreword by CNN’s Lisa Ling, will likely resonate with many traditionalists who are searching for new ways to think about LGBT issues.
Chambers, 43, was raised by an ex-military father in a Southern Baptist home and realized he was attracted to other males at a young age. Most of his early sexual encounters with men were anonymous, which bred in him a deep self-hatred. At 19, he connected with an Exodus-affiliated ministry where he hoped to rid himself of same-sex attraction once and for all.
While the ministry did not make Chambers straight, he claims that it saved his life and many others because it provided a “safe space for many” to talk about their sexuality. At the time, there was no national network for LGBT Christians and most churches were not places of sexual transparency. But, he says, Exodus’s emphasis on “change” made it “fatally flawed.”
In 1998, Chambers married his wife, Leslie, with whom he adopted two children. In My Exodus, he recounts his inability to consummate the union for eight months, but he says their sex life is now “good.”
“While many relationships are built on sex, ours just includes sex,” Chambers says. “We love it and value it because we worked hard for it.”
As a former Exodus participant who once lived a “gay lifestyle” but was able to achieve a successful straight marriage, Chambers was the perfect candidate to lead the organization. And by 2001, Exodus needed all the help it could get.
At its peak, Exodus International had an annual operating budget of more than $1 million, had 25 employees, and served as an umbrella organization for more than 400 local ministries across 17 countries. But over the years since its founding in 1976, many of the leaders Exodus’ touted as success stories had become cautionary tales instead.
Cofounder Michael Bussee left the group in 1979 and entered a relationship with another Exodus leader, Gary Cooper. Bussee would later admit, “I never saw one of our members or other Exodus leaders or other Exodus members become heterosexual, so deep down I knew that it wasn’t true.” Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s, many former Exodus members became vocal critics of the ministry, claiming it had caused them psychological distress. And in September 2000, Exodus’s chairman John Paulk was photographed cruising for men at a gay bar in Washington, D.C. He was ousted from his position and later confessed, “I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”
The movement traditionalists believed would be their saving grace in the fight against LGBT rights was quickly becoming their Achilles’ heel.
Being chosen to lead Exodus in 2001 was like becoming the ex-gay Pope following the Catholic sex-abuse scandals. The ministry’s board knew it could not survive another public scandal, so it questioned Chambers rigorously before deciding to hire him. During the interview process, Chambers recalls a board member asking him what success would look like under his leadership. He replied, “It looks like Exodus going out of business because the church is doing its job.”
Chambers words would later seem prophetic, but he first needed to travel a long road. In 2005, he called homosexuality “one of the many evils this world has to offer.” And in 2006, he lobbied for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But Chambers admits that during the same year his thinking began to evolve.
“As I heard more stories and evaluated my own realities,” Chambers said, “I realized change in orientation was not possible or happening.”
Though the ex-gay leader was stewing on the inside, he seemed as resolute as ever on the outside. He advocated for California’s Proposition 8, which sought to ban gay marriage in the state. In 2009, he published a book called Leaving Homosexuality: A Practical Guide for Men and Women Looking for a Way Out. He admits to immediately regretting the book’s title and some of its content.
Chambers’s thinking continued morphing until his dramatic announcement that the ministry would shut down in 2013: “Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism. For quite some time, we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”
By this point, the ex-gay movement was already in shambles. A 2013 Pew Research poll showed that only 36 percent of Americans believe a gay or lesbian person’s orientation can be changed. As Satcher reported, modern science had delivered crushing blows to the ex-gay movement with peer-reviewed research showing that its ideology was bunk. And a national movement to ban reparative therapy for minors was taking shape and had already been successful in several states.
The closing of Exodus International became the “tipping point” in conservative Christians’ conversations about the nature of sexual orientation. Today, even top Southern Baptist leaders have denounced ex-gay therapy, and the school newspaper for the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University has editorialized against it.
“Shutting down Exodus dealt a fatal blow to the whole idea that orientation can be changed and that God somehow loves you more because of the choices you make,” Chambers says. “Some ministries still promote this idea, but they are not going to achieve the same level of success that Exodus had. That position is more of a minority than it has ever been.”
The release of Chambers’s memoir this month marks another step in the leader’s evolution. He has voiced his support for President Obama’s effort to ban orientation-change therapies for minors and celebrated the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage. And now he even admits that he believes committed, monogamous same-sex relationships can be holy.
“I look at gay and lesbian people who are in committed relationships and I believe they can reflect the image of God,” Chambers says. “That belief has continued to evolve, but heterosexuals don’t have a corner on the market of healthy, holy relationships.”
While many culture-warring conservatives will undoubtedly see Chamber’s openness as a cowardly capitulation, others will call him courageous. The former ex-gay leader chooses to focus on just being honest, instead. As he said in a chapter intended for his memoir but cut by the publisher, “Every part of my life, all of my compartmentalization is reconciled. My message and story are no longer different depending on the group to whom I’m speaking.”
Chambers describes his current sexual orientation as “complicated.” While he is still attracted to men, he also says that he and Leslie have a healthy marriage with a robust sex life. But he no longer claims that every person with same-sex attraction should follow his path.
“For those who cannot reconcile their faith and sexuality, they can be affirmed in their choice of celibacy and devote their lives to causes more life giving than ‘ridding themselves of the demon homosexuality,’” Chambers says. “And the gay Christian community can be affirmed in who they already are: beloved.”
Nothing raises my hackles more than watching any documentary on ex-gay conversion therapy! It is bad enough when adults submit themselves to this degrading process, brought about almost inevitably by peer and social pressure. However, when parents send their below age-of-consent children to places like a Love In Action/Refuge conversion therapies, one really has to wonder just how shallow parental love can be! These so-called ex-gay conversion therapies by a whole range of organisations that fell under the Exodus International umbrelladisplay everything that is wrong, and evil, about Christianity: hypocrisy, prejudice, discrimination, stigma, deceit, misinformation, guilt, manipulation, and out-and-out lies to force an antiquated system of belief on teenagers at a difficult and confusing time of their lives, a time where personalities and sexuality are running rampant through rapidly changing bodies. We know, for a fact, that gay people cannot be turned straight. You’ve just gotta love how some of these ‘ex-gay” members love to flaunt their wives, kids and marriages as proof that the therapies work! Denial can be a strong motivator in some people’s lives. Both the 30% suicide rate amongst ex-gay conversions…probably motivated by the so-called therapy apparently not working…and that there are ex-ex-gay groups for those who attended therapy sessions and yet still found themselves with gay inclinations would seem to say all that needs to be said about the high failure rate of conversion therapy.
Obama’s call to ban the practice reflects a tectonic shift within the community that once championed it.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Christian right poured money and muscle into promoting the message that homosexuality was a curable disorder. It advocated conversion therapy, which promised to turn gay men and women straight. But last week, when President Obama announced his support for a national ban on such therapies, few voices on the Christian right spoke up in protest. The announcement confirmed the evaporation of support for these approaches among the communities that once embraced them. As Alan Chambers, who once ran America’s largest ex-gay ministry, told me, “sexual orientation doesn’t change.”
It was a shift rooted in the accrual of evidence and experience. After she came out as a lesbian in high school, Julie Rodgers’ conservative Christian parents urged her to join a ministry in Texas to help make her straight. Ministry leaders promised her that if she continued praying, reading the Bible, attending meetings, and of course, refusing to identify as gay, her sexual orientation would eventually change and she could even marry a man. Rodgers didn’t want to go, but she did want the food, shelter, and love her parents offered. So she agreed.
The program worked great—except that it didn’t. After a decade of compliance, neither Rodger’s orientation nor those of her fellow group members budged toward straightness. And worse, the empty promises and feeling that she was “less than” normal left her drowning in a sea of shame.
It’s a sad story, but one that grows gloomier when you consider that Rodgers is one of the lucky ones. Countless LGBT youths have been subjected to much worse, not just in Christian ministries, but also at the hands of licensed counselors who perform what is known as “reparative” or “conversion therapy.” These controversial mental health practices, intended to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, are ineffective and often drive participants to depression, anxiety, drug use, or suicide.
In recent years, however, conversion therapy has been much maligned if not completely discredited. Almost all major medical and public welfare organizations oppose it, and even conservative Christians—once counted among its strongest supporters—are changing their minds. New Jersey, California, and Washington, D.C., have already outlawed ex-gay therapy for minors. By all accounts, therapies attempting to cure gayness appear to be going the way of the buggy whip.
But this hasn’t always been so. According to Kenneth Lewes, in his book, Psychoanalysis and Male Homosexuality, some began to view same-sex erotic behavior less as sin than as a mental-health disorder as early as the 19th century. This was true of other “sinful” behaviors as well—for example, drunkenness morphed into alcoholism and demon possession became schizophrenia or a personality disorder.
The shift was spurred on by the work of Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s, even though the iconic neurologist was pessimistic about either the possibility or desirability of changing homosexual orientation to heterosexual. Freud’s belief that human beings are born bisexual and can move along a continuum of sexuality formed the basis of the belief that homosexuals could be “cured.”
This way of thinking about sexual orientation persisted into the mid-20th century as many Americans fantasized about an idyllic “traditional family” in the Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver molds. By the start of the American cultural revolution in the 1960s, many mental-health professionals, clergy, and politicians supported the idea that homosexuality was a mental-health disorder that could be cured through some combination of prayer and “therapy,” which included electroshock therapy, masturbatory reconditioning, and giving patients nausea-inducing drugs while forcing them to view homosexual erotica.
“One reason why homosexuals are so rarely cured is that they rarely try treatment,” proclaimed a 1965 Time magazine article. “Too many of them actually believe that they are happy and satisfied the way they are.”
But the late 60s and 70s brought on a blitzkrieg of social change. Women’s liberationists energized the feminist movement, the conflict in Vietnam provoked an anti-war movement, a growing awareness of ecological degradation brought on the environmental movement, and an increasingly mobilized LGBT community morphed into a powerful gay-rights movement.
In 1974, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from its list of mental health disorders. This inflamed many conservatives, especially the Christians among them, who were now mobilizing in the public square against what they believed was a growing tumor of secularism.
Christian pastors promoted anti-gay messages from their pulpits, even advocating the idea that HIV/AIDs was a special form of God’s wrath and judgment against human sinfulness. Christian funders helped bankroll ex-gay ministries like Exodus International, which grew into a coalition of more than 80 ministry partners across 34 states. In 1998, Christian political groups even spent $600,000 on pro-conversion therapy ads in The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Robert Knight of the Family Research Council called it “the Normandy landing in the culture war.”
As a result, ex-gay therapy experienced something of a resurgence in the 1990s. Newspapers often treated it as a medically viable option, and Newsweek ran a sympathetic cover story in 1998.
But the foundations of this effort began crumbling at the turn of the 21st century. While peer-reviewed evidence for the efficacy of aversive therapies was lacking, a growing body of scientific studies indicated that it was not effective in altering subjects’ sexual orientations and was potentially harmful. (The main study cited in support of conversion therapy was conducted by Robert L. Spitzer, who later apologized and admitted his data was tainted, unreliable, and misinterpreted.) After reviewing such studies, major medical organizations—the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Counseling Organization, National Association of Social Workers, World Health Organization, and others—systematically repudiated these practices as harmful.
While science was discrediting conversion therapy, high-profile ex-gay leaders were either apologizing and defecting to the other side or being exposed as frauds. John Paulk, a man who had been a vocal and visible supporter of gay conversion for more than a decade and claimed to be happily married to a former lesbian, was photographed in a Washington, D.C., gay bar in 2000. Three years later, it was discovered that Michael Johnston, founder of “National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day,” was having unprotected sex with men he’d met online despite being HIV-positive. In 2006, Ted Haggard, a fiery opponent of gay rights and then president of the National Association of Evangelicals, admitted to having gay sex with a male prostitute after unsuccessful attempts to change his orientation through counseling. A few years later, John Smid, former executive director of the ex-gay advocacy group “Love in Action,” apologized and said he “never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.” These names are only a sampling.
By the second decade of the 21st century, the scientific foundation of reparative therapy had eroded, every major medical association had repudiated it, the movement’s leaders were falling away, and viral horror stories from former participants were popping up across the web.
But the death-knell sounded in July of 2013 when Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, America’s largest ex-gay Christian ministry apologized to the LGBT community and shuttered his organization. Chambers once claimed he knew “tens of thousands of people who have successfully changed their sexual orientation.” But last week, he told me “99.9 percent of people I met through Exodus’ ministries had not experienced a change in orientation.”
Chambers’ announcement seemed to unleash a broader shift among conservative Christians, the last defense against reparative therapy’s demise. Julie Rodgers, the ex-gay ministry survivor from Texas, now serves on the ministry staff at Wheaton College, one of America’s most prominent evangelical universities, where she has spoken against ex-gay therapy. Russell Moore, the political pointman for the Southern Baptist Convention, has publicly repudiated the practice. Even the opinion editor at the school newspaper for Liberty University, founded by the late Jerry Falwell, editorialized against it.
In 2011—roughly half a century from gay conversion therapy’s heyday—only 24 percent of Americans said they believe it works. The number is presumably even lower today.
While some disparate pockets of support remain, they are waning. The day when ex-gay therapy enjoyed legitimacy in mainstream medicine, media, religion and society is now heading for the history books. And in its place, there is a growing consensus that such practices are distasteful, irresponsible, unethical—and perhaps should be illegal.
Religious Faith Linked To Suicidal Behaviour In LGBQ Adults
(Reuters Health) – Although religiosity is generally tied to reduced suicide risk, the opposite may be true for some young lesbian, gay and questioning adults, researchers say.
Based on data from more than 21,000 U.S. college students, researchers found that greater religious feeling and engagement was tied to increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for participants who identified as LGBQ.
“Religion has typically been seen as something that would protect somebody from thoughts of suicide or trying to kill themselves, and in our study our evidence suggests that may not be the case for everyone, particularly for those we refer to as sexual minority people,” said one of the study authors, John Blosnich of the Injury Control Research Center at West Virginia University in Morgantown.
Previous research suggests that belonging to a religious faith reduces risky behavior in young people, such as substance use and unsafe sex, Blosnich noted in a telephone interview. Religiosity has also been linked to a lower risk of suicidal behaviors, but there is some evidence to suggest that the impact of religion may be different for lesbian, gay, bisexual and questioning (LGBQ) individuals.
The study team analyzed survey data from the 2011 University of Texas at Austin’s Research Consortium on 21,247 college-enrolled 18- to 30-year-olds, including 2.3 percent who reported being lesbian or gay, 3.3 percent who identified as bisexual and 1.1 percent who were questioning their sexuality.
All participants rated the importance of religion in their lives on a 1 to 5 scale, from “not important” to “very important.” Between 21 percent and 28 percent of LGBQ participants rated the importance of religion to them at a 4 or 5, compared with 39 percent of heterosexuals, researchers report in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Questioning youth had the highest rate of recent thoughts about suicide, at 16.4 percent, compared with 3.7 percent of heterosexuals, 6.5 percent of lesbian/gay individuals and 11.4 percent of bisexuals. Lifetime suicide attempts were reported by 20 percent of bisexual youth, 17 percent of questioning youth, 14 percent of gay or lesbian youth and 5 percent of heterosexuals.
For bisexual youth, the importance of religion was not associated with suicidal behavior, while religiosity was protective against thoughts of suicide and suicidal attempts in the heterosexual youth. But lesbians and gays who reported that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts. For lesbians only, religion was associated with a 52 percent increased likelihood of suicidal thinking.
Questioning individuals were almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide recently if they reported that religion was very important to them.
Among lesbians and gays who said religion was not important to them, there was no association between sexual orientation and recent suicide attempts. But being homosexual did significantly increase the likelihood of recent suicide attempts in people who said that religion was very important to them.
“Some sexual minority folks are really at odds. They feel very confused or they feel that they are in conflict with their faith because of who they are. That’s a very scary place to be in,” Blosnich said.
“We are definitely not saying that religion, period, is bad; it’s not,” he added. “There are many sexual minority people who find great strength and great sources of support in their religious communities, but unfortunately we hear many stories about people who do not.”
Faith-based partners in public health suicide prevention and intervention services “should be willing and equipped to assist all people who seek their services, regardless of sexual orientation,” the study authors write.
atizing views of sexual minorities, the authors note. Because the study population was drawn from an academic setting, it may not represent the general population, they add.
“We want to engage religious and faith-based providers in a way that benefits all people,” Blosnich said. “Faith-based communities are major participants in suicide prevention. We just want to make sure that the services that people provide through faith-based organizations or through community faith partners reach everyone who comes to them for help, regardless of sexual orientation.”
SOURCE: bit.ly/2qt3gYC American Journal of Preventive Medicine, online March 15, 2018.
Former Love In Action Leader Marries His Same-Sex Partner
John Smid, the former director of Memphis-based ex-gay ministry Love In Action, has announced his marriage to partner Larry McQueen. The two married in Oklahoma on Sunday, November 16th.
Smid has been living as an out gay man for several years now, and he’s been in a relationship with McQueen for one year. Gay marriage just became legal in Oklahoma last month. The couple live in Paris, Texas, where Smid moved from his Memphis home in the summer of 2013.
Smid’s journey from ex-gay leader to happily out gay man has been a long one. He was promoted to the role of executive director of Love in Action in September 1990, and in 1994, the organization moved its ministry to Memphis. Love in Action operated here quietly until 2005, when protests over a youth “straight” camp called Refuge sparked a national media firestorm.
In early June 2005, Zach Stark, a White Station High School student, posted these words on his MySpace page: “Today, my mother, father, and I had a very long ‘talk’ in my room, where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays.”
That fundamentalist program, described by Stark in a later post as a “boot camp,” was Refuge, a two-week day camp where gay kids were taught how to become straight kids. After Stark’s MySpace post, local LGBT equality advocates held a week of protests outside Love In Action, and the Memphis ministry made national headlines, including a story in The New York Times.
Love In Action eventually discontinued the Refuge program and moved to an adults-only conversion therapy model. All the while, Smid was struggling with his own beliefs. During the week of protests in 2005, Smid met Memphis filmmaker Morgan Jon Fox, who was working on a documentary about Love In Action. Smid told the Flyer in a previous interview that it was Fox’s influence that helped open his eyes to the fact that conversion therapy was doing more harm than good.
“As we got together, we were willing to lay aside our agenda and get to know one another as people,” Smid said of Fox. “That was very instrumental in my processing where I am today.”
Smid eventually resigned as director of Love In Action in 2008, and he founded Grace Rivers, a monthly fellowship for gay Christians. At the time, he remained married to his wife. But they eventually divorced in 2011. Earlier this year, Smid told The Lone Star Q, a Texas LGBT news organization, that he couldn’t continue living the rest of his life in a marriage that didn’t feel right.
“I’ve believed in faith that something was going to happen, and it never did, and so at my age, right now in my life, I don’t have that many good years left in me, and I can’t live like this for the rest of my life, so I said no I’m not willing to keep pushing after something that’s not going to happen,” Smid told The Lone Star Q, regarding his divorce.
Smid met McQueen three years ago, but they were just “acquaintances with common friends,” wrote Smid in his Facebook announcement of their marriage Sunday.
“I gradually got to know him over time until we reached a place in our lives that we saw we wanted to get to know one another through a dating relationship. As we dated we shared our vision for life, our personal philosophies, and our faith values. We found a compatibility that was comfortable and exciting,” Smid said.
He went on to say, “I realized this week that my relationship with Larry is a mirror I see in every day. For most of my life, the mirror I saw reflected my mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. The reflection I see today with Larry shows me the positive things in my life, my strengths, gifts, and talents. I see how I can succeed at a mutual intimate and loving relationship. For this, I am truly grateful.”
Ex-Gay Group Exodus International Shuts Down, President Apologises
Exodus International, a group that bills itself as “the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality,” announced June 19 that it’s shutting its doors.
Exodus’s board unanimously agreed to close the ministry and begin a separate one, though details about the new ministry were unavailable at the time of the organization’s press release.
The announcement came just after Exodus president Alan Chambers released a statement apologizing to the gay community for many actions, including the organization’s promotion of efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation.
“I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents,” Chambers said. “I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly ‘on my side’ who called you names like sodomite—or worse.”
The announcement comes at a critical point for gay rights, as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to issue two potentially decisive rulings on gay marriage and public opinion shifts rapidly in favor of gay rights and even gay marriage.
A recent Gallup Poll showed that 59 percent of Americans now view gay or lesbian relations as “morally acceptable,” a 19-point swing since 2001 and the biggest change seen on any social issue, including divorce, extramarital affairs and other issues.
Chambers disavowed reparative therapy at the annual Gay Christian Network conference in January 2012. “Alan has been moving this way for awhile … but this apology is much more explicit and leaves no room for support for change therapies or demonizing gays.” said Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College who has long observed the ex-gay movement.
“Exodus has been a lighting rod for Christian discussion about homosexuality over the years and with today’s events will probably continue to be for awhile.”
John Paulk, who was spotted at a gay bar in Washington D.C. in 2000 and left his role as chairman of Exodus, also recently apologized for the reparative therapy he once promoted.
Chambers announced the closure of Exodus at the ministry’s 38th annual conference in Irvine, Calif. Local affiliated Exodus ministries, which are autonomous, will continue, but not under the name or umbrella of Exodus.
Exodus began in 1976 by a gay man, Frank Worthen. “Perhaps nothing has brought Exodus into the mainstream of evangelicalism more than its embrace by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family,” wrote Christianity Today in 2007. The ministry has faced some challenges in recent years, including a split with Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago and dissolved partnerships.
In his apology, Chambers acknowledged stories of people who went to Exodus for help only to experience more trauma.
“I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope,” he said. “In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me.”
On Thursday, journalist Lisa Ling’s program “God & Gays,” which features Chambers among others, will air on The Oprah Network. “The organization needs to shut down. Shut down!” a man in the trailer tells Chambers.
Back in my dim, dark past I was picked up one night in the Midnight Shift by a very cute guy. Nothing odd about that…until he took me to the back of the bar and introduced me to his boyfriend. The intention was obvious, they were both good looking men…and I didn’t say no. The sex was great and both guys seemed quite at ease in the threesome situation, and I stayed the night. However, the next morning was a real eye-opener…over breakfast, things took a real turn to the dark side…and I was caught right in the middle of it…with no idea what to do. Graeme…the guy who had picked me up the last evening…was relentlessly verbally abused by his partner, Peter. It was as though I wasn’t even there, as the abuse went on around me, and needless to say, it was a very uncomfortable breakfast. It seemed that Graeme could neither do, nor say, anything right. I never witnessed any physical abuse, but you could feel it underlying the verbals. Peter ordered Graeme to drive me home, and said he’d be timing it. I felt so bad for Graeme, as he was a really lovely, gentle guy. We got to my apartment building and I asked him if he would like to come in for a coffee…but he stated the obvious! If he wasn’t home in the allotted time, he’d cop it. A number of months later, I ran into Graeme in my local watering hole. The whole puck-up thing happened, though this time he was on his own. When I questioned what was happening with Peter, he said they’d parted company. I mentally breathed a sigh of relief. Graeme and I then went on to have a fuck-buddy thing for about 4 years. Last time I saw him…about 20 years ago now…he was in a happy relationship with another guy. I all my years on the gay scene, both amongst a large, close social circle, and in my day-zoo-day picks ups, fuck buddies and one night stands, that was the only incidence of gay domestic violence that I’ve ever encountered. However, it made me very aware of its existence, and how it can be so easily covered up just by presenting the normal semblance of a relationship. It did make me wonder just how much could have been going on amongst those I did know.
Domestic violence has become a “silent epidemic” in the gay and lesbian community despite being the subject of increasing scrutiny in heterosexual relationships, according to the AIDS Council of NSW.
Roughly one in three lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) couples experience domestic violence. Those statistics are echoed among the general population.
After years of fighting to prove their love is valid, LGBTI victims of domestic violence can feel like they are in another closet, making it harder to get help.
Russ Vickery was six months into his first gay relationship when the violence began.
“We went out for dinner and then drinks at a local pub … he got angry about something and the night ended with me having a broken nose,” Vickery says
Same-sex couple Russ Vickery (L) and Matthew Parsons have both been in domestic violence situations in their previous relationships. CREDIT: PAUL JEFFERS
“After the first time he was very apologetic and it was never going to happen again.” But it did happen, again and again over a period of five years, culminating in Vickery being thrown down a set of stairs at home in front of his children.
For Matthew Parsons, domestic violence came in other forms – psychological, financial and emotional abuse.
The smallest of triggers would set off a torrent of abuse, like the time he left the do not disturb sign on a hotel room door.
“When we returned, the room hadn’t been serviced for towels and so he flipped out and threw champagne, strawberries and chocolate across the room. I spent the night crying in the parking lot.”
Parsons had no control over his own finances either. The final straw came when his partner knowingly withheld from him the few dollars he needed to purchase lunch.
“I thought, you don’t even think of me as human, I’m just your play thing. That was a really horrible realisation to come to.”
It took both men years to realise they were experiencing domestic abuse, which is little talked about in the LGBTI community.
“He kept telling me that when two men get involved in a relationship, things turn physical,” says Vickery, who had been in a 17-year marriage prior to coming out. “I had no barometer so I just assumed that was how it worked.”
Parsons says the gay and lesbian community has spent so long trying to prove their love is valid, they are afraid to ruin it by admitting domestic abuse occurs.
“There’s an unspoken fear that if we start to tell the mainstream community that actually sometimes our relationships are toxic and horrible and abusive, then that will be used against us to say, ‘see it’s all unnatural and a sin anyway’.”
Vickery likens it to coming out a second time.
“A lot of people ask me why I didn’t leave [sooner] … but I’d come out and told everyone it was a wonderful thing. I didn’t want to come out again…”
ACON chief executive, Nicolas Parkhill, says for this reason, domestic violence is under-reported within the LGBTI community.
And because same-sex domestic violence “doesn’t look the same” as in heterosexual relationships, people don’t always recognise it, Parkhill says.
Unique to LGBTI victims is the fear the abusive partner will “out” them to family, friends and work colleagues, or reveal their HIV status.
Within the LGBTI community abuse is more frequently reported by women and transgender males than by gay men but Parkhill says more research is needed to determine the full extent of the problem.
He applauds the naming of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year which has already raised the profile of domestic violence in the community, but says “the silent epidemic within this public profile raising is how that plays out in relationships that aren’t perceived as ‘the normal’.”
More needs to be done to raise awareness of domestic violence in gay and lesbian relationships, Parkhill says, and more government funding is needed for LGBTI-specific support services.
Matthew Parsons remembers calling a domestic violence hotline only to discover it was run by a Christian organisation.
“They were very unhelpful to say the least and I thought from that experience there wasn’t help out there, which isn’t true,” he says.
He eventually found help through the website Another Closet and counselling which encouraged him to do a “pack and dash” – fleeing while his partner was out.
The stair incident was the catalyst for Vickery to leave, but it still took him a year to come to terms with the relationship loss.
The men have been together now for four years and finally know what it is like to feel happy and safe.
Drawing on those experiences, they co-created a highly acclaimed cabaret show My Other Closet about domestic violence in gay relationships, for the Sydney Mardi Gras festival in 2013 and have plans to revive the show in Melbourne.
“[Our] horrible relationships … taught us both everything we never want to have in a relationship again,” Parsons says.
“We want to turn our negative experiences into a positive and put the message out there … that abuse is abuse and it’s the same in any relationship.”
In the video for Jonny McGovern’s song “Sexy Nerd,” guys strip down from cardigan sweaters, bow ties and pocket protectors to tighty-whities and black-rimmed glasses as McGovern sings, “Take your clothes off, but leave your glasses on . . . I need a man to sit on my laptop and open my download.”
The song, released in 2012, hit on a major change in the gay community. “The focus on becoming bigger and masculinity is all gone,” says Chris Ryan, a promoter of bar nights for gay twentysomethings. “Younger guys are really focused on looking smarter, being different from the older generation.”
Hollywood had already caught onto the trend when it cast Toby Maguire as Spider-Man. “Hollywood used to have Spider-Man play Peter Parker, now Peter Parker is playing Spider-Man,” says Matthew Levine, founder of Skin Tight USA, a group for fans of spandex and cosplay. “A lot of muscle queens were nerds who wanted to hide it by becoming gym bunnies. A lot of those muscle queens have let their geek nerd flag fly. Hot sexy geeks have come out of the woodwork.”
It’s entirely appropriate that the first sexy gay nerd superstar was Nate Silver, a short, slightly built, unassuming guy who became famous for spending countless hours poring over reams of data. “Now that everybody has a computer in his pocket, nerds are in, they’re cute, they’re even hot,” says McGovern (whose own fantasy involves hooking up with a guy fixing his iPhone).
Silver’s elevation to sex symbol was part of what Derek Buescher, a professor of cultural studies and media criticism at the University of Puget Sound, calls “a broadening of acceptable norms. The alpha male is more broadly defined as not just physical specimens but can also accomplish things.”
In 2012, Silver himself tweaked the description of him from right-wing website unskewedpolls.com as “a thin and effeminate man with a soft-sounding voice.” Silver tweeted back, “Nate Silver seems kinda gay + ??? = Romney landslide!”
In The Social Network, a small Jewish guy with a borderline personality disorder not only gets to humiliate two arrogant Übermensch brothers, but ends up surrounded by hot tech groupies. If money isn’t the ultimate aphrodisiac, it certainly didn’t hurt the real-life Mark Zuckerberg’s sex appeal after he made $1 billion at age 23.
“Coders are now kings,” says Sean Van Sant, marketing director for Rentboy, a website for male escorts. Van Sant has been considering an ad campaign that plays down macho, muscular types in favor of “nerd-chic guys. Because that’s in style right now they’re featuring it more,” says Van Sant, who fesses up to a personal preference for nerds: “I’ve always had my eye out for those guys.”
Event promoter Daniel Nardicio has always looked for nerdier guys over “the mainstream gay Chelsea Boy types” when hiring go-go boys for his raunch fests in the city and on Fire Island, “adorkable” men, not far past voting age, with classic swimmer’s builds. “That whole bodybuilding mania had gotten so cliché,” Nardicio says. “The manicured Chelsea Boy is gone. Now it’s tattooed and scruffy. The B-List is the new A-List.”
In a 1999 Voice article, “Babes in Boyland,” Guy Trebay put down Fire Island Pines and Chelsea as the epitome of “tittie boy culture.” Trebay described Chelsea as full of men who “resemble a casting call for a Wonderbra ad,” while the Pines was “a small beach town populated exclusively by bendable action figures.”
Today, notes Fire Island fixture Morabito, a DJ with three decades’ experience on the island, “the Pines is a “real mixed bag,” where drinking is the drug of choice and the absence of a six-pack won’t immediately consign visitors to social oblivion.
As for Chelsea, as the eponymous Chelsea Boys aged into muscle daddies and bears, the next generation of gay men established gayborhoods first in Hell’s Kitchen and the East Village, and, more recently, Williamsburg and Bushwick. “Brooklyn,” says McGovern, “is the center of the ‘new attractive,’ the new East Village.”
Inevitably, Nardicio’s long-ago attraction to Williamsburg’s “more offbeat, tattooed, and scruffy” look has fallen prey to companies like Brooklyn Grooming, whose most popular fragrance is called “Williamsburg.” “The nerd is not supposed to be conscious about his appearance,” says Sean Rollins, a men’s fashion blogger who works with Brooklyn Grooming. “We’ve taken that aesthetic and given it groomed flourishes. What started out as not trying is now being replicated.”
While some sexy gay nerds affect a studied sloppiness, others emulate the dandy, whose avatar is designer Thom Browne: ultra-skinny pants sans socks, a sweater vest, and, of course, thick black-rimmed glasses. Browne readily acknowledges Pee-wee Herman, whose trademark is the bow tie, as a major influence and inspiration. When Matt Fox started Fine and Dandy, a website and retail store in Hell’s Kitchen, “people would always call out ‘Pee-wee Herman!’ Today, nobody notices.”
Scenesters and DJ duo AndrewAndrew always dress exactly alike in a style the New York Times called “conservative drag.” “We used to get odd looks, now we get compliments,” AndrewAndrew tells the Voice. (They — or rather, he — have made a lifetime commitment to be considered as one person.) “We still get comments, but now it’s a thumbs-up. A bro or frat guy’s read on it is that we’re peacocking, but really, it’s a rejection of the whole Abercrombie/Juicy Couture culture, and dressing like adults.”
The dandy, notes Natty Adams, straight author of the book I Am Dandy, is “harking back to an earlier style of masculinity. Only after Oscar Wilde did the dandy become associated with gays.” Black culture never rejected natty attire, he adds, but in the years after Stonewall, gay men favored the highly sexualized clone.
“The idea,” Adams says, “is to look dignified and elegant — sexy, but subtly. It’s not an in-your face sexuality,” he adds. “For gay men, dressing is a form of public relations. It says, ‘We’re not just sex-crazed lunatics.’ It goes hand in hand with marriage, the new normal. Today, walking around like a Tom of Finland drawing seems a little silly.”
Along with rejecting the Tom of Finland man’s hypersexuality, sexy gay nerds have embraced their feminine side. A bar hop or stroll through Hell’s Kitchen on any given Saturday night is proof enough of Ryan’s contention that “young guys are more openly femmy.”
Even when cruising online, “they’re not taking themselves as seriously,” Levine adds. Younger guys present themselves “with a wink, irony and a sense of self-detachment.”
The triumph of the sexy nerd is making those who still see a gay community obsessing about “muscularity and masculinity,” as Brandon Ambrosino did in the Atlantic in 2013, look like out-of-it outsiders. If anything, the emphasis on a slimmed-down physique has brought its own set of problems. Studies have shown that the number of gay men with anorexia or bulimia is several times higher than the general male population.
In the past, most of the male clients who came to the Alliance for Eating Disorders complained they weren’t big enough, a condition known as muscle dysmorphia. Now, says clinical director Joann Hendelman, more and more of them are “wanting to be thinner, thinner, and thinner. In the gay community, we see a tremendous amount of that.”
The one notable exception to the “lean is mean” aesthetic is costume play, or cosplay, essentially, dressing up like a superhero. “A decade ago, cosplayers at the comic cons were scarce,” says Chris Riley, a web comic book writer in Los Angeles. “Gays were treated very harshly in comic books, as either a joke or cannon fodder. Cosplay is what brought everybody out of the closet to accept their nerdiness.”
Nearly everyone agrees that the trend toward pumping and juicing in the gay world of the ’80s was a reaction to the AIDS crisis. Before protease inhibitors, when HIV brought with it prolonged and visible wasting, a beefy body served as a walking clean bill of health. “Now,” Nardicio points out, “men don’t worry about broadcasting that.”
The sexy gay nerd, McGovern says, “is a reaction to spending hours in the gym. They’re saying, ‘This is what my body is naturally.’ If you’ve got a naturally thin body, you can do a couple of push-ups and you’re there.”
But while “the bodybuilder physique is not something they aspire to,” concedes Morabito, “I see plenty of twentysomething guys with muscle. Saying the muscle boy is antiquated depends on what part of town you live in.” Every Saturday night, Viva, a gay party at Studio 48, “is filled with young muscle boys, she says. And the semi-monthly Alegria parties are largely populated by massive men
Some believe that we’re hard-wired to find muscular men attractive. “While we now have a proliferation of genres in media consumption, we still have an archetype of masculinity,” Buescher notes. Hollywood, having replaced Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger with actors like Robert Downey Jr. and Brad Pitt, is once again super-sizing its action heroes.
Jeff Buchman, who teaches brand management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, believes that men’s body types are as subject to the whims of the moment as the clothes they’re wearing. “Over the years,” he says. “just as women’s bodies have changed, so too [will] males’. The human body only has so many forms, so what’s cool and hip at one point is out the next.”
Josh Steers, an aspiring DJ who moonlights as one of Nardicio’s dancing adorkables, enjoys the work and the money. But he doubts if any other promoter in town would hire him. “People want to see what’s unattainable,” he says about the prevailing go-go boy aesthetic.
Even McGovern agrees that dedicated gym rats shouldn’t despair: “The buff, muscular Chelsea Boy will always remain attractive to gay men and women, and the object of envy for straight men. Big muscles never really go out of style.”