Monthly Archives: November 2019

Triumph of the Sexy Nerd: Gay Millennials Reject the Chelsea Boy

JOE ROCCO

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.”

Reference

Gay History: Violence is No Stranger to the LGBT Community: David Mixner

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

From “The Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats

Not since June 24, 1973 when a madman fire-bombed the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans has the LGBT community suffered such slaughter at the hands of hate. On that horrible day, 43 years ago, 32 of our own were burned to death. No one was ever charged or punished for that crime. Ever since, unfortunately, random violence has shadowed our journey to freedom. Over a dozen MCC churches have been burned to the ground. Every one of us knows someone who has been gay-bashed. Many have been beaten so badly that they never regain their ability to function in the world. None of us will ever forget Matthew Shepard crucified on a fence in the barren and desolate prairie of Wyoming.

For the LGBT community, the news that terrorists aim to kill us is certainly not new. We have recoiled time and time again as videos show our brothers and sisters in the Middle East stoned to death or hurled off the tops of buildings. In Africa we see members of our community burned to death encased in the infamous ‘neckless’ (a burning tire around their neck). A generation of us witnessed first hand as our brothers endured a prolonged and brutal death from AIDS while our own government turned its back on us. American preachers have called for the death sentence for LGBT Americans and dispatched missionaries overseas to urge third world nations to inflict hate and violence on their own LGBT citizens.

For the most part we have suffered all this amid the silence of others; it has almost become a way of life for us. The lack of outrage or even coverage of the repression and terror directed toward us from the media is striking. Also, the fact that thirteen nations have the death penalty simply for being homosexual — and many of them are American allies. As ACT UP said so eloquently, silence really does equal death.

Now another place, another name has joined the long list: Pulse. Ironically the name of the Orlando bar is the means to ascertain if a person is still alive.

Oh yes, we are still alive. They have not invented a bullet, a gun or firebomb that can come close to murdering our spirit or our determination to be free. For every one of our fallen there are ten to take their place.

The slaughterhouse in Orlando hits close to home. I have spoken there at a community event. Every city in America has a bar like Pulse. We have all danced to the same music! We all know it can happen anywhere, anytime in our community. We are all always at risk.

President Obama rightly called the slaughter in Orlando both a terrorist act and a hate crime. The two can’t be separated.

Let’s be honest. Not only was this twisted terrorist inspired by ISIS; he had plenty of permission here in America to hate us.

There are precincts of American politics filled with rhetoric against our community, our rights, our very being. Pastors advocate hate from their pulpits and legislation is submitted and enacted to demean us and sanction anti-LGBT discrimination. There are states passing laws to permit our fellow citizens to deny us a meal in a restaurant, a place to sleep at night, or even access to a restroom. Do these agents of bigotry really believe their cynical fear-mongering and attempts to write hate into the stature books did not contribute to the massacre at Pulse? Really?

What can we do in the face of such horror?

For years to come and without question we will have to continue fighting our oppressors in the streets and at the ballot box. We cannot rest until every hate-filled law is overturned. The best memorial to the dead of Orlando is a new birth of freedom.

In the short term, many of the killed or injured are poor and they and their families need our financial assistance. Equality Florida has established a “Go Fund Me” page for us to help pay for funerals and medical expenses.

The LGBT community in Texas — and all decent citizens –have a special obligation and that is to remove Lt. Governor Patrick from office for his hateful tweet: “You reap what you sow.” He dishonors his office and America.

The Republican Party must stop exploiting gay-baiting as a tool to turn out their base.

Finally, we must stand tall, proud and open. All of us are sickened and angered by the mass execution of our brothers and sisters, but we are not bowed and not defeated. Never!

Reference