Tag Archives: gay clones

Gay History: After Stonewall Clones, Closets and Codes

A work by Bill Costa, from the Leslie-Lohman collection. Registrar Branden Wallace traces the images of purity (white linen, smooth body) to the advent of AIDS and HIV. (Photo courtesy of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art)

Late June’s (2019) 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is making this Pride month a particularly reflective one.

But like a newly minted AARP member flipping through their high school yearbook, the modern gay rights movement’s “Big five-oh” moment brings, with its flood of memories, certain hard questions—not the least of which is: What possessed you to wear that?

“I have, fortunately, no photos publicly available of me during my ’70s platform shoes and glitter rock period,” says Joseph Hawkins, director of the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives at the USC Libraries, who spoke with the Blade about how the things we put in our literal closet can liberate us from the figurative one (or keep us there).

“When I look at pictures of people back in the [pre-Stonewall] 1960s,” says the USC Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies, “there was an assimilationist viewpoint, where you wanted to look like a good citizen. I think of people marching in front of the White House, where they’re dressed in their Sunday best.”

“When the consequences of being an out homosexual were damaging to one’s life and career, there had to be codes to letting people know who you were,” observes registrar Branden Wallace, of NYC’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

Fashion, Wallace notes, “is a way to express one’s identity, specifically, for the time after Stonewall, when you had this bursting, where queer culture could actually be visible. They took their cues from things that were going on socially, and the trends in fashion, and also developed their own.”

Registrar Branden Wallace, of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. (Photo by Gonzalo Casals)

By the late ’60s, Hawkins recalls, “there was a lot of crossover [between the counterculture and gays]—ripped Hawaiian shirts, and ripped jeans. But later, that gave way that whole ‘clone’ thing, which came as a response to the term ‘sissy.’ Even within the gay community, a sissy would be ‘too’ effeminate. In the clone movement, the gay men were going to out-butch straight men.”

There was very little “humor, in these bastions of gay masculinity… seriousness and masculinity were the same thing. That opaque perspective on masculinity was also a mockery of drag queens and effeminate men. They weren’t really men,” recalled Gerald Busby, in a recent Blade article (“Of cowboy drag, cruising, and cocaine”) about the “cowboy” look he donned to make it past the doors of NYC’s Spike and Eagle’s Nest, during the early 1970s.

“It denoted seriousness of commitment to being gay and being masculine, as well as being decisive about what kind of sex you were after,” Busby noted, of the “alignment of costume and behavior… unmistakable symbols of sexual preference, such as blue or red handkerchiefs in left or right rear pockets of jeans, to indicate top or bottom.”

This exaggerated working class “clone” look, whether denim, lumberjack, or leather, Hawkins observes, was, in its own way, a “liberation ideology. Part of what allowed the sexual revolution to occur was this idea that masculinity could be a gay phenomenon. That’s what fed the ‘clone’ thing. It was a response to the idea that gay men couldn’t be masculine.”

Of his above-mentioned platform shoes ’70s look, Hawkins notes he paired it with skin-tight jeans, shoulder-length hair, and “an old saddle bag I carried. I don’t remember being ‘coded,’ though.” Working in an Office of Economic Opportunity program at the time, Hawkins recalls going on a field trip to Washington, D.C., when “a guy in my group turned to me and said, ‘Oh, girl, if you’re gonna sell that merchandize, you have to advertise.’ There were certain things you wanted to do to look gay, for people to know you were gay. You could walk down the street and catch someone’s glance. That was a different kind of coding.”

In the decades after Stonewall, Wallace notes, cloning reared a new head, and coding morphed with the mainstream, to the point of merger.

Sporting a well-groomed, muscled, manicured look and clingy shirts meant to showcase a sculpted gym body, the “Chelsea Boy” aesthetic ruled the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“I called it the ‘A-Gays,’ a standard that is unobtainable” yet desirable and pursued, Wallace recalls, also noting the Chelsea Boy look shared its time in the sun with “grunge and goth, the alternative kids who, no matter how hard they tried, could not fit in. So it’s amazing that in gay culture [of that time], you have the perfectly coiffed, and this side that just didn’t care, and was for all genders.”

There was also in this era, Wallace notes, “a drastic change in the photographic artwork. With the advent of AIDS and HIV, the art tends to go toward a smooth body, clean appearances. There’s usually white linen and water around. So artists like Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber are using these models for their purity; a perfect-looking body that is not possible.”

Nowadays, “anything goes,” Wallace says. “Beards, which you never saw in a Chelsea Boy in the 1990s, bow ties and sweater vests, and everything… I’m probably raw denim, wearing a T-shirt, got a big keychain in my pocket and a hanky and a Mohawk. That’s usually paired with a suit jacket or a jacket of some sort. You really can do anything now.”

“I don’t know why these things happen,” Hawkins admits, of trends and styles and looks that sometimes seem to defy explanation (he’s still wrapping his head around flip-flops). “Sometimes, in the middle of them, they make no sense. On the other hand, you look back and there are all these political and cultural cues. Maybe there’s an economic downturn or a wave of conservatism based on some sort of military action”—or, an event like Stonewall, which steps over lines in the sand while drawing new ones of its own. “Those things,” Hawkins says, “begin to infiltrate the way people think about fashion, and what they are going to do.”

Gerald Busby in cowboy drag, ready to cruise at the Spike and the Eagle’s Nest. (Photo by Joanna Ney)


Gay History: Send in the Clones

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 stereotypes for 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.

The Clone Ranger. Extract from gay club advert.

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.)

Get a room! Gay hotel ad.

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.

Stanley (second from right) pops into his local gay bar. Taken from ‘Stanley and the Mask of Mystery’ by David Shenton. Reproduced by kind permission of the artist. World copyright © David Shenton

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.

A letter I wrote to “Campaign”…a gay newspaper popular in the 70s & 80s…in response to someone criticising the Clone look – then in its starting phase
The blogger in Clone days circa 1986/87

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.

The gay clone, illustrated.
Leather enthusiasts at the 1978 San Francisco Gay Day Parade.

2001 Michael Tolliver is wearing jeans, with an opened flannel shirt to show off his body. This look depicts the Castro Clone style of the 1970s.


Why Do So Many of Us Date Our Clones?

The answer lies in the makeup of a man as well as LGBT people at large.

If you have ever taken a walk down Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, Boystown’s North Halsted Street in Chicago, or even Chueca’s Gran Vía in Madrid, you have likely seen it: the attack of the clones. And I am not talking about some gaymers going crazy over the latest George Lucas screening.


We have all seen our share of guys in the gay world who cross a seemingly incestuous line between looking so similar they could be brothers and boyfriends. Whether it is some gym bunny who is dating another protein-obsessed jock, a hipster with another skinny-jeans-wearing, glasses-clad ironist, or a twink who is dating another boyish-looking guy, there are lot of guys who tend to date what seems like a mirror image of themselves. 


And that is not to disparage any of the aforementioned groups. However, it leads one to question: Why is this such a phenomenon among gay men? 


The answer, I believe, lies deep in the struggle of coming out. While growing up, many of us — especially those of us from small towns — tried fitting into a straight paradigm. We grew up with our straight friends, assuming that we would grow up, fall in love with a woman, get married, and procreate. For this reason, some of us around puberty had a hard time reconciling what was hardwired in our brain and what our genitalia was telling us, because in all other aspects, we are just like our straight counterparts. 


I can recall the exact moment in my middle school years when I tried to reconcile these two aspects of my life. At the time, I most certainly had a crush on this one guy named Kyle who I swam with on my year-round club team. I would often have to avert my stares at him when he looked my way, embarrassed that I had just caught a glance of his muscly features in a Speedo.


Yet, at an awkward tweenage party — the kind that only acne and newfound hormones could create — I saw all my friends “falling in love” with girls. It suddenly hit me that I had never felt about a girl in that way. Feeling left out, I decided I needed a girl crush. So I looked over at my nearby friend’s newly developed boobs and decided I was head over heels for her. After all, that was what I was supposed to find attractive, right? 


Naturally, I was lying to myself due to social pressures. And this is a common occurrence in the gay world. There is a reason that the term “gold star gay” — a gay man who has never slept with a woman — exists. We all take our own path to realize that when it comes to sexuality, we are different. And for some of us, it takes a relationship with a girl.


But when we get out of this straight paradigm, most gay men seem to seek perfection in a relationship. After finding how much easier and natural same-sex relationships are for us, some of us raise our standards so incredibly high that only a clone of ourselves will do. 


Yet, this unfortunately can, and often does, invite a variety of problems. Above the tendency to serial date, the search for perfection causes a social strata among gay men, starting with the infamous “Masc4Masc” category on dating sites. Wanting only a “real” man, this guy goes out of his way to act “straighter” than straight men and date only those who are the same — he forgets, of course, that straight men want a vagina and not his penis. 


Then there are the racially motivated messages on dating profiles and hookup sites, such as “no Asians” or “no black guys,” etc. Wanting only to date a guy of a particular race (most likely his own), this man swears he is not racist, but rather that skin color is a preference just like one’s personality or astrological sign. 


Last but not least, there is the message that says “no fats.” While it is understandable that this guy may be simply concerned that a potential partner could just die of a heart attack at age 40, that is probably not his motivation. A guy with a healthy body image who has a little bit of pudge disgusts him, as he seeks only a man with the abs of a go-go dancer and the arms of a construction worker or lumberjack.


Of course, many believe that these three examples are really just preferences and not problematic. After all, gay clone couples show the happiness and fulfillment of standards, right? I choose to respectfully disagree — rejecting anyone who is not Prince Charming riding down Santa Monica Boulevard, you are rejecting reality for a fairy tale. Enjoy a man who is exactly like you or a man who is your polar opposite, but always acknowledge that no man or relationship is perfect.



Why Do Gay Men Insist On F*cking Themselves?

Boyfriend twins are all too real, and a little unsettling. Why are gay dudes so into themselves?

Boyfriend twins. Dopplebangers. Clonefuckers. Whatever you call them, the concept remains the same: two gay men in a relationship who are, if not completely indistinguishable from one another, look at least so similar that they wouldn’t seem out of place at the same family reunion. The phenomenon isn’t exactly new, but has seen renewed attention recently. ‘Tis the season to see men who could be brothers making out at your local Pride parade.

Boyfriend twins are a uniquely gay occurrence. There are certainly plenty of straight couples who look like they belong to the same gene pool, but heterosexual couples have the inherent division of gender, and also, who pays attention to straight people? It’s much more uncanny to see two men who look extremely alike making out in front of you at a gay bar while Robyn’s unreleased “Honey” demo plays in the background — but it’s also an experience that most queer people are deeply familiar with. The boyfriend twin phenomenon is so pervasive that there are entire Tumblrs devoted to tracking it, collecting photos of these romantic lookalikes for posterity and entertainment.

The one thing no one seems to be doing is investigating why so many gay men are romantically and/or sexually interested in men who look exactly like them — but that’s mostly because the answer is fairly obvious: most gay men want to fuck themselves.

Rembrandt Duran, a New York City-based Twitter Gay™ who has been profiled for his extracurricular duties as a “sexual matchmaker” and has written about his progressive take on “top privilege,” thinks that boyfriend twins are a natural manifestation of the human need for familiarity. “I think we just feel more comfortable dating [people who seem] familiar to us,” he says. “Most groups of people are homophilous, so of course dating pools would be that way, too.” Personally, Duran thinks clonefuckers are “kinda gross but mostly hilarious, especially when people just aren’t aware of it.”

Which raises an interesting point: While boyfriend twins certainly aren’t hurting anyone, many of them seem to be remarkably unaware of their particular proclivities, which suggests something about their disinterest or unwillingness to examine their own desires. As boyfriend twins seem to be most prominent among white gay cisgender men, some would say that this desire is subconsciously racist — a step beyond men who state a racial preference on their Grindr bio and actively seek partners who are as ethnically close to them as possible.

“There is nothing that racism doesn’t touch, but to say it’s just that wouldn’t be digging deep enough into it,” says Duran. “I also feel like it’s conditioned into us that most ‘successful’ relationships are those with people who we have a lot in common with, which I think is more Disney romance false bullshit.”

I spoke with a close friend of mine — we’ll call him Todd — who is one-half of a boyfriend twin couple. He says that while he’s absolutely aware of how alike he and his partner look, he doesn’t mind at all — but his boyfriend definitely does. “He’s very upset by it. It makes him feel like a basic gay because people give us shit for it,” says Todd. “Every time we go out someone makes a comment about it, but I think it’s cute.” Todd also notes that as they’ve dated, he and his boyfriend have almost assimilated into each other, dressing more and more alike, which only exacerbates their resemblance. He also says that they have been regularly mistaken for one another, but to be honest, I think all white gay men in New York City look alike.

“I’ve had some people make comments that are kind of rude, asking why am I that shallow that I’m only going to date someone that looks like me, but I think that’s a very narrow view, because they’d probably also be mad at me for dating another attractive white guy [who didn’t look like me]. They think we’re part of the problem, which I think is kinda silly.”

“I’m always on the fence about forcing people to examine their desires too much,” adds Duran, who explains that he feels there are those who overcompensate by swinging too drastically in the opposite direction. “There are people who end up using others as a buffer for their guilt by filling a sort of quota — by going out and fucking different kinds of people — when honestly, the simpler fix for that is to stop valuing the gaze of white masculine men and saying ‘who cares if they want to fuck me’ and start accepting love and attraction from everyone else.”

The real tea about doppelbangers is this: Are you really all that surprised that hot gay men want to fuck other hot gay men? In other news, water is wet and Trinity Taylor was robbed in season nine of Drag Race.

Todd recalled that he’d been at a party where the other two other pairs of clonefuckers approached him and his partner. “‘Hey, we’re all boyfriend twins,’” he recounted, in a tone suggesting… well, you get it. He laughed. “Ok, that’s weird.”

The obvious question: Did that turn into a sixsome? Unfortunately not.