Before meeting the Gaybros, the second definition was the only one I knew, and I am not at all alone. Many gays I’ve spoken with share a visceral and somewhat histrionic revulsion toward the very idea of Gaybrodom that, ironically, is not dissimilar to the reaction many straights have to gays before they know one. When Buzzfeed interviewed the group’s founder, Alex Deluca, on the occasion of their one-year anniversary this past January, the comments section immediately filled with screeds about “masculine privilege” and “femmephobia” within the gay community. (I may have scrawled something to this effect on Facebook myself the day the story broke.)
Deluca, 23, spoke in the Q-and-A about his dismay at encountering a “very narrow definition of what it means to be gay” in mainstream culture, one that apparently doesn’t make room for guys with interests like “video games, paintball, and sports.” “I created Gaybros to provide a space for these guys,” he said. “[A place for them] to gather and talk about shared interests and to break down stereotypes and promote the idea that you could be a gay man and still be exactly who you've always been.”
Eli Fox, a commenter from New Orleans, captured the general complaint of those who took issue with Deluca’s treating the gay “stereotype” like an unwanted cardboard box: “This is such bullshit and just perpetuates the idea that femininity is fake or that people put it on […] He makes it sound like masculine gay guys are somehow OPPRESSED. No, they're the most desired, because masculine traits are prized in the gay male community just like practically every other social group […] Masc guys aren't the ones who need to spend time promoting some agenda of masculinity and "regular guy" culture crap. Society has already done that for them.”
Likely anticipating this kind of push-back, Buzzfeed had asked Deluca to respond to charges of “shaming effeminate gays.” “The most simple way I can explain it,” Deluca replied, “is that we care about interests and character, not mannerisms. Everyone is welcome to come to Gaybros to shoot the shit, grab a beer at a Gaybros meet up, and participate in the different activities and events we schedule.”
Sounds totally fair, right? Very chummy and egalitarian. But can you remember the last time you witnessed a dude’s dude get called out for having “mannerisms,” even though they certainly possess their own set? That’s a word that has almost exclusively been applied, usually derogatorily, to effeminate gay guys. And what about the phrases “shoot the shit” and “grab a beer?” These are common and generally innocuous manly sayings, to be sure. But what if they send a shiver of trepidation, even outright fear, down your spine? What if the bars and ball-fields where such expressions are commonly used have always seemed hostile or straight-up dangerous to you, perhaps because your “mannerisms” tend to overpower your “interests and character” in the eyes of the shit-shooters and beer-grabbers? And forgetting such perceived threats, what if you just find that kind of language laughably canned and retrograde? Suddenly, words that are meant to be non-judgmental and inviting become dog whistle warnings (if not screaming evacuation sirens) to entire swaths of potential supporters.
When I spoke with Deluca over Skype, he seemed pained at the idea that outsiders might be reacting to Gaybros in this way. Referring to comments like Fox’s (which he had responded to within minutes), he said “I feel a need to explain the community so when people hear about it or read about it for the first time, if that have that misconception at the beginning, I want to clear it up.” But can Deluca hope to be there to parry with every negative or uninformed comment? Of course no community is for everybody, and no one is forcing anybody to join or even pay attention to Gaybros. But if ill-chosen language is unnecessarily driving would-be members or fans away, that’s a shame, because Gaybros has a lot to offer—and not just for jock-strap connoisseurs.
After a little over a year in existence, Gaybros now finds itself at a promising but uncertain crossroads. Deluca and a few of the other moderators are currently planning and raising money for a standalone site, and they’ve already expanded their mission beyond mere interest-sharing into advocacy work. Under a wing of the group called “Gaybros Gives Back,” Deluca says the bros are attempting to raise $10,000 for The Trevor Project in March. And with more than 21,000 subscribers (or “bromos,” as they’re called) and 2.6 million page views in February alone, they seem to have the reach to meet that admirable goal.
But before the Gaybros can grow into a full-blown movement, they have some criticisms to contend with: that they are young (or newly out) and are therefore somewhat naïve or uninformed about the gay culture they don’t identify with; that they assert their supposed masculinity as a power play against more effeminate gays; that their strained relationship with the gay mainstream is the result of their own stubbornness as much as mean-girl exclusion.
They do skew young (75 percent are between 18-35, according to Deluca), and many are still hovering on one side or the other of the closet threshold. Many also seem to have more straight male friends than gay ones, no doubt for a variety of reasons. Still, though the focused discussions of “gay culture” that I’ve read on the site often lack historical context and nuance (many imply that it’s only ever been glitter, Gaga, and GHB), they’re also almost always thoughtful. Most importantly, I have never seen an instance of virtual femme-bashing that was not immediately and unanimously policed by the other members, often in lengthy, articulate correctives.
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