However, the “bro” part of the name—regardless of how “playful” Deluca claims to have been in choosing it—will cause many to see them as merely the next incarnation of the “butch,” “straight-acting” or “regular guys” who have defined themselves against some abstract notion of a more effeminate “gay mainstream” since at least the 1970s. (Deluca himself admits that a few of these “assholes” are indeed present within the community). But spend an hour in their online discussions or an evening chatting with them over beers and you’ll quickly learn that the Gaybros’ relationship to masculinity and gay identity is not as simple as that.
In fact, that gently tawdry jock joke that Jake made at Fritz may have been the only time I heard sports—or any of the traditionally masculine things the Gaybros claim as their interests—mentioned that evening. In my humble opinion, a more accurate term for the lovely group of guys I met in Boston (no offense intended!) would be Gaynerds. But then, I wasn’t really surprised to find that the so-called Gaybro army doesn’t actually match some Tom of Finland fantasy; though some members of the community no doubt aspire to that kind of steroid-assisted gravitas, the entirely cliched homosexual gentleman imagined by the group’s mission statement couldn’t possibly be real.
What is real, though, is the sense of alienation these guys feel when whatever traditionally masculine interests they do have interface with their sexuality, or more accurately, with the cultural expectations they see as coming with it. This incongruence has led them to want to “break the stereotype,” but in fact the Gaybros aren’t breaking anything—they’re simply adding to the beauty of what was already there.
One of the keywords that you’ll run into over and over again in the Gaybros subreddit, r/gaybros, is “brotherhood.” This is not a word that immediately comes to mind when thinking of gay guys (Bette Midler in Hocus Pocus screaming “Sissstaaaahhhs!” is what I hear), but perhaps it’s one that should. When I asked 28-year-old Tim Karu, one of Deluca’s fellow moderators, what brotherhood means to him, he immediately relaxed and said “the sense of being able to talk about anything.” That might sound banal, but coming on the heels of a lengthy discussion about the Gaybro community’s penchant for helping guys with what Karu called their “journeys” out of the closet and into gay life, it made a lot of sense. Karu said that the moderators get a lot of messages from guys who find solace in realizing that being gay “doesn’t have to be a game-changer … it doesn’t mean that I’m somebody different.” He and the other moderators see it as an unexpected but welcome part of their mission to help these guys feel at home in their own skin in a forum that doesn’t necessarily traffic in the same beauty-ideals, aesthetic tastes, and social etiquette that a newly out gay might encounter on, say, moving to New York or San Francisco.
Of a piece with the brotherly vibe of Gaybros is the need to develop, as a site rule puts it, a “thick skin and sense of humor” toward contentious interactions, which crop up fairly often on threads about touchy issues like open relationships. Like “shooting the shit,” demanding a thick skin can at first sound like something a homophobic coach might yell at you for being upset by bullies, but it also has a socially useful function. Gaybros exists by nature and design outside the super-politically correct, college-bubble rhetoric that largely defines the terms of these discussions today (just check out the absurdly arcane ground-rules for r/LGBT to see what I mean). In this, it provides a so-called “safe space” for novice gay men who do not yet know the “right” words to explore their new identities and engage with their newfound community without fear of tar and feathers for not intuiting the difference between two-spirit and intersex. As someone who’s been through more stuffy safe space facilitations than I care to admit, I’ll say that “thick skin” starts to sound a lot like fresh air.
But is Karu right that being gay need not be a “game-changer” at all? Just because you don’t have to become an opera queen to be gay does not mean that there’s no requirements for entry other than having sex with men. If you believe (and I do), that “gay” is something more than “homosexual”—something with a history, canon, and culture—then calling yourself gay is a “game-changer” for sure.
The other day, I was bemoaning the camp ignorance of certain contestants on this season’s RuPaul’s Drag Race with my hair stylist, Justin, and he wisely pointed out that many of the queens may not have had mothers, of the drag or biological sort, to teach them their own history. The same thing has happened to gay men in general. As Michael Warner writes in The Trouble with Normal, “queers do not have the institutions for common memory and generational transmission around which straight culture is built. Every new wave of queer youth picks up something from its predecessors but also invents itself from scratch. Many are convinced that they have nothing to learn from old dykes and clones and trolls, and no institutions … ensure that this will happen.” Take that with the generational void caused by AIDS, and you have a perfect recipe for a generation who rejects “gay culture” while knowing little, if anything, about it.
But then again, with maturity comes evolution. Deluca said that due to criticisms like mine, he and the other moderators have officially decided to drop the term “stereotype” from the Gaybros materials. This is a great step, and indeed, any adjustment of language (short of renaming themselves) that can help disentangle Gaybros from the gay culture wars is to be encouraged. The group has too much potential as a lively new model for engaging with issues like coming-out, political correctness, community-building and the rest to get waylaid by the old traps of masculine privilege and Andrew Sullivan-style queer-shaming. And of course, as gay culture is redefined for the 21st century, there’s nothing that says the Gaybros can’t bring their guns, video-game controllers, and sports sticks to the club as well.
Speaking of clubs, I went to a second meet-up at a busy New York gay bar a few weeks ago with the intention of snatching a few more quotes. When I pushed in to the at-capacity room, however, I realized my plan was hopeless. The Gaybros, according to their posted itinerary, were somewhere there among the queens, Brooklyn hipsters, and shirtless go-go boys, drinking and flirting and laughing and hoping. But they were indistinguishable from the rest of their brothers.