It’s a snowy Saturday night in Boston, and the bros are moving in pack formation. As we trudge through the fresh powder toward South End, the 10 or so guys I’m walking with jostle and joke their way forward through the frigid air, bouncing with that particular surge of giddy energy you sometimes get when you’re hanging out with people you have never met in real life.
As members of Gaybros—a Reddit-based community for gay guys with traditionally manly interests like sports, hunting, and beer—the large majority of their bonding takes place through comment threads under topics like “Ron Swanson vs. James Bond” and “My Gay Card Has Been Revoked.” But in cities like Boston, New York, L.A., Toronto, and even London, they try to regularly “meet-up” at a local restaurant or bar, exchanging Reddit’s upvotes and downvotes for proper handshakes and side-hugs. These “IRL” encounters can, understandably, feel awkward at first, as this one did when we had all gathered for dinner earlier in the evening at a crowded Italian cafeteria. Much of the conversation revolved around how the so-called bartender had asked if seltzer was a spirit. But bros being bros, the group made the best of their over-salted pasta and soda-fountain tap water, and we were quickly on our way to a more dependable source of alcohol.
“Where are we going again?” I ask, dodging drifts and shivering from under-preparedness. “To Fritz!” someone I’m too cold to look toward explains, referencing the city’s premiere gay sports bar. Once past the middle-aged bouncer’s baritone “evening, gentlemen,” I could see why. If the Gaybro’s mission statement is “a place for guys to get together and talk about, well, guy stuff. Sports, video games, military issues, grilling, gear, working out, gadgets, tech, TV, movies, and more,” Fritz is their ideal arena. The decor is classic pub, all dark woods and vintage trophies, but with a decidedly gay twist: Look even briefly at the house-made baseball and football player posters decorating the walls, and more than sportsmanlike appreciation for the athletic male form quickly becomes apparent.
From my perch by the corner coat pile, I survey the scene: Gay men of an impressive range of age, race, attractiveness, body type, and ball-cap embroidery shake hands and strike up conversations. There’s a sweet couple in front of me: One’s sporty, the tight-fitting navy cotton of his Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirt coordinating well with his olive-tinted biceps; the other is channeling New England WASP, skinny and buttoned-up, with pragmatically framed glasses. Farther down the table, a larger guy laughs loudly at something a twinky type said, and later, a very cute boy, possibly Arab, draws eyes as he pulls up a chair. He has brought along a solidly built and more maturely handsome AIDS researcher with whom I spend a considerable amount of time discussing the decline of gay social spaces like the one we’re in.
Given that the few gay spaces that do remain are almost always segregated by race, age, and sexual type (twink, bear, leather, etc.), the diversity on display among the bros was remarkable. Also worthy of note was the lack of excessive cruisiness within the group; though gay men almost never stop flirting entirely, this was clearly not, as multiple bros would tell me, a “dating service.” However, that’s not to say the evening was entirely PG. After the first round had been drained, I overhear my friend Jake—who I only found out was a Gaybro sympathizer after starting in on this story and whose husband, Tim Karu, is one of the group’s moderators—respond saucily to a comment about football players’ jock straps: “Now that’s a game I could get into!”
Around 10:30, the bros finish off their drinks and migrate yet again, this time dominating a whole stretch of sidewalk, to a place with the forthright name Club Café. The entitled New Yorker in me balked at the cover-charge, and, in any case, the aggregate level of tipsiness hinted that it might be time to let the crew have its fun unsurveilled. Plus, I thought I’d earned a break from the pressure of all those firm handshakes: The couple I was crashing with had invited me to a gay house party promising more familiar accoutrements like crudités and Robyn music, so I Google-mapped my way across Boston from bro to 'mo. When I slipped into the handsome and rhythmically thudding townhome, young professionals in J. Crew boots like mine matched my gaze. Not a “masc” guy in sight.
But as I glanced around at the Crate & Barrel brand of gayness on display in this open-concept, Hindu deity-studded living room, I felt, not relief, but a twinge of doubt. The guys I had just left would clearly not fit in here—but was that their loss or ours?
“You need to start using brah in conversation.”
So read an instant message from a colleague when he learned that I was going to be chilling with the Gaybros. I grimaced; the mere sight of the word in the chat box elicited a kind of gag reflex in my throat, not to mention my soul. Actually saying it—or dude, or man, or, God forbid, buddy—and not imploding under the pressure of masculine performance ineptitude seemed, well, impossible. My interlocutor was mostly joking, of course, but the kernel of truth hit home: I was probably going to have to butch-up my vocabulary a bit if I wanted to hang with, much less hope to understand, a group of fellow gay men who would willingly call themselves “bros.”
When you look up the term Gaybro on Urban Dictionary, two extremely telling definitions appear. The first—“a gay man who acts masculine and is interested in guy stuff like sports, video games, military issues, grilling, knives, gear, working out, gadgets, tech, etc ...”—seems to have been lifted from the Gaybros mission statement. The second is less neutral: “Young masculine homosexual males who exhibit no effeminate characteristics or interests and make a point of going on about how 'normal' they are. Previously they would have referred to themselves as straight-acting but that's so 2005. Gaybros have no gay friends because they can't relate to other gay people. This is something else they insist on telling everyone.”