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In the short-lived CBS sitcom Some of My Best Friends, a straight bridge-and-tunnel guy mistakes "GWM" for Guy With Money in a roommate ad and unwittingly moves in with a gay man. When the straight guy realizes that the Barbra poster on the wall doesn't mean his roommate is Jewish, he goes into shock. But by the second episode, he's learned to play gay, laugh out loud at the femme friend's campy jokes, and even prance around in silky, butt-hugging workout pants.
Although it's hardly realistic about the homo savvy of Italian guys from Brooklyn, this new sitcom demonstrates that the gay makeover of the straight American male has reached prime time. But this process has been evident for years in big cities where gay men are rewriting the rules of what it takes to be the ideal man. Glossy magazines have noticed that straight men are looking more gay, but the influence is more than a matter of working out, waxing, and wearing Prada. It involves a profound change in consciousness, reflected in everything from greeting gay buddies with a kiss to treating women the way other womenand most gay mendo.
It's not like every Joe is turning mo. But in the trendier zones of New York, L.A., Miami, and Montreal, the gay sensibility is rubbing off on receptive straights. It should be noted that this is mostly a white and Latino phenomenon. But in those circles, a new male identity is brunching toward B-Bar to be born. Call it post-straight.
New Jersey native Joe Carrino, 24, moved to New York two years ago and got a job as a trainer at the Lafayette Street Crunch. He'd had little exposure to Manhattan gym society, so he just assumed that all his male clients were straight. "As a selling point, I would mention what girls think of guys' bodies," he recalls. "Then I realized that didn't do it for them."
By losing some weight and adding little details to his wardrobe, not only did he pass for gay, but he also encouraged the idea when it was to his advantage.
It wasn't just that his favorite clients turned out to be gay. Carrino realized that he liked hanging out with these guys, kicking it to Beige at Bowery Bar, Sunday mornings at Twilo, and dinner at Cafeteria. He soon developed a knack for telling which gay parties attracted women and which drew hundreds of sweaty, half-naked men. He especially liked "sticking out" in mixed company.
Though girls were much easier to pick up in gay clubssince he had little competition thereCarrino's approach to women changed nonetheless. "Girls love gay guys," he says. "Why is that? Because gay guys understand them. A girl will always talk to a gay guy. So I listen to women. I understand their emotions." Being a straight man in gay circles taught Carrino something about what it feels like to be on the other end of the male gaze. He liked the attentionup to a pointbut some guys wouldn't take no for an answer. "Like women getting harassed by men: I know how that is now."
Another perk that came with Carrino's social life was networking in gay professional circles. Never more than a gaze away were people he could never meet as a regular guy from Jersey: casting agents, fashion directors, famous photographers, music executives. He learned a valuable lesson about gay life: "It's very easy to move up if you're good-looking." When last heard from, Carrino was working on Wall Street.
By losing some weight and adding little details to his wardrobesneakers bought on lower Broadway, Dolce & Gabbana tank topsnot only did he pass for gay, but he also encouraged the idea when it was to his advantage. "One time I went to the VIP door at a club, and the doorman challenged me to kiss one of my friends to prove I was gay," Carrino recalls. "I was like, oh shit, but I wanted to get inside, so I did."
How far does the appropriation go? Carrino says he doesn't fool around, but many gay men would agree with trainer Bryant Stiney: "You never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever see a straight guy in the gay scene who hasn't done something. Never!" Some post-straight men interviewed for this piece admit to being "curious." A few will even say they've "tried it," only to discover that they had "no idea what to do with a dick," as one straight party boy put it.
Though the adventure often stops at the bedroom door (or bathroom stall), these men see gays as people to be emulated rather than shunned. And they no longer accept their straightness exactly as it was handed to them. It's not their sexuality that post-straight men have come to question, but the identity that goes with it. They are experiencing gay liberationwithout the gay part.
This shift in attitude has also occurred in women who move in mixed circlesand it extends to sexual values. Women in general have learned to admire men's booties, but those who hang with gay men will step it up. "Where do you think I learned about eating ass?" says one straight female trainer at a mixed gym. The fact that straight men like her to do that is just as revealing.