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The post-straight man has always existed on the fringes of macho, but as a type he was born in the 1970s disco scene. It was thereon the first real gay turfthat the shift in power and status between straights and gays first took place. The playing field didn't just even out at discos; gay men actually had the home court advantage. This put straight men who wanted to crash the party in the position of having to make themselves presentable to gay men. That meant acting like you're not on top, something few straight men in those days were willing to do.
Those who got past the doorman soon flipped their mental format. "You'd see a whole gamut of dramatic changes," recalls promoter John Blair, "from thinking it was cool to hang with gay people to seeing them learn to be physical with one another in a nonsexual, loving way." Suddenly straight men were given permission to explore a new side of themselves, and women were definitely interested. By the '80s, the socially gay straight man had become a staple of the club and party scene.
Thirty-two-year-old Robbie Ammons is a proud product of that milieu. Growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ammons didn't know any gay people and had only vague images of "big hairy guys raping little kids and doing perverted things in back rooms." But when his best friend at Queens College came out to him, he took Ammons out to the original Sound Factory, where Ammons finally met men on his wavelength. "I never fit into the world of macho men, and what I loved about the gay scene was its openness, its flair, its flash and vanityits acceptance that you can be a man but still have characteristics that are considered feminine."
The Ammonses: Like many post-straights, Ammons grew up feeling alienated from the men around him, but with gays he found "true friendship."
Instead of being threatened by sexual attention, Ammons ate it up. "I'm somewhat vain, I'll admit that," he says. "And I got a lot of attention at the gay clubs, say more than if I went to a straight bar. I loved it." Like many post-straights, Ammons grew up feeling alienated from the men around him, but with gays he found "the perfect fit." For the first time, he experienced "true friendship. I could talk about anything." But Ammons didn't connect with any old gay guys. The men he courted were "beautiful, sharp, smart, and sensitive. They were elite."
Ammons proceeded to become a regular in gay clubs. He called men bitchas a term of endearmentaltered his style from "T-shirts and jeans to leather pants and tight black T-shirts," went to circuit parties with his gay buddies, and even watched gay porn with them for a laugh. He realized that women on the scene were not only plentiful but eager to meet someone like himself: "a gay guy who's straight."
A powerful draw at this time was dance music and the "DJ as God" phenomenon. This mystique drew straight men like 32-year-old Victor Calderone, who is now a preeminent DJ in gay club life. What brought him from butch Bensonhurst to the ultimate '80s gay club, the Saint, was the music and the men who mixed it. "I was looking up to these DJs and they were gay," Calderone remembers. "That's where the whole thing shifted for me."
Calderone went on to create what he calls "a totally gay lifestyle": an apartment on Christopher Street, summers on Fire Island, "wearing labels," and working out. But Calderone got more from his immersion in gay life than fame and friends. He also found a wife.
The women he met at gay clubs were far different from the ancient stereotype of the "fag hag." They were bombshellsthat's what their gay male friends were looking for in a female companion. (Who do you think created the supermodel?) Like many post-straight men, these women often came from working-class backgrounds. They were drawn to gay life in part because it offered access to upward mobility. At the same time, they were looking for men who didn't fit the stereotype of the working-class guyespecially when it came to r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
"I could never have been with a guy who didn't accept my lifestyle," says Christina Visca, who introduced her boyfriend, Rudy, to her entirely gay social life. "He grew up in Washington Heights, so being around gay people he became more polished and less judgmental. He could hang with his homeboys or go with the gay boys and feel comfortable either way." Rudy and Christina went on to become a socially gay straight couplesharing a life that had the excitement of their single days without the risk of sexual competition. "It's a lot less stressful in gay settings," says Rudy. "You don't have to worry about somebody picking the other up."
As straight guys outside the gay loop copped on to the sexual success of their post-straight friends, others entered the scene, turning the art of playing gay into a science for getting laid. "It's not like we're competing with gay guys, but in a sense we are because they've raised the bar," says 27-year-old art director Dave Schlow. "They look good, they dress well, and they know how to relate. So women are like: Why can't you be more like my gay friend?"