# 8 Fort Lauderdale

March 24, 2008

fort-lauderdale-beach.jpgIf you’re straight, you probably still think of Fort Lauderdale as a trashy town in Florida, full of drunk college-age guys leering at barely-dressed – and barely legal – women in dive bars where tequila shots cost a dollar. In fact, Fort Lauderdale is almost exactly the opposite: a trashy town in Florida full of drunk middle-aged guys leering at barely-dressed – and barely legal – men in dive bars where vodka drinks cost a dollar.

The transformation of Fort Lauderdale from spring break mecca to an assisted-living facility for gay alcoholics and their enablers is indicative of many aspects of gay guy culture.

Back in the 1980s, the good citizens of Fort Lauderdale, an enclave wedged between the banana republics of West Palm Beach and Little Havana, decided that enough was enough, and they were tired of making headlines only when drunk cheerleaders were raped by football teams every spring. Like any smart town or neighborhood looking for a way out of crass economic despair, they targeted a more upscale market.

Initially this didn’t work, because only an hour south of Fort Lauderdale lay South Miami Beach. South Beach was in the process of vacuuming away from Key West the kind of cute young gay guys that draw less cute but higher spending older gay guys to warm-weather tourist destinations. Key West doesn’t have much in the way of beaches, and even less in the way of fashion photography, so in retrospect it was probably doomed. But what goes around comes around, and eventually straight people figured out that South Beach was cool. When they started coming, hotels became more expensive, and the same cute gay guys who couldn’t afford Key West couldn’t afford South Beach either. So they migrated north to Fort Lauderdale.

Like South Beach and Key West, Fort Lauderdale is in Florida, so it’s warm in the winter, has palm trees, and doesn’t have anything in the way of bookstores, historic sites, or theater to make hedonistic tourists feel guilty for spending seven nights in a row at strip clubs. But unlike Key West, with its colorful past and darling Victorian houses, or South Beach with its colorful present and Art Deco hotels, Fort Lauderdale looks like it was sprayed out of a can by a team of developers in 1975. In Key West, a gay guy might pay $150 a night to stay in a Victorian guest house with gingerbread trim where Ernest Hemingway once beat someone up. In South Beach, a gay guy might pay $300 a night to stay in a bright aquamarine hotel where an elderly Jewish woman from Brooklyn once heard Henny Youngman ask the crowd to take his wife – please. But in Fort Lauderdale, that same gay guy might pay $215 a night to stay in a hotel that had once been, say, a dog kennel or a U Haul dealership.

Finally, as everyone knows Florida’s official state nickname is God’s Waiting Room. (The more common nickname of The Incompetent Election State is purely informal.) This holds for gay guys as much as for straight guys. Key West and South Beach draw their share of older gay toursts: chiefly gay guys from smaller towns in the former and gay guys from big East Coast cities in the latter. Key West is famous for its clothing-optional resorts where middle aged gay guys from Tulsa and Lansing can get pretty feisty and grabby when they’ve had a few pina coladas. South Beach has New Yorkers of a certain age with skin like raisins and sunglasses like bats’ wings who let it slip that they have a suite and a lot of cash. The genius of Fort Lauderdale is not just that it combines both these entertaining types of gay guys, but that it combines them with bars in strip malls,  which means those same gay guys have to drive from their clothing optional hotels and high-end suites, get drunk and leer, then drive home, making Fort Lauderdale by most standards the capital of mai tai-related car accidents involving powder-blue Chrysler Sebrings.

When gay guys talk about going to Fort Lauderdale, however, it’s best not to bring up criticisms. Gay guys love the place exactly because it’s warm and sandy and cheap enough for 20 year olds. Rather than ask them if their hotel was once a dog kennel or whether they got that bruise being jostled at the Denny’s early bird special, stick to polite questions like: how were the bars, did you ride bicycles on the beach, and were there are cute guys there. Gay guys will go on for hours, and you too may find yourself seduced by Fort Lauderdale’s charms.


# 7 “Designer” Underpants

March 20, 2008

Most gay g2(x)istuys will think of this as designer underwear rather than designer underpants but there is a crucial difference between the two that goes to the heart of why only underpants matter: underwear includes undershirts. The undershirt is worn only to keep perspiration off a real shirt, or to be lifted above the abs in personal-ad photos. Undershirts are thus not particularly important in the gay guy’s wardrobe. Even the first case isn’t as frequent as a straight person might think since in general, gay guys prefer to go to events where as few men as possible will be wearing shirts at all. Note, however, that this will not stop gay guys from complaining bitterly that only the “wrong” guys are wearing shirts.

Underpants, on the other hand, are more than appropriate for any occasion, and on that special occasion when a gay guy has met a new, let’s say “candidate for boyfriend status”, designer underpants are the exclamation point at the end of the sentence.

The phenomenon appears to have begun in the early 1990s when Calvin Marky Mark for Calvin KleinKlein charged $15 for the underwear that Mark Wahlberg wore in a 100 foot tall billboard in Times Square. (The photo was taken by Herb Ritts, who will be discussed in an upcoming post.) Gay guys flocked to Nordstrom and Macy’s to buy those underpants, and then flocked to Mark Wahlberg book signings and public appearances to ask him to sign them (which he did, and quite graciously), giving birth to an entirely new mode of conspicuous consumption.

It’s difficult for non gay guys (and even many gay guys) to keep up with the neverending parade of designer underpant brands. First there was Calvin Klein.  Then there was 2(x)ist. At some point California Muscle became sufficiently fashionable that is homepage became almost NSFW. And now AussieBum ads are popping up all over. What makes keeping up with designer underpant brands particularly challenging is the same feature that makes them particularly exciting: you almost never get to see what others are wearing.

At this point readers may have the erroneous impression that gay guys are shallow. Designer underpants do the same thing as cheap underpants but are expensive, and since they’re only seen by a select few people (boyfriends, tricks, cleaning ladies and the occasional stalker/burglar), perhaps a little ridiculous. But there are two distinct advantages. First, designers have to advertise their underpants, and let’s not mince words here. Gay guys don’t particularly mind subsidizing billboards and magazine spreads full of men in their underwear. And second, a straight guy’s underwear drawer is like his diary. Underpants bought last year. Another pair bought by a girlfriend two years ago. Perhaps some boxers from college, and yes, maybe even one or two pre-college pairs that his mother got at Sears. Gay guys’ preference for designer underwear that begin to go out of style as soon as the purchaser leaves the checkout line encourages gay guys to throw out old underwear, which may not seem like a big thing, but ask your mother how she’d feel if you were hit by a car and taken to the hospital wearing a pair of Fruit of the Looms she bought in 1991 and then ask yourself if throwing out all your 2003 2(x)ists and replacing them with new Dolce and Gabbanas is all that bad. Plus, she may not admit it, but your mother probably doesn’t mind those billboards either.

# 6 Dogs

March 19, 2008

Gay guys limaltese_h03.jpgke dogs. Of course, everyone likes dogs.  Some people like them for protection, or because they look good in photos with kids. People who live in densely populated big cities like them because they provide companionship in an environment of anonymity and alienation. Such neighborhoods are the natural habitat of gay guys – all the better to escape one’s family and past –  and just because the natural environment for canines is sparsely populated woodlands and savannah doesn’t mean that dogs can’t be perfectly happy pooping on asphalt.

Dogs make great companions, and that’s one reason why gay guys like them. Unlike gay roommates, dogs won’t viciously tease you for watching four and a half hours of a VH-1 America’s Next Top Model Marathon wearing only your underwear and eating dry Cheerios. Unlike a longtime partner, dogs won’t point out that they still love you even if you’re losing your hair. And most importantly, dogs won’t cockblock you in the park if you happen to meet another gay guy who has a dog.

The possibility of meeting other gay guys who have dogs is a crucial reason for owning a dog. It’s a real mystery why anyone thinks serious relationships start with one person holding a plastic bag full of. . .um. . .Let’s just say it’s not empty anymore. But then, hope springs eternal for gay guys or they wouldn’t spend Saturday nights in cavernous warehouses full of dry ice and methamphetamines. By contrast maybe dogs aren’t so bad.

For picking up gay guys, the breed of dog is crucial. The Labrador Retriver and the Golden Retriever are all-purpose dogs that straight people often buy. These dogs are easily trainable, but sloppy and drooly. Most importantly, however they are trite and remind gay guys of middle aged suburbanites with kids, which is just as unsexy to gay guys as it is to straight people. Retrievers show no originality and the gay guys, they love originality.

Better choices are members of the AKC Herding Group, which make gay guys look smart (easily trainable) and outdoorsy (active and fun!). Though it should be noted that this applies far more to the Australian Cattle Dog and the Border Collie than to, say, the Welsh Corgi, and that for gay guys haunted by memories of being taunted for throwing like a girl, having a dog that loves retrieving tennis balls can dredge up a long-forgotten and painful childhood on the little league field.

Slightly more butch than herding dogs are hunting dogs. Walking through an urban dog park with a German Shorthaired Pointer allows the gay guy owner to say something particularly butch like “it’s a German Shorthaired pointer. They’re for hunting pheasants and other upland birds.” It should be noted that this can be a very risky strategy for gay guys since followup questions might include “what kind of gun do you use?” or “wow, does NSTRA  have a chapter in Fort Lauderdale?”

(At first glance it might seem that even better than hunting dogs would be German Shepherds or Doberman Pinschers (you know what they look like), but buying such an obviously macho dog gives the appearance of an effort to compensate for other shortcomings.)

Of course, not all gay guys buy dogs just to pick up other gay guys. Plenty of gay guys buy dogs because, as Isaac Mizrahi once said, “it’s impossible be truly fabulous without the proper dogs”. Straight people unaccustomed to gay life thinks this means poodles. And yes, the poodle remains popular among gay guys because they are easily groomed into adorable shapes and don’t shed. But poodles are passé. The Calvin Klein of dogs. No, really the Pierre Cardin of dogs. Maltese are a better choice for today’s on-the-go gay guy who wants a dog he can fit in a carry on bag and pass around with the flight attendants on the 9:15 JFK to Lauderdale. Small terrier breeds also work well for this purpose, though again, stay away from the German Shepherds and Dobermans.

# 5 Vodka

March 18, 2008

Absolut HaringGay guys sure do love vodka. At some point in the last 10 years, vodka surpassed whiskey as the most consumed hard liquor in America. At the same time, gay guys have gone from casual appearances on Melrose Place to two cable networks and Jimmy Kimmel pretending to date Ben Affleck. Coincidence? Doubtful.

There are two reasons gay guys like vodka: it mixes well with everything, and it has an aura of sophistication lacking in, for example, rum. 

Vodka mixes well with everything basically because it tastes like nothing. And gay guys always like a new idea, so one year they’ll mix vodka with orange and cranberry juice, then move on to Apple martinis, then cosmopolitans, then lychee martinis. . .the list goes on and on. If vodka’s only attraction were its susceptibility to fad cocktails, that alone would ensure its high esteem among gay guys.

But wait, there’s more. Unlike, say, rum or bourbon, vodka has been marketed as an upmarket and sophisticated beverage ever since Absolut vodka asked Keith Haring ( as well as some other artists that gay guys care less about) to design ads with Absolut vodka bottles in them. Absolut was also one of the first companies to advertise specifically to gays, and gay guys are nothing if not loyal. (At least until a newer, more expensive brand of vodka comes out.)

So there you have it. Vodka combines the two enviable characteristics of being sophisticated and tasteless. And there is nothing more attractive to gay guys than that.

# 4 Triumph Over Adversity

March 17, 2008

Many pTina Turnereople assume that gay guys like divas because they sing well, are somehow “fierce”, or because it’s loads of fun to dress up like them. While all of these are true, the underlying reason for the adulation gay guys give to divas like Tina Turner, Hillary Clinton, Dolly Parton and Gloria Estefan is their experience of Triumph Over Adversity.

Probably because they remember their own coming-out experiences, gay guys love stories of beaten-down women (Tina with Ike, Hillary with Bill, Dolly’s Appalachia background, Gloria’s car accident) who fight like tigers and claw their way to the top (Private Dancer, the U.S. Senate, 9 to 5, Into the Light). They see a little bit of themselves in women who’ve been wronged by an unforgiving society that treats them bad, and like straight guys watching Rocky knock out Apollo Creed, they cheer for the hooker who gets her man, Judy’s big 1961 concert, and Cher’s latest comeback.

It’s crucial to remember that it’s not always triumph, there’s also adversity. Just because Madonna didn’t put out a decent album between 1997 and 2005 didn’t mean she was forgotten by her gay guy fans. She’d already triumphed over adversity when she clawed her way to the top in the early 80s wearing slutty underwear over a German schoolboy outfit, and only the most craven and disloyal gay guy counted her out just because she showed in Evita that she had no more acting talent than a cardboard box and then moved to London to marry some English guy no one had ever heard of. Sure enough, in 2005, she clawed her way to the top again, and gay guys everywhere spoke proudly – though, let’s face it, with a little bit of wry amusement – of her again.

When gay guys bring up a story of Triumph Over Adversity, even if it seems a little absurd (for example, stories relating to Barbra Streisand), it is important to be respectful. The best thing to do is to look at your drink, shake your head, and say as seriously as you can “She’s been/went through so much.” Saying this will earn you serious nods – and possibly move you up a notch in consideration for being set up with a single gay guy at a future dinner party.

# 3 Dinner Parties

March 14, 2008

Dinner PartyDinner parties are a crucial aspect of gay guy society. As a way to see old friends, talk about real estate or coming-out novels, or, for the single gay guy, possibly meet a boyfriend, the dinner party is unbeatable.

If you are invited to a dinner party at the house of a gay guy (or more likely, the house of two gay guys) it is crucial not to arrive empty-handed. Always ask what you can bring. If you are told to bring something specific, bring it. If you are not told to bring something specific, bring wine. If you are told not to bring anything, bring wine. You will never be told not to bring wine.

While the dinner party is a wonderful environment for conversation, that is almost never the main reason for a gay guy dinner party. Gay guys generally throw dinner parties for one of two reasons: to show off some fabulous aspect of their lives, or to find a boyfriend for a single friend. And sometimes both.

In the first case, flattery is important, and whenever possible should be sincere. Details are what matters here: don’t say “this soup is good”, say “the crimini mushrooms in this soup are wonderful.” If you don’t know what crimini mushrooms are, say “what are these wonderful mushrooms?” Your host(s) will always appreciate food compliments. But they will appreciate complimenting their possessions at least as much as complimenting their food: on the table take a serious look at the glassware, silverware, plates and tablecloth (if any). Do any of them appear antique, imported, or campy? If so, comment on it: “These plates are beautiful! How old are they/What country are they from/Where on Earth did you find Tinkerbell dinner plates?”

The second case is more delicate. If the host(s) are smart, they will have invited a number of single gay guys and just enough couples to keep it from being mortifyingly obvious that they are trying to set someone up.  In such settings, it’s considered poor form to comment on recent breakups or first dates, or how difficult it is to find a boyfriend these days, as this will only add pressure to the single guy in whose honor the dinner party is being thrown. Instead, keep the conversation to noncontroversial topics (such as coming out novels and real estate) and if you see two of the single guys talking to each other, don’t interrupt. Or, if you happen to be talking to one of the single guys and another one comes over and joins the conversation, wait until the conversation is flowing, then excuse yourself.

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# 2 Coming Out Novels

March 13, 2008

Coming out was a difficult and emotional process for all gay guys, and one that no one takes lightly. Coming Out NovelsBut because it’s a traumatic process that ultimately resulted in accepting oneself and being better adjusted, many gay guys enjoy reliving the process by reading maudlin, overwritten novels about young men, particularly teenagers (even more particularly teenagers in the South) coming to terms with who they are. Despite the tenderly written scenes of illicit adolescent sexual encounters and unrealistic plotlines of emotionally troubled high school athletes falling in love with the captain of the debate team, many gay guys will insist that these stories reflect their own  coming out experiences, and it’s best not to call this into question.

 Gay guys like these stories because they take all the emotional high points of their own personal coming out stories (being teased, unrequited crushes, sexual confusion, and eventual acceptance) while glossing over the mundane but embarrassing realities of tearful breakups with ex-girlfriends, awkward memories of college-age radicalism and attempts to shock one’s well-meaning heterosexual family members, and a real-life gay community that perhaps isn’t the parade of emotionally well-adjusted Abercrombie and Fitch models they had hoped for. Read the rest of this entry »