Photo by Flickr user Sunny_57.
Like most Americans, I usually spend the Fourth of July on a roof drinking vodka and shooting fireworks aimlessly into the night. However, since I recently quit drinking (there comes a time in everyone’s life when he has to stop using the phrase “I’m from Miami, bitch” as an excuse to drunkenly hook up with other guys’ boyfriends), I spent last Thursday refreshing Twitter over and over again—which was just as boring as it sounds until people started tweeting about how Tim McGraw looked like a leather queen.
Now, I try to stay up-to-date on which straight celebrities look like they want a rimjob—I’m into gay guys that look a little straight and straight guys that look a little gay—but I had no clue Tim resembled a member of the Tom Cruise club. So I asked an internet friend what was up. “Turn on NBC,” she said.
I turned on NBC and watched as a man in a red button-down shirt played piano, a bald guy wielding glow sticks danced in the audience, and Tim sang “Something Like That" while pumping his arms in the air like a homo dancing to “Gimme More” at a twink club called Splash. Rubbing his black leather cowboy hat, Tim probably thought he looked like a super-straight 1950s Western star, but to me the look reminded me of the butch southern gays I saw at a Jacksonville, Florida, gay bar my friend’s gay best friend/drug dealer dragged me to last year. This was a concert featuring Mariah Carey lying in a pile of hay and Cher lip-synching about women’s rights while wearing tripp pants she may or may not have bought at Hot Topic in 2004, and Tim McGraw was the gayest thing on the screen that night.
This shocked me, but I should have expected a network TV Independence Day special to look like the first five minutes of cowboy-themed gay porn—straight artists dressing gay is as American as Elvis Presley and Miley Cyrus crudley appropriating black culture in the name of pop.
Some history: In 1977, producers Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo saw a man in Native American garb dancing at a gay club in the West Village. His moves inspired the producers to create a band, the Village People, which would have six male singers (some gay, some straight) dressed as a Native American, a cowboy, a G.I., a cop, a biker, and a construction worker. To straight listeners who thought “Macho Man” was about being a muscular man who supported his family, the costumes seemed like icons of American heterosexuality. But gay fans knew that when the Village People sang “Y.M.C.A.” they were singing about blowing jocks in the locker room.
The group’s aesthetic was based on a style that had emerged after the Stonewall riots as young middle-class gay men flocked to metropolises like New York and San Francisco and created “gay macho,” a new style that would break the trend of flamboyant gender-bending popular in underground gay clubs in the early 20th century. The macho man gays—known in some circles as “clones”—outwardly fit society’s definition of men. They wore leather, Levi jeans, and cowboy hats in outfits that resemble those worn today by Lana Del Ray and Axl Rose because they thought if they looked like construction workers with steroid addictions the world would see them as men. According to sociologist Martin P. Levine’s study Gay Macho: The Life and Death of the American Clone, the clones viewed anal sex as “giving it like a man” (topping) or “taking it like a man” (bottoming), and their lives revolved around “the four D’s” (disco, drugs, dish, and dick).
Although society never saw sucking cock as in its definition of manly men, gay culture and straight culture continued to blur together in the 80s. On the cover of Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen wore a red hat in his jean pocket in a manner that resembled the way gays wore colored cloths in their back pockets while cruising. George Michael wore leather jackets and cock-hugging jeans that recalled both the Village People and James Dean—until cops found George with a john in a bathroom stall, he was able to keep his (obvious) homosexuality a mystery, at least on the surface. In the “Vogue” music video and the documentary Truth or Dare, Madonna used her gay background dancers as accessories that made her edgier. Today, pop singers like Kylie Minogue dress their muscular male background dancers in briefs similar to those worn by gay porn stars and Men’s Health models, and gay men continue to try to appear more masculine.
And while straights have gotten gayer, gays have gotten more straight. On Grindr, it’s common for men to say they are “masc for masc” (read: only fucking dudes that look like they eat the thunder cat), and a few weeks ago, at New York’s gay pride parade, I saw multiple guys wearing backwards hats and frat tanks—the uniform of bros at spring break. Their hats were made of leather, just like Tim McGraw’s.
McGraw wasn’t trying to look gay, but mainstream country music fashion comes from the same source as lots of gay fashion—the hetero definition of “masculine” isn’t that far from “masc.” In America, it’s always been stylish to emphasize your manliness, and in the past 50 years it’s become stylish to look like you might take it like a man as well. And if some leather queens mistake McGraw for one of their own, it certainly won’t hurt his album sales.
Previously by Mitchell Sunderland – First Patrick Bateman, Now Anna Nicole Smith?