Spearheaded by Bravo's adventurous foray into upper-income product placement, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," the movement has hit middle America like a Lancôme tote with TWO compacts in it, sending even our Orlando Sentinel into a tizzy as they desperately grope for the next cultural zeitgeist.
In reality, "metrosexuality" is soooo over (it has to be if we're talking about it), and the whole idea of straight men bending (over) for manicures, hair products and self-serving flirtation is probably just sheep's clothing for guys on the fence. Gay guys call these semi-straights "haveable" after the third Cosmopolitan. Rough trade.
Said blurring lines bring a want for straight thought in this dizzied scribe. The idea of five men, each schooled in varying degrees of gayness, standing around a corn-fed belly in the interest of depilatory treatment to the torso and back, pangs like beer and Alka-Seltzer. When did these stereotypes and scripted SoHo cat-calls become expressions of healthy individuality? When did we all turn into Phyllis Diller?
To find out, I, with some coaxing from the straight men who editorially stand above me, set out to find a new term of being. "Retrosexuality," we giggled, "it's the new 'metrosexuality,'" while I laughed to try to fit in ... and feared where this was all going.
"Let's see if we can make you straight!"
"Er, OK," my giggle slowed to a metronomic belch. As long as I can still take it up the ass.
To accomplish this monumental fete, I had to first examine a few things about myself. Despite a propensity towards over-$15 dollar hair products and the stylists that sell them, I am a simple man. Seeing as this is not Broadway, and I have never been among the foot-shuffling fashion plates of the NYU art school piss-off, my attention to Wallpaper Magazine detail is both matte and meaningless. Besides, I used to sleep with girls, and I refuse to think that this whole gay thing was just an equal and opposite act to make the vaginal trail end. I do not spend my entire conversational life reacting to external stimuli and exfoliants, cackling here and there about "her" when "her" is clearly a "him."
Although, I guess I sometimes do. Dammit.
The trick here would be to court that part within that eludes both nature and nurture. If I was to be straight (seeming) than I would have to do things that straight (seeming) people do — total immersion without the cynicism my preference implies. To play the game, so to speak. And win.
I can do this.
The general understanding is that straight people only exist on weekends. Throughout the rest of the work week, they are invisible pawns in the machine, providing both professional and reproductive services to insure that everything remains normal. They work standard jobs that offer casual Fridays, drink coffee until 10, eat a sandwich with a soda at noon and watch Fox News upon arrival home, slowly dissipating into some heterosexual ether that allows them to sleep and then start all over again. That's true, right?
So naturally I chose a Friday to begin my transformation. On Fridays I usually skip to video-bars for a round of slurred gay banter. This particular Friday, however, it was Houlihan's. Astute readers may detect some compromise there, seeing the obligatory gay link to the pop trivia of St. Elmo's Fire — that's where Demi and company went for Sunday brunch after a series of drug overdoses and lost jobs had them declaring their usual St. Elmo's too young. Very gay.
To me, it seems natural. My usual St. Elmo's is too gay.
Nervous but concealing it like any good straight guy, I sidle my way up to the bar, which is populated by the loosened collars and smart-skirt suits of Orlando's real-estate caste. Remarkably, if not predictably, a bar is a bar, gay or straight. Top shelf and bottom shelf exist hand-in-hand (me, I'm a top ... when I'm drinking), and bartenders pretend to care about just what it is you need to make you forget your miserable existence. The first step is to order a plebeian beer — something that ends in 'light' and has very little alcoholic influence. I don't want to lose my shtick after all.
"A Bud Light," I gruff.
"They're two for one," the bartendress winks.
Overhead, the televisions do not blare the latest doctored remixes from Dead or Alive or Cher (who is both dead and alive), but a combination of skewed news and sports fodder. I squint through the head of my hops, just trying to take it all in. This is going to be harder than I thought. Beer is gassy.
Before arriving at this, my miserable evening's destiny, I surfed the web in search of a valid pick-up line. Pick-up lines are essential to both gay and straight people alike, to be sure, but seeing as gay people inhabit male and female dating idioms, it seems that the straight man's cliff-jump is far more severe. Gay men, after all, can look down when they masturbate later and still be satisfied that what they experienced is some form of valid pornography.
Fortunately, I found the perfect line. Setting my sights on a woman both streaked and striking, outfitted in cute wares that may or may not have been purchased at The Limited, I make my case: "I know it sounds weird," I lower my voice, leaning into my thrice-wined victim, "but, um, there really is a party in my pants. And, while you might not think so, you really are invited."
I try to act sheepish, like John Cusack might, as he (playing Lloyd Dobler) is a straight woman's dream.
"It's not working," she calls me out.
Hip tip: If you're going to hit on a girl, it helps to be straight.
I decide to stay for dinner, as that is what a straight person might do. To satisfy the food portion of my as-yet unrealized transformation, I peruse the Houlihan's menu for something meaty, and possibly treated with testosterone. Much to my chagrin, even menus have been infected by the metrosexuality malaise, offering such delicacies as Asian Lettuce Wraps ($7.95) and Seared Rare Asian Tuna Bites ($7.29). I veer past the appetizers to the real meat and potatoes. A Down Home Pot Roast ($11.95) sounds very khaki, but not as Hooters as the Extra Meaty Baby Back BBQ Ribs (Full Slab, $15.99). I'm going to need an extra stomach. A straight one.
Maybe I'll have better luck tomorrow.
On Saturdays, straight men become the hunter/gatherer yardwork demons that their wives sneak an under-the-sink nip of gin to appreciate. In order to acclimate myself, I take a trip to hardware haven, Lowes, hoping that somewhere within its many aisles of stoic wisdom I will find my inner straight adult.
Peculiar thing, Lowes is. Instead of simply catering to the belly-sweat grumbles of men-with-projects, they too have bent the gender barriers in favor of pleasing the wives. Depending on your point of entry, Lowes can come off as either an angular, manly experience, or an "Oooh, wouldn't that be nice?" home for ninnies. Sadly, I choose to enter through the garden center, where a veritable Garden of Eden (butterfly wind chimes, succulents and orchids, oh my) cloud my purpose, resulting in a momentary lapse of straight reason.
"Fantastic Pulls and Knobs," "Miles of Rope," "Stylish Locksets," "Tons of Nails," read the advertising placards as I enter the main building, anxiously wiping my brow. I want them all.
I invite a straight companion (we all need one of those) to show me the ropes — not the hoses.
"Are you a male screw?" he quizzes. "Or a female nut?"
Stop flirting with me. Anyway, he goes on to school me on the heres and theres of hardware, taking pains to explain the differences between two-by-fours and four-by-fours, while expounding on the benefits of performance grade over pressure treats, etc. Then it's riding lawnmowers. Unforgivably, I'm sidetracked by the washers and dryers that sport glass openings on the front. Oh, Whirlpool. You bring out the Hazel in me.
As we browse the power tools (pneumatic nailers, $95 to $379, and various routers, sanders and grinders), Celine Dion booms overhead with a plaintive, "Have you ever been in love?"
Yes. Sniffle. Yes, I have.
Hip Tip: Avoid Celine Dion at all costs.
Which is hard, actually. Upon entering Buffalo Bill's gun store on Mills, I'm greeted with the very same Celine song, like some nagging wife (or gay man) making sure that I'll never find my inner straightness. In front of me hangs what must be the most desirable boy-toy since the Red Rider BB gun: The Sharp's Long Range Express ($2,395), a big gun of obvious historical significance, although history is oddly insignificant to me. I'm confused as to why this gun cost more than my car, until I realize that each are overpriced methods of killing myself.
At Buffalo Bill's I learn that rifles are more accurate because they have "a groove," which is very gay. And I discover that shotguns can shoot slugs, but generally shoot buckshot. OK. There's a stuffed buffalo overhead, staring me down and knowing, clearly, that I do not belong here.
But what I've really discovered is a secret, straight-man underground network.
"My son needs dental work," droops a customer at the counter. "His teeth are more important than my hobby."
He's selling some relic his dad probably passed down to him. How straight!
The next customer offers a similar, if more obscured, explanation for his patronage. Seems this gunslinger's in need of a cool grand, only immediately, and is trying to sell what must be his grandfather's Winchester. Call it the straight man's heirloom conspiracy. I call it fascinating.
Hip tip: Steal your father's gun. Get in debt for secret drug problem. Blame it on your kids.
By Sunday I'm longing for the love of God, or whatever it is that keeps straight people happy. But the thought of actually attending church brings upon my straight self waves of nausea only atheists and men with nagging, devout wives would understand. So I choose to play the stoic husband and stay home ... drinking. One drink leads to another and everything becomes clear: We're not as different as we may seem. Life isn't a series of boot-cuts, baseball caps, ascots or capris. It's about getting drunk and realizing, like Celine Dion, that you have been in love, and that "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is just sociology for stupid people. Life is what you make it. Forever and ever, gay men.Billy Manes writes for Orlando Weekly, where the full-length version of this feature appears. E-mail comments to [email protected]