A modest proposal for a series that reaches out to the less-stylish among us.
By Thomas Blanton
I have been betrayed.
Coming home from work one afternoon, I heard voices and giggles emanating from the bedroom. I tiptoed in silently, then threw open the door, revealing Jack, my beloved and allegedly trustworthy boyfriend, and Brook, our handsome and flirtatious mutual chum, digging through my closet. Jack was holding up various articles of clothing, and Brook was in turn laughing, gagging, or staring in mute horror, depending upon the cut, color, or age of the garment.
In most situations where a gay man catches his significant other in the boudoir with an attractive, single acquaintance, apologies and restitution would be in order. Said boyfriend might beg for forgiveness, say, or at least hold still long enough for a few well-placed slaps to rain down. Instead, Jack and Brook held a wardrobe intervention.
“Brook says you have to throw this away,” Jack said, gesturing to a multicolored denim shirt that I’d found on a discount rack in 1993. Brook then proceeded to banish my green-with-leather-trim ankle-length duster overcoat, all the bowling shirts I’d picked up for cheap when the Super K-Mart in Victoria closed, and a plaid, button-down top with lots of handy zippered pockets. I’d always thought the last little number was pretty chic. Jack and Brook informed me that it was the most visually abrasive textile ever stitched by sweatshop orphans.
I don’t really remember what happened next, although I believe the phrases “you just don’t understand my style” and “get away from my clothes, you home wrecker” were bandied about. My temper tantrum was futile. Turns out, I have the worst fashion sense in the entire gay world. Next to me, Bruce Vilanch looks like an evening-wear model for International Male.
Normally, a lack of fashion etiquette is nothing to worry about. No matter how badly you dress, there’s always someone out there to make better choices for you: That’s why God gave us J. Crew sales associates. However, in my case, the situation is compounded by the fact that I’m a total slob. Laundry festers in moldering piles across my bedroom. Dishes, stacked to frightening heights and spackled together with week-old ranch dressing, threaten to topple off the kitchen counter and maim the cats. Most mornings, I’d rather just pick the urine-soaked towels off the bathroom floor than deal with the stinking cesspool that I’m told was, at one time, a litter box.
Jack, bless his heart, tries to clean our apartment around me, but to no avail. You see, my inherent slob nature is like the run-off from a Superfund waste site: It slowly seeps into my environment, eventually making the area completely inhospitable to most life forms. If I didn’t shower so often, I’d look just like Pig Pen from Peanuts—permanently stained with dirt and surrounded by a personal dust cloud.
No fashion sense, no innate fear of the untidy—and those aren’t the only gay stereotypes that don’t apply to me. I have never successfully decorated my apartment, nor do I have any clue as to how to select a proper wine. While there was a brief period when I considered myself a chef, Jack finally broke the sad news to me that it doesn’t count as cooking if all the ingredients come out of the same box. I do have an abnormal affection for musical theater, but my tastes run a little askew of the norm. In the shower or stuck in traffic, I’m much more likely to be wailing along to “The Ballad of John Wilkes Booth” from Assassins or “The Butthole Duet” from Zero Patience than anything featuring the vocal stylings of Bernadette Peters.
For a long time, my deficiencies in the traditional homosexual arts worked in my favor. All through college and into adulthood, straight people were always surprised when I came out to them. Whenever I told someone, he or she would usually say something like, “But you’re so wrinkled and unshaven.” This would lead into a discussion about the oppressive nature of stereotypes and on into friendship and mutual respect. One of my proudest moments occurred during a keg party, when a drunken good ol’ boy fresh from A&M told me, “I used to be really homophobic, but then I met you.”
So what if whenever I met actual queers they thought I was a genetic aberration. I was, in my own way, spreading the word that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders were first and foremost people who deserved as much dignity and validation as everyone else.
But then Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered, demeaning homosexual stereotypes became badges of honor, and my gay card got revoked.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that we have as much media exposure as we do, and that we’re moving away from being portrayed solely as wacky neighbors and serial killers (but go see Monster anyway—I hear Charlize Theron is brilliant). What bothers me about Queer Eye, though, is that the stereotypes we’ve rallied against for so long are not only being encouraged, but adopted by the heterosexual majority. At a recent get-together, a straight buddy of mine berated my choice of outfit (torn-up jeans, work boots, and a crumpled flannel shirt—pretty much exactly what I’ve been wearing every day since we first met in college), then asked me if his eyeliner was too visible. A few minutes later, another straight friend actually made the comment, “Of course, I was metrosexual before it got trendy.” Apparently, in order to continue fitting in with the straight people who’ve been my closest friends for the past decade, I have to start acting as gay as they do.
What a lot of people don’t realize, though, is that there’s another group out there (aside from gay men who think Dolce and Gabbana are drag queens) debased by the Queer Eye phenomenon: straight men who are happy with themselves and who don’t see the need to reconstruct their lifestyles to suit pop culture. I feel bad for these guys. They’re sitting in their cluttered living rooms, munching on cold pizza and guzzling beer, blissfully unaware that their girlfriends and wives are watching Bravo and thinking, If only he could be as gay as those pretty television people.
With that in mind, I’m going to start my own show.
I don’t have a title yet, or a catchy theme song, but I’ve got the treatment worked out. Once a week, my best friend Mike (a similarly minded gay guy whose wardrobe consists of faded jeans, old T-shirts, and dirty baseball caps and whose résumé lists “capable of driving an M1 tank” under “special skills”) and I burst in on some unsuspecting straight guy and encourage him to keep on living however he damn well pleases.
In the first episode, Mike and I kick open the door to a studio apartment, and find “Bob,” an average, heterosexual male, sitting on a ratty corduroy sofa amid drifts of take-out containers and old issues of Maxim.
“What seems to be the problem?” we ask.
“Dude, my girlfriend says she’s totally going to dump me unless I clean up this place and start using a pore-refining moisturizer,” Bob moans.
“Well, it sounds like you’re dating a controlling bitch,” Mike says. “I’m thinking that’s your main problem.”
“Mike’s right,” I say. “Wouldn’t you rather spend your time with someone who likes you the way you are?”
Bob brightens. “Yeah . . . yeah, I would! Screw her!”
Mike and I smile beatifically. “Why don’t you let Mike take you to a sports bar?” I ask. “I’ll stay here and see if I can’t make this place a little more comfortable. How does that sound?”
Bob resists, until Mike points out that sports bars are where all the fun-loving, open-minded girls hang out. Once they’re out the door, I get to work on the apartment. Several hours pass, represented by a musical interlude and some nifty camera angles.
Mike and a happily intoxicated Bob return, along with Bob’s new girlfriend Candi, a dental hygienist with a penchant for surgical augmentation who hopes to one day “You know, model and stuff.”
“Wow!” Bob exclaims, surveying his home. “It looks exactly the same!”
“Not quite,” I say, barely suppressing my pride. “Look, I covered all the piles of dirty laundry in your living room with bed sheets, see? If anyone asks, just say they’re beanbag chairs. Oh, and I put all the empty pizza boxes over here, kind of near the trashcan. You can throw them out later. If you get around to it. No pressure.”
Bob starts to tear up, and then he and Candi embrace. And then fall down, because they’re both pretty drunk by now.
Mike and I dust off our hands and congratulate one another on a job well done. We start to leave, and Bob lifts his head, looks up at us with puppy dog eyes and says, “Hey, guys? I just want you to know that I used to be really homophobic, but then I met you.”
“Gee, thanks, Bob,” we say. “And you know what? We also accept you for who and what you are.”
If that doesn’t get me an Emmy, I just don’t know what will.
Thomas Blanton suggested alternative Valentine’s Day celebrations in the February 2004 issue (“No Cupid Allowed”).