“Gay men tend to think and act like 15-year-old girls more than as men,” Mr. Brumbaugh said. “The Sex and the City guys. It’s all clothes, catty, petty, he-said-he-said relationship stuff. It’s just not interesting. It’s not me.”
The entire system of gaydar, of course, relies on judgments of each other’s sexuality based on whatever cues and telltale signs someone wants to parse out of behavior. But what happens when those telltale signs become less telling?
Consider Neil Patrick Harris, an openly gay actor-and magician-hosting the Tonys but peppering it with “dudes” and fist bumps and “the corna,” the fratty, rock ‘n’ roll sign of the horns. Or Logan Neitzel, the 26-year-old fashion designer from Seattle, deadpanning that he is “a guy’s guy” while introducing himself on the first episode of his season on Project Runway-on Lifetime. The Channel 101 NY Web series Bromos describes the relationship, comically, as “two dudes, hanging out, giving each other brojobs.” Then there’s the very phrase “gay guys,” which conveys the folksy comfort the hetero population now feels palling around with the fellas formerly known as fruitcakes. Hey, some of them put thought into fantasy baseball teams that goes beyond daydreaming of a shirtless A-Rod!
“It’s just more laid back,” said Nathan McCormick, who works at an advertising agency in the Financial District. “I don’t want to say, ‘Hi, I’m Nate and I’m gay.’ That sounds like ‘I’m Nate and I’m an alcoholic.’ Besides, I don’t want to be defined by being gay.”
Nicholas Beck, 29, a gay business manager at Condé Nast who shows up to work in jeans and a polo, declared: “The over-the-top stuff is silly.” Although he added that around gay friends, he makes an effort to play down that he is a Mets fan and play up his love of Broadway and The Golden Girls-because, he explained, once he talked about being a Mets fan with his gay friends, one said, “You don’t have to care about sports anymore now that you’re gay.”
In his own job as a bartender at Lavish Lounge, a gay bar in Queens, Tom Karl, 25, routinely gets mistaken as straight even though he could not be more entrenched in gay life. Known on the gay circuit as “Tommy Hottpants,” he lives in Hell’s Kitchen and throws a debauched weekly party at Beauty Bar on East 14th Street. His ex-boyfriend, the singer Rufus Wainwright, wrote the song “Between My Legs” for Mr. Karl during the latter’s bout as a stripping go-go boy.
“People talk about respecting who you are because who wouldn’t,” he said. “But how much do people really believe that? People have a hard time swallowing that life is less polarized than they think.” He added: “That queeny stuff is old. People have been queens forever. So now I think you’re seeing the drag go from feminine to masculine.”
Of course, even that can be its own kind of costume. There are not really that many slutty lifeguards or toned members of the Abercrombie & Fitch swim team roaming Chelsea, just as there aren’t really that many sex-crazed schoolgirls or MILFs prowling the meatpacking district.
The clinical name for the bromosexual shift is enantiodromia, a Jungian kind of law of physics: Too much of anything makes its opposite grow in popularity. Hippies become yuppies, private-school alpha brats become slacker trustafarians, housewives become cougars.
The bromosexual divide bears out academically, too. “In a gay community, you’re expected to look, dress, smell, talk, walk, drink and act a certain way,” said Perry Halkitis, a gay professor of applied psychology at N.Y.U. who is also chairman of the America Psychological Association’s committee on gay concerns. “If you’re not A-list gay, you’re shut out.”
Every six months, Mr. Halkitis is following 675 local young men who have had sex with men to monitor their development into adulthood. “Older men went to great lengths to stand apart,” he said. “The Elton John stuff, the Freddie Mercury stuff. But any ethnic or minority group trends towards assimilation. The more diverse the community is, the less labels work.”
Having just moved to New York three weeks ago from Philadelphia, Rob Ranieri, 25, an accounts manager for a food distributor, is still doing double takes when he passes transvestites on Eighth Avenue near his Chelsea home. The other night, he found himself in the unlikely position of striking up a conversation with an elderly man at Townhouse, the gay piano bar on East 58th Street. Mr. Ranieri told the older man that he had just come from the rooftop bar at the Hotel Bentley. The older gentleman mistook Mr. Ranieri for straight.
“Maybe it’s because I don’t make it my life,” Mr. Ranieri said recently in a telephone interview. “I don’t surround myself with all gay men. I don’t only go to gay bars. I don’t work out at David Barton. Despite how big the gay community is, it’s actually a really small world. It’s important to have a balance. Being outside of the gay community keeps me in balance.”
A friend recently called him “the butchest friend he has,” Mr. Ranieri relayed with notable pride. Then he ended the interview; he had kept Project Runway on pause for too long.