The New Power Gays: NYC’s Top 50

  • The Fire Island outpost of Oak, the New York boutique frequented by stylish gay men, sells a T-shirt bearing the words “New York 1987.” Seth Weissman, the young co-owner of the Fire Island Pines, wore the shirt on a recent Saturday night and was bombarded with one repeated question: What did “New York 1987” mean? “It’s the year I was born!” he told one friend. (Not quite—the boyish Mr. Weissman graduated Wharton in 2005.)

    Turns out the phrase is a reference to the title card of Jennie Livingston’s legendary 1991 documentary, Paris Is Burning. The film, for those—like Mr. Weissman—who need a refresher, is a seminal tract on a very specific sort of gay power. It follows a number of competitors through a series of underground drag balls in Harlem—battles for supremacy in which one-upsmanship is achieved through a gaze, a flawlessly executed pose and the ability to, as they put it, “throw shade.”

    One competitive event shown in the film, known as “Executive Realness,” involves an elaborate pantomime of corporate life with contestants outfitted in business suits and swinging briefcases. “The fact that you are not an executive is merely because of the social standing of life,” one aspirant explains. This is, emphatically, gay power of an older vintage, power conjured through artifice and self-invention, by men defining themselves at an oblique angle to the society at large.

    In those days, gay power was also maintained through other forms of performance. Andrew Kirtzman—the co-owner, with Mr. Weissman, of the Pines—began his career as a journalist on the island and once almost had his camera shattered by a closeted clubgoer. “That man’s concern was that [a photo] would be a career killer,” he said. “This man was probably not out to his family or in his workplace. And now, 30 years later, every other person you see is shooting pics with his cellphone.” (Indeed, we can’t wait for the cell-phone snaps from President Obama’s “Gala With the Gay Community” to get tweeted out.)

    Let’s not forget Larry Kramer’s novel Faggots, set on Fire Island and published more than a decade before Paris Is Burning, which features a self-loathing, gay would-be titan of industry, the waggishly named Randy Dildough, who must conceal his sexuality everywhere else on earth to make it in business. (Mr. Kramer has said that Randy Dildough is based on Barry Diller.)

    It really does get better! These days, gay power seems more or less the same as any other sort of power in society. “What happens with gay people as they become successful is that what they do eclipses their gayness,” said Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys.

    Indeed, as we reported this list, a variety of career-conscious types asked us if they’d made the cut—not because they wanted to hide their sexuality but because they wanted in. (It was the “power,” more than the “gay,” that attracted them, we think.)

    Which raised a question: Why bother with a gay power list at all, given how passé the whole idea has become? The answer: Don’t worry, we’re working on next year’s straight white male power list.

    On the eve of what may be an historic vote finally establishing gay marriage in New York, it seems clear that homosexuality has gone mainstream. (Even straight men want to be lesbian bloggers, it seems!) As a result, narrowing a list of powerful gay figures down to 50 was something of a challenge. And, as ever, whom you leave off is all the fun!

    About that: we’ve excluded anyone still clinging to the closet as we speak—be they national news anchors, media moguls, or prominent architects—not out of respect for their personal choices (far from it, fellas), but because the power to be oneself is the most essential power there is, and an unwillingness to seize that power—hell, flaunt it—seems like a reasonable disqualifying factor.

    Twenty years after Paris Is Burning, the rules of gay power have changed, but the need for it is just as profound.

    Welcome to “New York 2011.”

    ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • The Fire Island outpost of Oak, the New York boutique frequented by stylish gay men, sells a T-shirt bearing the words “New York 1987.” Seth Weissman, the young co-owner of the Fire Island Pines, wore the shirt on a recent Saturday night and was bombarded with one repeated question: What did “New York 1987” mean? “It’s the year I was born!” he told one friend. (Not quite—the boyish Mr. Weissman graduated Wharton in 2005.) Turns out the phrase is a reference to the title card of Jennie Livingston’s legendary 1991 documentary, Paris Is Burning. The film, for those—like Mr. Weissman—who need a refresher, is a seminal tract on a very specific sort of gay power. It follows a number of competitors through a series of underground drag balls in Harlem—battles for supremacy in which one-upsmanship is achieved through a gaze, a flawlessly executed pose and the ability to, as they put it, “throw shade.” One competitive event shown in the film, known as “Executive Realness,” involves an elaborate pantomime of corporate life with contestants outfitted in business suits and swinging briefcases. “The fact that you are not an executive is merely because of the social standing of life,” one aspirant explains. This is, emphatically, gay power of an older vintage, power conjured through artifice and self-invention, by men defining themselves at an oblique angle to the society at large. In those days, gay power was also maintained through other forms of performance. Andrew Kirtzman—the co-owner, with Mr. Weissman, of the Pines—began his career as a journalist on the island and once almost had his camera shattered by a closeted clubgoer. “That man’s concern was that [a photo] would be a career killer,” he said. “This man was probably not out to his family or in his workplace. And now, 30 years later, every other person you see is shooting pics with his cellphone.” (Indeed, we can’t wait for the cell-phone snaps from President Obama’s “Gala With the Gay Community” to get tweeted out.) Let’s not forget Larry Kramer’s novel Faggots, set on Fire Island and published more than a decade before Paris Is Burning, which features a self-loathing, gay would-be titan of industry, the waggishly named Randy Dildough, who must conceal his sexuality everywhere else on earth to make it in business. (Mr. Kramer has said that Randy Dildough is based on Barry Diller.) It really does get better! These days, gay power seems more or less the same as any other sort of power in society. “What happens with gay people as they become successful is that what they do eclipses their gayness,” said Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys. Indeed, as we reported this list, a variety of career-conscious types asked us if they’d made the cut—not because they wanted to hide their sexuality but because they wanted in. (It was the “power,” more than the “gay,” that attracted them, we think.) Which raised a question: Why bother with a gay power list at all, given how passé the whole idea has become? The answer: Don’t worry, we’re working on next year’s straight white male power list. On the eve of what may be an historic vote finally establishing gay marriage in New York, it seems clear that homosexuality has gone mainstream. (Even straight men want to be lesbian bloggers, it seems!) As a result, narrowing a list of powerful gay figures down to 50 was something of a challenge. And, as ever, whom you leave off is all the fun! About that: we’ve excluded anyone still clinging to the closet as we speak—be they national news anchors, media moguls, or prominent architects—not out of respect for their personal choices (far from it, fellas), but because the power to be oneself is the most essential power there is, and an unwillingness to seize that power—hell, flaunt it—seems like a reasonable disqualifying factor. Twenty years after Paris Is Burning, the rules of gay power have changed, but the need for it is just as profound. Welcome to “New York 2011.” ddaddario@observer.com :: @DPD_   [gallery order="DESC" columns="1"]              

Comments

  1. the lil bee says:

    Love Frank Bruni and adore his book!

  2. Letsay says:

    Anderson Cooper, see what happens when you don’t make it official.  

  3. fact checker says:

    Wrong photo.  This is not Charles.

  4. Dear Mr. Ken Mehlman,

    As Trollope would have put it: Can You Forgive Her?

    The answer, Ken, is: “NO FUCKING WAY!”

  5. DavidE says:

    Where’s Anderson Cooper?

  6. spragued says:

    Barry Diller..?

  7. Adam T says:

    Ken Mehlman is gross.   We could have used your help 8 years ago.  Thanks anyway. 

  8. Adam T says:

    Ken Mehlman is gross.   We could have used your help 8 years ago.  Thanks anyway. 

  9. Husky Lover says:

    I think Peter Lyons is HOT!!!

  10. Sue Geelan says:

    So proud of one of my dearest friends, Lisa Linsky. She’s in mighty fine company on this list.

  11. Adam H says:

    nice

  12. Bruce_juice says:

    Andrew you’ll always be the peppier one in my book.   Happy and peppy as well.

  13. Ilene M. says:

    There are some who tweak. Some who change. Lisa Linsky? A transformer.

  14. Bob Dorn says:

    and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as ‘power gays’!

  15. Phylliss says:

    So proud of Lisa Linsky for being acknowledged as a NYC Top 50 Power Gays! For those of us who have had the privilege of working with Lisa, she is a distinguished and fearless advocate for our community – leading by example both professionally and personally!!

  16. BLACKDIVA says:

    Dear Charles
    i am very Proud of you n more over to call you my friend ,i will support you all the way if n when you decide to run for Congress
    Fond Regards
    PW

  17. BLACKDIVA says:

    Dear Charles
    i am very Proud of you n more over to call you my friend ,i will support you all the way if n when you decide to run for Congress
    Fond Regards
    PW

  18. Jere says:

    Fuck this is a shitty layout/way to present the list. Click a link, scroll down, scroll back up, repeat X 50. No. I got through 6 before I said fuck it and wrote this comment instead.

    1. Dogwoodie says:

      i know i was thiking the same thing lol

  19. Anonymous says:

    SHE wrote the Berlusconi article? Sigh, why do all the good ones have to be gay.

    Excuse me, POWER gay.

  20. HKguy says:

    Wait, so Peter Thiel — the richest out-gay man in the world — doesn’t rank? He has an apartment on Gramcery Park where Ann Coulter spoke for GOProud, largely funded by him. Even in retirement, Calvin Klein’s got more clout in the industry than Kors. And no Mitchell Gold? 

    Weird — & out of touch. 

  21. Ryan says:

    This list is shockingly out of touch.

    1. Jrivkin says:

      No kidding.  Has anyone ever been to a meeting with Mr Tompkins?  Impossible.  It’s like meeting with a 5 year old.

  22. StephensonManuel59677868 says:

    I paid $32.67 for a XBOX 360 and my mom got a 17 inch Toshiba laptop for $94.83 being delivered to our house tomorrow by FedEX. I will never again pay expensive retail prices at stores. I even sold a 46 inch HDTV to my boss for $650 and it only cost me $52.78 to get. Here is the website we using to get all this stuff, LiveCent.com

  23. B says:

    I love it – mo’ nookie for me.

  24. Russevansca says:

    Congrats, Pete.  You deserve this because you’re one of the most special people I know.  Your generosity and thoughtfullness is unmeasuable.   I’m a better person for knowing you.  Thank you for all that you do that goes unsaid, but you’re the bombdiggity.

    Thanks,
    Russ Evans

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