Slade Sohmer, the 33-year-old founder of the blog network HyperVocal, lives in Brooklyn and loves Liverpool Football Club. He was dismayed when the team sold its star player Fernando Torres to a rival, partly because Mr. Sohmer had a most unhooligan-like crush on the blond-haired striker.
His sports fandom was one of the reasons Mr. Sohmer waited to come out until he was 27. “I just never identified with the community,” he said. “There was nothing in my life that said you can play fantasy football and be gay. That didn’t exist in my world.”
By some definition—though not his own—Mr. Sohmer is what’s known as a “gaybro,” a subset of guy’s guys who don’t want to be defined by their sexual orientation so much as their manly interests. More at home at a tailgate than a Lady Gaga concert, the gaybro can be an awkward fit. This is also a problem on the Internet, where politically minded gay blogs like Joe My God or Towleroad cater to aspiring grooms rather than NFL fans. “They say nothing to the people that watch sports, listen to classic rock or pound beers,” said Mr. Sohmer.
The gaybro army takes its cues from the private but newly proud Anderson Cooper and the bearded rugby player Ben Cohen. They meet up using geolocation-based hookup app Scruff, where chest hair and mustaches get a warmer reception than on Grindr, the more popular app that tends to feature hairless, younger, more “scene” guys. Gaybros also have a growing Internet presence thanks to Alex DeLuca, a 23-year-old who is creating a site specifically for them.
The gaybro, said Mr. DeLuca, is “your best bud, the guy you played sports with in high school, the guy you went on a camping trip with last summer, the guy you meet at the bar for a drink after work on Fridays.
“He makes fun of your picks for fantasy football, or he shows you the right way to do a keg stand. He would identify himself through his interests and character before anything else. He just so happens to be gay.”
On a chilly Saturday in February, The Observer sat down at The Boiler Room in the East Village. Mostly empty at first, the room slowly filled up with the diverse crowd that the shadowy East Fourth Street bar draws—NYU twinks, muscled East Village yuppies and Stonewall-era old-timers.
There’s an unspoken rule that Lady Gaga shouldn’t be played on the jukebox (however, Robyn is fine). It was therefore the perfect place to meet Mr. DeLuca, who was appropriately clad in a green letterman jacket.
Mr. DeLuca describes himself as “a guy’s guy” who’s into sports—specifically hockey, Xbox and shooting. But others who share his interests haven’t always been into him. While posting on his favorite online hunting forum, he would find that mentioning his boyfriend begat angry emails from other subscribers telling him to stop “shoving it in people’s faces.” Frustrated by the hate-messaging, he wanted a space where he could talk about grilling, games and guns and not worry when he wanted to discuss his date nights too.
In January 2012, he took to Reddit, the social news site that bills itself as “the front page of the Internet,” and founded a subreddit called gaybros. There, as elsewhere on Reddit, members can post links or texts of interest to the group and other users can vote on what content gets to rise to the top.
Reddit was already teeming with LGBT-related subreddits such as gaymers (a network that caters to gay video game enthusiasts), and Mr. DeLuca’s gaybros subreddit took off quickly. Now, little more than a year later, it has almost 23,000 subscribers. Some of the items posted this week included a news update about the NHL’s work encouraging young gays to play hockey, a solicitation for tips on how to stop your gag reflex and a discussion on what the group thinks of crossing your legs.
Mr. DeLuca is now trying to organize the group en masse, via a website that’s being built from the ground up by an all-gay coding team. They just netted over $2,700 from an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. The idea for the new site came after “several big-name media companies” approached him and wanted him to helm new gay-focused media properties. (Apparently, this is a thing—Vox Media, which publishes SB Nation, The Verge and Polygon, just bought Outsports, a gay sports site.)
Gayatri Gopinath, a professor at NYU who focuses on gender and sexuality studies, wasn’t surprised to hear about the emergence of gaybros as the latest fetishization of hypermasculinity in the gay scene. She pointed to famous 1970s illustrations by the artist Tom of Finland, who depicted bikers, lumberjacks and construction workers as Adonises. What, then, is so different about red-meat-loving, high-fiving jocks in search of same? “This is a moment of the mainstreaming of gay life,” said Ms. Gopinath. “The fact that there is now an emerging subculture of ‘straight-acting’ gay men who are attracted to others like themselves isn’t surprising.”
Living in a time when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed, Ellen DeGeneres feels like a family friend and gay marriage is growing in acceptance around the country, being a 20-something bro like the jerks in college is the rare gay identity that actually feels transgressive. The military, the chapel and some sports fields are now open—so why not the frat house too?
As for the “bro” part of the equation, the definition is ever-shifting. Sean Penn played the loveable original stoner-bro Jeff Spicoli in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and then Matthew McConaughey defined the bro as a pervy stud in 1993’s Dazed and Confused.
In the 2006 YouTube hit “Bro Rape,” which stars Community’s Donald Glover as the titular character, the bro was defined as an “18-to-24-year-old male who wears Birkenstock sandals, watches Family Guy, plays ultimate frisbee and wears an upside down visor with a pre-frayed brim.” Last year, Mike Lacher’s “On the Bro’d,” a scene-by-scene parody of Jack Kerouac’s most famous work, defined the archetype via Ed Hardy T-shirts and bottles of Natty (Natural) Light.
While the term is frequently deployed as a dig, there is a contingent that embraces the term, albeit in a slightly self-mocking way, and they seem open to embracing gaybros too. Brandon Wenerd is a senior editor at Brobible, the website that chronicles college bro culture and related news. When asked whether he thought gaybros might have their place in the scene as well, Mr. Wenerd was open to the possibility. “As far as Brobible goes, we don’t define bro using sexuality,” he said “I don’t think that bros define themselves by their sexuality—it’s a hobbies and interest thing.”
Additionally, an informal poll of current fraternity members at the University of Maryland and Penn State revealed a fairly blasé attitude toward gaybros, as long as they walk the walk. “I think gaybros can easily coexist with bro-bros as long as they stick to their bro guns,” said a Maryland frat boy. “For example, if three straight bros and a gaybro are drinking and playing video games, the gaybro can’t suddenly be like, ‘Do you guys want to go shopping?’ But if he’s doing bro stuff, I see no qualms.”
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