The Bromosexuals

Brian Conroy, a 29-year-old analyst for the chief financial officer of an insurance brokerage downtown, was sitting at his desk the other day when a coworker in his 40s ambled up. The older man picked up a framed photo of Mr. Conroy and his long-term boyfriend, clearly in a romantic pose. “Which family member of yours is that?” he asked.

“I guess I could’ve put it in a pink frame,” Mr. Conroy said, recalling the episode, “and it could’ve been a shot of us naked in bed or something. But it could not have been more obvious. And this guy knows me decently well.” Nevertheless: “Oh,” Mr. Conroy recalled the older coworker saying, with absolute sincerity. “You had me fooled.”

It could have been worse. A corporate philanthropy agent who works in midtown, also in his late 20s, recalled a man telling him he didn’t believe he was gay. That conversation, ironically enough, was post-coital.

In a recent instant-message conversation published on New York magazine’s Web site, editor Chris Rovzar, on the subject of being mistaken as straight, declared: “It’s funny, I feel like it doesn’t bother me to be confused for straight. I guess when people ask me where my wife is, it’s weird. But not because it’s rude, or anything, because it’s just so alien. I mean, lady, look at what all the shit I’ve got in my hair!”

A few years ago, when metrosexuality grabbed masculinity by the balls, it was unsurprising for a Queer Eye‘d straight man to be mistaken as gay. Lines had blurred. Typically, that cultural conversation presumed a one-way tilt: Everyone was getting a bit more stylish, a bit more moisturized, a bit more gay. But blurring works both ways. Now its counterpoint has taken hold: openly gay men who are routinely mistaken as straight. Meet the bromosexuals!

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The term was coined in the buddy flick Pineapple Express. Danny McBride’s character says it to James Franco’s, and it goes unspoken whether either character is gay or straight.( Since his arrival in New York, in the pursuit of simultaneous master’s degrees at New York University and Columbia University, Mr. Franco himself has certainly enjoyed testing people’s presumptions about his sexuality, but that’s a whole other article.)

On the other end of Mr. Rovzar’s published chat was his reporter, Mike Vilensky, also gay, who had presumed the actor Ben Whishaw, who is starring in a gay role in the Off Broadway play The Pride, was straight (a declaration the magazine later expunged from its Web site). It was odd of Mr. Vilensky to presume heterosexuality, gay godfather Michael Musto noted, given an interview that had just been published by Out magazine in which, by editor Aaron Hicklin’s measure, Mr. Whishaw “essentially outs himself.” All of this must have been a kind of weird déjà vu for Mr. Hicklin, who was mistakenly celebrated as straight by Andrew Sullivan, the gay political blogger for The Atlantic, upon Mr. Hicklin’s taking of the reins at Out.

“That queeny stuff is old.’–Tom Karl, bartender and ex-boyfriend of Rufus Wainwright

It seemed for about a week that gaydar brownouts were ravaging the city’s homosexuals, who could only guess at the confusion wrought on the roughly 94 percent of New York City citizens who are straight.

‘Dudes’ and fist bumps

Upon attending a recent fete at the Chelsea Hotel, Bryan Brumbaugh, 23, was stopped by the doorman. “Uh, this is a gay party,” he was told. “It makes you self-conscious,” said Mr. Brumbaugh, who is gay. “Is it my long hair? My facial hair? My clothes?” With his long brown hair and fondness for caps and grunge, Mr. Brumbaugh is often compared to the character Ron Slater, from Dazed and Confused. “In gay settings,” he said, “I’m the guy having a beer or a whiskey by myself.”

These are not down-low dorks or closeted wallflowers. Mr. Brumbaugh worked as a doorman at Hiro on Sundays, and works as a self-described “brunch sheriff” and barkeep at the Maritime Hotel. He’s devastatingly handsome in the way that service-industry workers for affluent clientele need to be.

At a recent night out at Beige, a weekly gay party at B Bar, Mr. Brumbaugh was removed from the center of the action, drinking a Stella Artois with a friend and talking about his taste in music-Catch-22, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Silverchair-and about how he wants to get a Celtic tattoo. Then an older man, named Drew, sauntered up in a fitted black tank top. Drew draped his wrist across Mr. Brumbaugh’s shoulder, tickled his chest with a hand studded with golden, red-stoned rings, and said “You’ll get over it, sweetheart.” Mr. Brumbaugh looked at him: “What are you talking about?” Drew blinked incredulously: “Well, you’re straight, aren’t you?”

Sometimes things get weirder. Mr. Brumbaugh once took home a one-night stand who interrupted their hookup to start cleaning the apartment “to make it look like a gay man lives here” (there was a three-month-old pile of dishes in the sink). A chunk of Mr. Brumbaugh’s wardrobe consists of never-worn clothes he buys from H&M after such instances, clothes he thinks are the expected costume of proper gay men.

The Bromosexuals