Lee Suckling 's Opinion

Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: Gay or hipster? + other cultural confusions

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David Bekham, Carson Kressley and Jared Leto. Photo / Getty Images, Supplied, AP
David Bekham, Carson Kressley and Jared Leto. Photo / Getty Images, Supplied, AP

We used to call them metrosexuals.

They were a special breed of straight male; created circa 2003 by David Beckham and Carson Kressley. And they confused the hell out of all of us.

They moisturised their faces and put product in their faux-hawks. They wore fitted t-shirts and spent money on good shoes. They were, for all intents and purposes, gay men that happened to like women.

Feeding off this confusing trend, American men's magazine Details theorised the issue with a pseudo-anthropological feature titled Gay or...

It ran monthly, covering Gay or cyclist?, Gay or socialite husband?, Gay or rapper?, and so on.

Details crossed the line in April 2004 when it posed the question Gay or Asian? and all hell broke loose across liberal media. The magazine apologised for its tastelessness, pleaded itself not racist but satirical, and soon after discarded its Gay or... page altogether.

Over the next few years, aesthetic clues to sexual preference began to matter less and less. Nobody cared if you wore a pink shirt to work. The tight fit of your pants was irrelevant to your sexuality. And thus, the term 'metrosexual' died because its embodiment became so pervasive.

A decade on, we have a whole new assortment of perplexities, and they're affecting the dating game. While bar-side identification was once as simple as "Definitely Straight", "Metro", and "Definitely Gay", we now have dozens of sub-cultures to wade through (because, conceivably, everyone is so comfortable with themselves). "Gay or... preppy?" "Gay or... European?" "Gay or... hipster?"

And so reveals the new cultural confusions for all of us: straight and not so straight.

"Gay or hipster?" is the toughest nut to crack, as modern hipsterdom has destroyed gaydars worldwide. Hipsters, with their facial hair, sprayed-on jeans, and immaculately-designed tattoos, embody a visual hybrid of gay stereotypes.

They also possess "too cool" body language, meaning they're unlikely to offer eye contact to, well, anyone in a bar. There are also many gay hipsters, who look and behave exactly like straight hipsters.

It's unlikely you'll figure this "Gay or..." out until you get a hipster into bed. Even then, hipsters often have such flexible views on sexual preference, you still won't know for sure.

A popular game to play whilst sitting at cafes in France and Spain, the anomaly "Gay or European?" made it into Legally Blonde: the musical. "Look at that tan, well tinted skin," went the song, "look at that killer shape he's in. Look at that slightly stubbly chin... every trait could indicate, the totally straight expatriate."

He wears D&G sunglasses and white denim. He carries Vuitton and talks with his hands. He'll also very happily kiss on the cheek; once for boys, twice for girls. Despite what the Legally Blonde lyrics say, though, the straight European generally carries a little weight around his middle. The gay version will be washboarded in the Jean Paul Gaultier kind of way.

Additionally, "Gay or British?" is often tougher than the continental conundrum. Modern British men (the posh variety) possess a campness that wasn't noticeable in Downton-era England, but today is more obvious now the class system has imploded.

They wear red trousers and eccentric blazers, and use a vernacular that includes "Whoopsie Daisy" and "Luvvly-jubbly" in its daily repertoire. "Gay or British?" is perhaps better phrased "Gay or posh?". But Brits keep sexual advance so hush-hush, you won't know where you stand until you try it on (after they've had one-too-many champagnes, that is). Even then, if you're not their type, they'll be too polite to tell you.

"Gay or preppy?" offers similar difficulties. Both sorts wear Ralph Lauren and drive VW Golfs. Their dogs are named "Duchess" and their partners "Ashley". They drink Gin & Tonics. Their orientation is recognised only in their confidence: straight preppies have been taught to repress any overt sexuality through generations of Waspish convention.

Then there's "Gay or cool middle-aged dad?". He's eternally in shorts and has ultra-toned calves. He carries a tote, lunches with the ladies, and (somehow) knows exactly what's going on in Revenge. Of course, for biological reasons, he's likely heterosexual if there's actually a child with him at all times.

Finally exists the cultural confusion "Gay or gym junkie?"; found across New Zealand, though commonly at urban Les Mills outlets. The modern gym junkie wears Y-back string singlets and tiny rugby shorts, shaves his protruding chest and has no problem with the occasional nip slip. He has enough oily product in his hair to run a lawnmower, and probably speaks with high pitch from all the 'roids.

Gay gym junkies, however, use their workout sessions to cruise for men (or at least eye them up and down). The straight ones are oblivious and prefer to flex in the mirror and look only at themselves.

Unless seen at Les Mills Victoria Park, where there's no confusion at all. If he's there, he's definitely gay.

- www.nzherald.co.nz

Lee Suckling

Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

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