Channing Tatum danced atop a float at L.A. Pride a few weeks ago — it was cute. Clever too, since it got some publicity for his male stripper sequel Magic Mike XXL (though it may not have helped much; the movie bombed). But were Channing’s shimmies a cultural signifier, as The Hollywood Reporter would lead you to believe?
Maybe. The venerable trade publication posited such in a recent article hailing the rise of the “Stromo” — the straight homo. We’ll get to the verbiage in a minute. Writer Merle Ginsberg, who once served as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, looked at Tatum’s thrusts, paired them with Nick Jonas’s embrace of gay media and fans (which is no joke), and made the point that straight celebrities are now working hard to be embraced by gay and bi male audiences, even if that means they themselves are perceived as less than straight. These men are the “Stromos.”
To bolster her argument, Ginsberg added that hetero male celebrities are appearing more frequently on covers of Out and The Advocate (that’s true for the former magazine, not the latter). I agree with Ginsberg — who quotes gay heavy hitters like publicists Craig Karpel and Simon Halls and Out editor in chief Aaron Hicklin — that it does signify a change in Hollywood that gay media and audiences are increasingly part of media plans; that the agents, managers, and publicists who run a sizable portion of the entertainment industry see the value in gay audiences, not only for their money, but their influence. We’ve long been known as bellwethers of popular culture, embracing Lady Gaga, EDM, and more before the mainstream caught on.
Suddenly, though, Ginsberg’s article shifted gears. What began as a piece on the changing nature of male celebrity commodification and how it reflects the national consciousness turned into an excuse for parading out exhausted clichés of what gay is. We’re told that straight men are acting more like gay men because they’re getting more pedicures and butt waxes. Straight men now shop at the same stores gays do! The Jim Crow days are over!
The argument here is then that heterosexual actors and straight men in general want to be sexualized by everyone now. Possibly, but the actions of Tatum and Jonas are almost entirely business-driven. How they feel about giving male fans lap dances is something only they know. It’s an interesting argument to look at whether straight male culture is getting over the “Hey, fag, stop checking me out” phase and is now entering some other mind-set that involves pride and appreciation for the male gaze. But to combine those two issues — Hollywood’s marketing to gay men and the growing openness of straight men — in such a short, silly article muddies both points. While both phenomena reflect an ebbing of homophobia in our society, Chris Hemsworth appearing on Out doesn't mean the straight dude at 24-Hour Fitness will appreciate your hungry eyes; that guy won't be getting extra residuals if you fawn over his bulge.
If any of these straight celebrities really wanted to be seen as part of our community, they would participate in our Pride events because they want LGBT employment protections to pass Congress and not just because their summer blockbuster needs extra asses in the seats. With the possible exception of Colin Farrell, there is still no straight male actor who's made LGBT rights a personal cause; not in the same way that female celebrities like Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, and Cyndi Lauper have, all of whom have started pro-LGBT organizations and speak passionately and often about queer rights (Gaga and Cyrus identify as bi and queer, respectively).
Finally, that word. Making a portmanteau with “homo” is a no-no, especially for a writer who is not a gay or bi male (no, the RuPaul connection does not count). Has Ginsberg ever heard of the phenomenon of “no homo”? Ask any gay man about their experiences with straight people and the word “homo”; it won't be good.
Even if we could find a more palatable term for Ginsberg's description (how about “human”), I'm not ready to cede a straight man my identity because he needs my money or bought a tailored jacket. Truly walk a week in our fancy gay shoes, and then we’ll talk about letting you in our club.
NEAL BROVERMAN is the executive editor of The Advocate. Follow him @nbroverman