I’m Not Your Bro, Brah: The Internet’s Beef With Gaybros
Shower beers, the Smashing Pumpkins and Kawasaki motorcycles aren't generally taboo topics for young men to discuss on the Internet, but one Reddit-based community has proved they can be kindling for a veritable Internet firestorm provided its members are gay.
Founded just over a year ago, the Boston-based Reddit group Gaybros has expanded across several social media platforms with its simple goals: building a brotherhood around shared interests, promoting self acceptance and bringing people together.
While the conversations the members gather around may be familiar, this expanding band of bros has effectively fragmented the opinions of those in the LGBT community over what it means to identify as a gay man in 2013.
Depending on who you ask, Gaybros may be giving voice to a new, controversial sexual identity centered around traditionally masculine - and straight - interests, or using "straight-acting male" subjects to offer a lighter, entry-level version of homosexuality - an identity that is breaking down existing categories and threatening the advances secured by those who subscribe to its more radical presentations.
These questions aside, it turns out that a sizable number of young gay men share the group's core interests (cars, video games, military issues, working out, gadgets, sports) and are choosing Gaybros as their outlet of choice for these activities.
The community, which had humble beginnings, has quickly gained the kind of publicity reserved for the blogosphere's latest buzz bands. To date, Gaybros has ballooned to more than 26,000 subscribers, 350,000 unique monthly visitors and 3.5 million page views. The group's notoriety has even spread to Canada and a lesbian offshoot group - dubbed lezbros - recently garnered media attention.
In spite of Gaybros' far-reaching implications, the community's roots are in Boston, a city that Alex DeLuca, the group's 23-year-old founder, calls "the perfect place" to foster a group like Gaybros.
"It's at the forefront of the gay rights movement, with Massachusetts being the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, but also has a very deep connection to sports," he told EDGE in an email.
Sociologist Dr. Kassia Wosick, an author and professor who teaches sexualities courses at New Mexico State University’s Department of Sociology, goes one step further, suggesting that the emergence of Gaybros in Boston, a city outside one of the LGBT community’s historically relevant urban enclaves, represents something more: a broader evolution of gay identity across America that allows for more flexibility and less radicalization. In other words, a brand of homosexuality that is more likely to surface in places where normative male activities are more common like North Dakota, Wisconsin and Boston.
"There’s so much normativity in [traditional gay] communities that has been based on active resistance to normative hetero masculinity," she told EDGE. "I’m not surprised that here you have a community that has based its identity on subverting these dominant [gay] norms."
Still, Boston residents aren’t exactly known for their sensitivity toward any minority groups. After all, this is the place that Gawker has speculated is "the most racist city in America."
DeLuca says the group has never encountered any negative reactions at Gaybros’ events, however, but he seems to acknowledge the possibilities that are inherent in a city like Boston, saying "In that way, we are very lucky."
Following a round of publicity from high-profile media outlets like HuffPost Live and Slate, a debate over what Gaybros says about sexual orientation and gender identification in the 21st century began in earnest.
So far, the conversation isn’t so much about what the gaybros are doing, but who they say they are as individuals and what that says for the larger LGBT community and that some fear is becoming increasingly compartmentalized - and less homogenized - by labels like "gaybro." The term’s Urban Dictionary definition isn’t exactly sympathetic as it paints gaybros as members of the gay community who "have no gay friends because they can’t relate to other gay people."
Slate’s J. Bryan Lowder, in his profile, seemed split on the matter, once decrying the group for "asserting their supposed masculinity as a power play against more effeminate gays" while acknowledging that the community has the "potential as a lively new model for engaging with issues like coming-out, political correctness [and] community-building."
Wosick sympathizes with these more impassioned, sometimes contradictory reactions, noting that for older members of the gay community, more restrictive labels have been a way of life. A way of life that may be evolving, as all types of sexuality continue to change with technological advances, like social media, that aren’t as limiting to discussion as traditional media.
The Future For Gaybros
On a macro level, Wosick says the group can be viewed as a response to a broader, ongoing shift in sexuality that has seen the rise of more flexible versions of heterosexual masculinity. She compared the rise of Gaybros to metrosexuality’s ascent in the 2000s, when caring about fashion, hygiene and emotion defied what it meant to be straight, stating that a similar criticism dogged this movement.
DeLuca, however, sees the group in less complex terms, choosing to view the community as more of a club than an organized movement.
"I think it’s pretty clear that we aren’t forcing our worldview on anyone else or trying to promote any one group as ’better’ than another," he said.
DeLuca says that after the shaky introduction, his group is gaining acceptance in the LGBT community, and with this, the arguments surrounding Gaybros have subsided.
"There will always be people who disagree with what we are doing, and there will always be people who are vocally opposed to us, but it’s important to acknowledge and move past those things," he said.
Despite the perception, his current goals are more nuanced than the caricatured picture his critics try to paint. DeLuca is focusing on the future of Gaybros, and boasts the group is moving in exciting and unanticipated new directions.
The community is currently coding a new website - Gaybros.co - from the ground up, and hopes to officially launch it later this summer. For all the controversy, this development may lay bare what the true success of the group will be, its solidification as a veritable media brand rather than an organized movement.
"I’m extremely interested in producing custom content for our audience which has surprised just about everyone, including myself, with its scope and size," DeLuca said. "I think there is a much deeper conversation to be had around the role of masculinity in modern society and how we can retain the positive aspects of this cultural concept while letting the negative aspects become history. It’s something I want to explore."