It was bound to happen. In July, officials in Provincetown, Massachusetts, had to hold a public meeting to discuss the rise, in their quaint, ultraliberal Cape Cod vacation village, of hate speech. According to news reports, police in the legendarily gay-friendly town got “numerous complaints” during Independence Day weekend of venomous insults shouted on the street. At straight people.
Of course, no one is suggesting that getting called “breeder” is in any way comparable to the very real violence and civil-rights challenges that gay people in this country face every day. But even as educated, enlightened segments of society are more on guard than ever against homophobia, showing how accepting they are with plenty of not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-it joshing (as when Lance Armstrong cracks anal-sex jokes on ESPN at the expense of his gay-for-pay friend Jake “Brokeback” Gyllenhaal), there’s a new phenomenon lurking beneath the tranquil surface: heterophobia
The term heterophobia has actually existed in academia for a decade—it’s used to describe a certain kind of anti-male hyperfeminism. But the more recent usage of the word—meaning disdain for the heterosexual lifestyle—arguably was popularized by Eminem, who responded to accusations that he was anti-gay by rapping, “Homophobic? Nah, you’re just heterophobic,” in his 2000 song “Criminal.” As a real-world phenomenon, however, this particular notion of heterophobia is only now gaining steam, as pop culture increasingly depicts straight men as Neanderthals. Yes, the depictions are jokey, but they underscore a new polarization in which gay men are portrayed as arbiters of taste and straight men are seen as just sort of . . . unfortunate. Clueless. Lumbering.
And what’s remarkable is that this condescending point of view is being internalized by straight guys—they’re being stereotyped not only by gays but also by their own team. (Hello, Adam Ca-rolla!) Straight, in other words, is the new square. Straight guys are subconsciously embracing a kind of vulgar mediocrity—a wobbly drive down Minivan Lane in pleated khakis and a rumpled T-shirt. Call it the media-enabled Straight Guy Inferiority Complex.
There is no shortage of televised indoctrination that implies that gays have got it going on and straight men don’t. Shows like My Name Is Earl and The Office present the straight milieu as an aesthetically challenged dorkfest. And thanks to the openly (or apparently) gay lifestyle experts all over the dial, it’s become conventional wisdom that straight men are stylistically tone-deaf. Who would have ever guessed that five homos on a cable makeover show would not only appropriate the “Fab” mantle from the Beatles but put heteros into the strangely subservient position of lapping up their style cues? Straight men have also been conditioned to strive for the prototypical “gay body”—the gym-sculpted, plucked, waxed, and otherwise ultra-groomed physique (which is, ironically, out of fashion among more and more gays).
The culture business has come to bank on the popular perception of gay males as the ultimate tastemakers. Joshua Rosenzweig, a spokesman for here!, a four-year-old premium-cable network targeted at gay viewers, says that marketers adore gay men because “traditionally we’ve been seen as being at the forefront of fashion, art, design, and technology—as trendsetters and early adopters.” Companies selling everything from denim to vodka look at gay consumers as a test-marketing petri dish: If a product can be made to seem “hot” with gay men, it can go mainstream and still retain an edge. Outside of, say, sports equipment, gay males often determine what straight males will eventually buy.