So there’s a post on Gawker making the rounds of the Gay Interwebs right now and it reminded me of the last “date” I had.
I went out with this guy (that guy who didn’t believe in tipping who I never spoke to again) and while we were at the diner at 4 am, I took stock of all of the guys around us. Nobody told me the area around Penn Station was where all the colored gay folks went to eat after the club closed, but the whole diner was gay and black, with a sprinkling of brown. And 80% of them were wearing fitted baseball caps.
I asked the guy I was with—because he’s brown and gay and grew up in Brooklyn—why they were all wearing baseball caps. He said “oh, that’s trade.”
“What is trade?”
He looked at me like I was new. “You know. TRADE!”
“No…I don’t know. What is trade?”
“Trade is like straight dudes who fuck dudes on the low or gay dudes who wanna look all hard or whatever.”
I don’t understand Gay Black Politics, so I just let that go.
I had forgotten all about that moment in gay education until I read this article by an (obviously) white man talking about the same thing: gay dudes wearing baseball caps to look butch. The only difference is, white homos wear their caps backwards and black ones wear theirs forward. The dude who wrote it was aiming at some sort of meta-equality-minded-everybody-is-the-same bullshit. But he falls short anyway because he’s just another fag who gets boned up over “straight-acting” gay dudes.
So lemme pick apart his little article. Because he clearly lives in Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen and has probably thrown me mega-shade at Industry anyway. And you know I’m always salty about being invisible.
I’ma throw my two cents all up and through his article and color it pink. Because pink is gay.
When Gay Men Think Baseball Caps Make Them Masculine
Recently, I received a piece of advice: “You should wear a cap.” As this was unsolicited, I asked what my friend’s boyfriend was talking about.
“You should get a fitted cap and wear it out if you want to pick up guys,” he elaborated. “They will flock to you. Guys love guys in fitted caps.” And I guess I cannot argue with this because if the gays didn’t love it, I wouldn’t see so many already bad outfits made even worse by a tacky baseball cap. Y’all know my biggest Ta-Da is a dude with nice hair, so obviously I can’t roll with this ballcap foolishness.
“I don’t need a cap,” I told him. I’m not a big fan of having my head covered, and I’m sure my clumsiness would have me dragging the brim on walls and hitting people in the eyes with it. A cap is one more thing to forget and I already live in fear of losing any of my 13 precious sunglasses. And they’re all Oakleys. I don’t have time for that much anxiety in my life. Wearing a cap just wouldn’t be me.
But most of all, I do OK. If I see someone I like the looks of, I say something. Beyond that, I don’t need anything, certainly not a flock. I don’t even know if I could value one that came as the result of a cap, which I’ve long considered the cheat of cheats — the easiest, most temporary way of projecting butchness in the entire Land of Gay. So, a polo shirt, awful cargo shorts, a buzzcut, all of that is fine. But a baseball cap is one step too far. Like me for the rest of my wardrobe and that’s good and great, but I can’t value anybody who likes my baseball cap.
The cap will get you every time. Look past the cap. Never trust a big butt and a cap. These are the things I believe because I know the power of the cap. I even mentioned it last time. The cap works.
Plus, my head is buzzed, my shoulders are broad and my arms have muscles on them. Like I said, I do OK and I do it with the wind in my follicle sprouts. This is where I rolled my eyes because that’s basically all you need to get a date. Forrealforreal.
As a gay man, I find myself consumed by the concept of masculinity. Yet, I have only a vague idea of what defines it: strength, evenness, self-assuredness, vigor, substantial eyebrows, beer, sports, funk. This is nasty. Really gays? That’s what you want? Cause I’m trynna have my man sweet-smellin, nicely-groomed, and singing SWV with me. I have an even more vague idea of whether or not I possess enough of it and what to do with it. To own one’s maleness is a matter of pride, but when that ownership consciously turns outward, it becomes about other people and takes on a theatrical affect. Performance is at odds with masculinity’s ease. I realize that cocky bravado runs rampant in straight guys, but even there it is inherently fraudulent.
This issue becomes even more confusing for gay men. As a gay, you understand that while you’ll always find peers who allow you to be exactly as queeny as you are, there is still a social hierarchy that puts a premium on masculinity. Tops are valued. “Straight-acting” is a badge of pride, despite the term’s corrosiveness. I’m not immune to this – my eye wanders toward men who appear to be more on the masculine side, and I don’t know why that is. Shavings of internalized homophobia that litter my brain could be the culprit. To counter, I’ve been considering adopting an affirmative-action policy toward femme guys. I tell myself, “Get into it,” like the drag queens/all of us say. Read: I’ve been considering a pity fuck or two a month with a flaming queen to keep my karma in check for when I get old and ugly. But I haven’t yet. Because I still have biceps.
I’m learning to not be flattered when someone tells me I could pass for straight, and that’s the most confusing thing of all: for as many people who say they think I could, there are plenty of others who think that I’m flaming. I don’t even know what I’m like, but I know making sure all of my sentences don’t rise as they end is a full-time job - and it is exhausting. I actually do this too sometimes, especially if I need to sound Professional & Educated, but mostly because my voice sounds just like my momma’s when I get excited and there’s is only room enough on this planet for one of her.
I know the cap trick, I didn’t even know there was a cap trick! Where was I? Does everybody know? but it doesn’t mean that everyone is using it to manipulate. For some guys, a cap is just a cap. Some guys just like caps and they just happen to be gay. To what extent they use it to their scoring advantage is anyone’s guess, but I’m willing to envision a scenario based in innocence. You could make a similar argument re: cheating about my buzzed head (though, it’s obviously less temporary than a cap), which has its origins in my own taste for men with buzzed heads. I realized how into it I was when I realized I was into dudes and I emulated. Like I said, I tend to go for masculine dudes. There are no coincidences here. Because only masculine dudes have buzzed heads. If his hair is long, he must be a raging queen and now Unworthy. And this is why I never find gay guys with long hair, because they’re so concerned with not looking too gay. Oddly enough, the dudes with the longest, most gorgeous hair, are usually straight.
Perhaps these signifiers that we still enlist to assert our masculinity are part of a weakened strain that was visible in the homosexuals of the ‘70s when masculinity came up from behind and really grabbed gayness by the balls. Then, it wasn’t fitted caps but as Alice Echols describes in her indispensable political history of disco, Hot Stuff, “501 button-fly Levis, flannel shirts, aviator jackets, work boots and belt-dangling key chains.” The “clones” of the “gay macho” movement were often mocked by the older, drag-valuing generation that felt discarded. Echols, whose history of gay macho is as succinct as you’ll find, notes the underlying politics and perceived absurdity:
“As anthropologist Ester Newton discovered, gay [men in the Cherry Grove section of Fire Island – the older ones] simply took it for granted that a homosexual man ‘is effeminate, whether he likes to or not, because of his ‘female’ position relative to ‘normal men.’”
Even more on point, and brought up later by Echols, is the theory that Andrew Holleran references a few times during his 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance. It suggests that the social ideal for a gay man on the scene is to be admired, and that being the recipient of the male gaze is necessarily a feminine position. “My grandmother on her eighty-ninth birthday only wished she could walk down the street and be looked at!” says the book’s older, draggier Sutherland character. And then later, another character named Paul writes in a letter, “What is so incredible about homosexuals is that, if they live as homosexuals (that is to say, as women: beings whose life consists chiefly of Being Attractive to others), they die much sooner than heterosexual men.”
That’s a bleak view of gays and women (whose own potential sexual aggression is being underrated), but mostly it attempts to destroy a myth that a gay man can do anything to be more straight. Gayness has its own essence, its own cocktail of influences and manifestations. Those last three paragraphs were really boring and I barely read them.
The greatest irony of all happens when a man’s manhood takes over, he goes bald and then he uses this object of masculinity to cover it up. I hooked up with this guy who answered his door in a baseball cap and nothing else and then wore it the entire time we fooled around. (This was something of a turn-on, really. I will admit that I am a big fan of the porn-approved turning of the hat brim from the front to the back to suck cock because I dig ceremony.) 0.o I also didn’t know that was a thing. Where am I and what am I doing with my life? Anyway, that was weird, but not weirder than when we took a shower after and he kept the cap on. Under the water and everything. He got his hat wet as though it were his head, except it wasn’t because it was a fucking cloth hat. I was praying he’d go for the shampoo bottle, but alas. This all mostly worked for him, though. He was a hairdresser and I guess he knew exactly what he needed to keep his head looking good at all times.
The crucial truth is that because gay men are still expected by society to be more feminine, we can either surprise people and get that aforementioned superficial, kind of unsavory thrill or we can just do what the fuck ever. We’ve all got masculine and feminine aspects to our personalities (even straight people!) and to express those things in their entirety can be great fun and liberating. I know a really beautiful kid who’s thin and post-twinky, I guess you’d say, who’s rarely without a fitted cap. He’s stylish and isn’t fooling anyone, as far as I can tell. If anything, he’s giving his softer features and evident fashion investment a complement.
Last week, I started talking to a guy at a bar that I noticed from afar because of his dudeish backwards cap. But you wouldn’t value someone who noticed you from afar because of it. Oh okay. I got to appreciate his wide smile and beautiful, thick eyebrows up close. And then as soon as he addressed me, he revealed himself to be less than butch. He was Spanish and enthused virtually everything that came out of his mouth in an airy way that sounded like joking but obviously wasn’t – from his love of Jodorowsky and Almodóvar to his compliments directed at my body to his belief in real-life magical realism (“I think the world is magical!” he said, his entire existence twinkling).
He was really cute, and he said vulnerable things about not having a boyfriend, never having a boyfriend and his inability to figure out why. Nothing on his person predicted how soulful he’d turn out to be.
He didn’t need a hat, either. Didn’t you just say you noticed him BECAUSE OF the hat? I mean, yeah, thank god he was cute and “soulful” or whatever afterward, but you wouldn’t have noticed him without the stupid hat in the first place.
All he basically said was I like masc dudes because I’m masc and dudes look masc in baseball caps but we should all be ourselves even though I did pick up a non-masc dude in a bar because of his masc baseball cap.
And you know what?
THAT IS JUST FINE!
Look. All that shit we do to get noticed in a bar is superficial anyway. You think I blow my hair out because I like the smell of Black Lady Hair Salon in my curtains? No, I do it because dudes who like my hair will probably be really easy for me to get along with. We probably have the same sensibilities and weird random things in common. Plus and Besides, ain’t nobody really trynna compliment me on my eyes or how nice my shoulders are, so my hair is basically The selling point.
And if I wanna attract a different dude? Then I might wear my hair curly. Or pulled back. Or I might throw on a t-shirt. Or a pair of glasses. Or a cardigan. Dress for your audience. If your audience is masc dudes in baseball caps then by all means, put on a baseball cap. It’s all about the first impression. Afterward, you can let them know what’s goin on under the cap.
It’s really no different than dressing up your resume. Isn’t dating just a job interview anyway? Are you qualified to be my dude? It’s either yes or no. And how do you get a job interview? You dress up your resume! You make a few tweaks here and there to appeal to whatever listing you’re going in for in the hopes that somebody will notice you over the rest of the stack. You don’t *lie* but you gotta shade it a little and make the resume pop.
Will somebody please go find a job listing I’m qualified for? Nobody is feeling my resume and I’m not trynna cover up all these luscious locks with a baseball cap just to catch that job interview.