JoBroButts, Hills Bros. coffee, and gaybros

It starts with this image from a “JoBros” Pinterest board (you post about a Jonas Brother, Pinterest knows where you’ve been and wants to take you back there):


Nick, Kevin, and Joe, but especially Nick

I was going to just post this as a way to start the new week with a modest appreciation of male bodies (I’m unapologetic in these matters), but then I saw two directions for further comment: the Bros in JoBros, and the Jonases’ projections of masculinity (which is what leads to all those Pinterest boards and fan sites celebrating the three men, but especially Nick, who revels in displaying himself). And that will eventually take me to reflections on integrating a masculine identity with a gay one, made poignant by the gaybros movement.

(Note: I have a huge backlog of recent items to post about. My efforts to catch up were seriously impeded by two long and intricate postings I spent several days on: on the 24th, “The invention of the X job”, about the hand job / handjob and more; and yesterday, “On the boulevard of broken dreams with Kip Noll”, about the boulevards of Los Angeles, gay porn, gigolos, prostitution, and more. And now this. There’s plenty of gender and sexuality in here, but, I think, nothing to frighten the horses.)

The Jonas Brothers and their boy band. My posting on 10/4/14, in “Homage to Marky / Mark” looked at the Jonases, but especially Nick in a cheeky display in a magazine spread recalling the Calvin Klein golden days of Marky Mark. A four-panel image of Nick, “crotch-grabbing, abs-displaying, flagrantly challenging, and homoerotic all at once” (the pulled-down jeans were Nick’s own contribution to the scene, not in Marky’s original):


But back to #1, which presents the three Jonas butts for our viewing pleasure. The first thing to say is that most of the Jonas sites are maintained by women, who admire the Jonas butts (among other things) because they are symbols of attractive masculinity: as I’ve noted before, men’s butts are notably different from women’s, so, like their faces, their torsos, and so on, they serve as powerful secondary signs of masculinity, available for objectification by admiring women (and by gay men, who get a double dose of objectification pleasure: the butt as a symbol of masculinity and also as an object of sexual desire).

The second thing to say is that Nick is a performer, and he welcomes, invites, courts the adoration of his audience. His body displays — which his brothers have been quite critical of — are one of his performances. They’re especially satisfying because he genuinely seems to embrace his audience (both female and gay male), showing no sign of the contempt for audiences that some performers express privately, and sometimes publicly. The larger point is that his body displays are performances of high masculinity (amiable rather than dominating masculinity, but masculinity nonetheless). Even displays like #2, with Nick playing a sexually challenging Marky, are in fact playful send-ups of a macho stereotype. (Marky played the Bad Boy; Nick plays the Boyfriend.)

A digression. The boy band is gone; the boys have grown up. As a boy band, they were enjoyable, but the genre is both narrow and shallow, and I was never a great fan (no squealing and wetting panties for me, but then I was never a teenage girl. )

Band names and the bro thing. There are three American bands of some repute named the X Brothers (not the X Brothers Band, so put the Allman Brothers Band aside here): the Everly Brothers, the Isley Brothers, the Jonas Brothers. All can be referred to for short as the Xs: the Everlys, the Isleys, the Jonases (a fair number of relevant ghits for all of these).

Separate from all this, Brothers in commercial names is conventionally abbreviated as Bros. in print (but not as /broz/ in speech, except as a joke): Smith Bros. cough drops, Hills Bros. coffee (plus my favorite, Firesign Theatre’s Ersatz Bros. coffee), etc.

And independent of that we have the rise of bro as the name of a sociocultural type, in an especially complicated way. From my 4/28/16 posting “Bad bro days”:

The story of the … term bro in relatively recent years begins with its use by black men to black men, roughly (but not exactly) like the widely used American buddy — a term of male affiliation [at first, only as an address term, then for referential use as well, as in my bro Jack, and then in an explosion of bromanteaus, like bromance]. It then spread into the wider culture, serving as a mark of male solidarity. This is what I called in a 4/12/16 posting “good”, positive, bro. But male solidarity tends to come with a dark side: rejection of anything perceived as feminine, played out as sturdy misogyny and homo-hatred in general; and the elevation of boys’ clubs (formed for whatever reasons) to boys-only clubs, aggressively hostile to women and to men perceived as inferior. When these guys use bro to address (or refer to) one another, then we’ve got what I called “bad”, negative, bro.

Regular use of bad bro between men in groups, for instance by fraternity boys and so-called brogrammers, has led to a steady pejoration of the term for people outside those male groups; bro is now a tainted term for many people, calling up unpleasant images of aggressive masculinity.

All these uses share a component of conspicuous masculinity (and a strong suggestion of relative youth), which in combination with the orthographic abbreviation opens up the possibility of abbreviating the X brothers (as the name for the three men or for their band) as the X bros (with “good” bro), at least if the brothers in question are young enough. Of the three bro-bands, only the Jonases are young enough to get this treatment, and this abbreviation is well attested, as here:

The restaurant is named after the Jonas bros’ great-grandmother Nellie, who passed away in 2011. (link)

There’s a further abbreviatory step possible here, creating what Ben Zimmer (in a 12/30/05 Language Log posting) called an acronymic blend (using blend ‘portmanteau), in which parts of a cmplex expression are clipped down to their initial syllables. The process very much favors the orthgraphic vowel O (usually /o/), as in HoJo (Howard Johnson’s), SoHo (South of Houston), froyo (frozen yoghurt). Jonas Brothers or Jonas bros just cries out for this clipping: JoBros. (For a variety of reasons, EvBros and IsBros aren’t nearly as satisfactory.

JoBros then manages to pack together masculinity, youth, familiarity, and informality in two syllables.

An aside. A nice find in my bro-searching. From Wikipedia:

Bros is an English [boy] band, formed in 1986 in Camberley, Surrey. The band consisted of twin brothers Matt and Luke Goss, and Craig Logan who all attended Collingwood School in Camberley. The band was managed by former Pet Shop Boys manager Tom Watkins. The band split up in 1992. It was announced in October 2016 that the band would reform in 2017.


The Bros in 1988

You can watch the video here of their big 1988 hit “When Will I Be Famous?”.

In a cleft stick: the gaybros. As I said above, uses of bro share a component of conspicuous masculinity (and a strong suggestion of relative youth). What if you’re relatively young, see yourself as thoroughly masculine — but also identify as gay? Well, you have a problem. Here’s an OUT Magazine piece (on-line) from 8/7/13, “Meet the Gaybros: The guys who gab about gear, grub, and guns” by Mike Albo, about young men trying to negotiate this combination of identities:

“I’ll drink a beer before a mixed drink any day,” says Jon Allen, a 23-year-old rugby-playing graduate of Columbia College in Chicago. For people like Allen, there is now a place to talk about that.

“Gear, Grub, Guns, and Guys” is the tagline of Gaybros, a Reddit subgroup that has grown from 200 subscribers at the beginning of 2012 to nearly 28,000 today, with more than 3 million pageviews a month. For Allen, who joined the forum as a moderator just a few months after it was created, the site offers a community he can’t find elsewhere — a place where he and others like him can talk about anything, from sports to microbrewing to the military.

The group’s short statement of purpose: “Gaybros is a network of young men who come together around shared interests. Both online and through meet ups in every major English-speaking city on the globe, Gaybros create their man-cave corners of the world.” More from OUT, with a crucial bit bold-faced

“There isn’t necessarily a safe space for gay people to talk about these subjects, or for me to talk about how I love playing rugby,” says Allen, who grew up in Oak Park, near Chicago, and came out to his parents when he was 15.

… Many posters on the forum are moved to declare their alienation from the “gay scene,” rejecting it as an artifice of tropes and myths. “I had this picture in my mind of the gay scene, where you needed to be model-hot, financially successful, have a perfect body, and a variety of other cultural stereotypes to ever ‘fit in’ the gay community,” writes ArmyofOne86, in a comment that is fairly typical.

The same is true for Alex Deluca, who created the group shortly after graduating from Northeastern University.

Although out at the young age of 12 and, like Allen, the beneficiary of a supportive school and community, Deluca also felt under pressure to play a certain role. “It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I realized my interests and passions weren’t really aligned with the things I was actively taking part in, because I hadn’t met other gay guys who shared those interests,” he says. “That thought process was a spark that eventually resulted in the creation of Gaybros.”

… “There really aren’t that many places/groups that put a focus on the traditional ‘guy stuff,’ from my own personal experience,” writes Marc LaPlante, who lives outside Boston and, at 33 years old, is the oldest moderator of the group. “Gaybros gives an avenue, in my opinion, to talk about things that wouldn’t normally come up in a bar or a Grindr conversation or other, more traditional groups.”

It’s difficult to glean from the gaybros what exactly this “gay culture” is that they feel doesn’t speak to them. Is it Glee? Lady Gaga? Guys dancing shirtless to Rihanna? I wrote to Deluca, asking him if the people who gravitate to the forum feel there’s a stereotype or image promulgated by media (including gay organizations) about what being gay is. “I think that’s a fair analysis,” he replied. “But it’s important to note that there is nothing wrong for people who do identify with that image they see in the media… It’s just sometimes very specific and can be foreign to those who grew up in conservative religious families in Southern U.S. communities, for example. We’re not defining ourselves by saying we’re not that, we’re just coming together around different interests and presenting an additional group for people to identify with. We’re simply trying to broaden the spectrum.”

… As a rule, effeminacy is not part of the gaybro DNA, and that strikes a chord. “THIS IS ME!!” posted a reader in response to a gaybro article on Buzzfeed. “I spend most of my time at straight bars and hang out with my straight friends, who all tell me that I don’t seem gay at all. It is a huge disappointment to me that there are few guys like me who like camping, fishing, hiking, hockey, basketball, videogames, comics… And if I say that a fem guy is not for me, somehow that makes me self-hating. I wish I could find more guys like me.”

“I don’t feel comfortable with effeminate men,” writes another commenter. “I like hangin’ with my buddies… We enjoy our manhood — being masculine — and a man is fun and comfortable. What I don’t get is why out guys are prejudice[d] against us just because we feel comfortable not being obvious.”

Men like these often label themselves as regular guys or normal guys, and they say that they are just like straight guys except for who turns them on. Ok, man, dick makes you hard, and pussy doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean you have to check every single box on the multi-page Masculinity Form (it would be ok for you not to be into tools and building things, or to prefer tennis to rugby, or to prefer role-playing video games to action-adventure ones, or to have no interest in skeet-shooting; look, very few actual straight guys would check every box).

And you are defining yourself by saying what you’re not: you’re not into show tunes, or opera, or men’s fashion, or romantic movies, or cuddling, and dozens of other things that are tainted by being seen as feminine or queer — and you’re very much not into any guy you see as less masculine than you are (which is to say, anyone who you might find some femmy bit in, however small). Apparently, you’re not into such a guy even as a friend, or someone you might hang out with; you’re uncomfortable with such guys, threatened by them.

But ths is an obvious trap. If you find this God of Masculinity, what makes you think he’ll find you acceptable? After all, you could fail to be perfectly masculine in any number of ways, and all it would take is for you to fail on one of those boxes. Anyway, what if your God of Masculinity turns out to insist that you be submissive, let him call the shots in what you do together, bottom for him? (There are lots of guys like this. And they are all over the map on high-masculine vs. high-feminine interests.) Or would that threaten your identitity too much?

The thing is, you’re in a cleft stick here, at least if you continue to insist on Perfect Masculinity. Because masculine ideals (at least in the U.S. for some time now) are directly antithetical to queerness. Your task in negotiating life is to undercut both the stereotypes of masculinity (which you thinkingly accept) and the stereotypes of queerness (which you reject).

Sobering words from Michael Kimmel, from a 4/12/16 posting on this blog:

On to Michael Kimmel’s Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. Understanding the Critical Years Between 16 and 26 (2008), and in particular its chapter 3: ““Bros Before Hos”: The Guy Code”, which notes that the basic rules of masculinity – “the boy code” and “the guy code” – have scarcely changed at all for many decades; the first rule is that “masculinity is the relentless repudiation of the feminine” (p. 45).

And the central precept of the first rule is No Sissy Stuff!: avoid anything that might suggest homosexuality. The most wounding insult to a young man is to call him a fag(got), and “That’s so gay” is a powerful put-down among adolescent boys.

But beyond that: avoid women as friends rather than sexual conquests; avoid “feminine” interests (like the arts), avoid empathetic rather than competitive interactions (men improve one another, make one another into better men, by challenging each other agonistically), etc.

Also avoid “Mama values” (at the risk of becoming a “Mama’s boy”): cleanness, neatness, respectfulness, “proper grammar”, no “dirty talk”, etc. – including these values as policed by female partners (standing in for Mama), who are seen as “ball-busters” or “castrating bitches” when they perform this role: women as emasculating.

These are the demands of stereotypical masculinity, and they are enforced for boys by fathers, older brothers, coaches, and other male authority figures. If you’re queer, embracing them wholesale is a recipe for pain and sorrow and alienation. (If you’re straight, they’re no picnic either.)

Gaybros could in principle help young men out of this impasse (especially since the OUT reporter found the men he met less than 100% high-masculine themselves — not that there’s anything wrong with that), but the group appears to be reinforcing rather than subverting stereotypes of both masculinity and queerness. Well, at least Gaybros on-line seems to have a brisk traffic in hook-ups: regular guy seems same for boxing and a flip-fuck, or something like that.


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