Former RuPaul’s Drag Race judge and current THR writer Merle Ginsberg has noticed that a lot of straight male stars lately seem kind of, well, gay. And they’re like totally cool with it. Her evidence? Adam Levine likes to wear V-necks! Tom Hardy said he experimented with boys! Channing Tatum danced on a gay pride float! “Straight male stars aren’t stressed out at being perceived as gay or extremely gay-friendly,” she writes in a piece for THR. “Far from feeling stigmatized, they welcome the gay gaze, staring invitingly and modeling shirtless on the covers of such gay magazines as Out and The Advocate, or both.” And she has a word to identify this new species of men: “Stromos” — that is, “straight homos.”
I know, I know: yuck. However, if you look beyond the portmanteau, there’s some validity to her argument. As of late, there is an obvious and concerted push by promoters and marketers to appeal to gay men as a demographic: When Nick Jonas was rolling out his solo album, he made a number of grand overtures to the gay community, flashing his abs at gay clubs, playing a gay man in Kingdom, and doing the rounds with gay press. But this also felt like a calculated reboot of his Christian roots and Disney image. That is to say, “stromo” isn’t as much an embodiment as it is a marketing strategy. Hollywood realizes that money knows no sexual orientation, and that it’s lucrative to target the gay male demographic. Depending on your political inclinations, this is either a sign of progress or a cynical example of how gay rights are enshrined within capitalism.
Ginsberg notes that the number of Out magazine covers featuring straight male actors has steadily increased: “In 2011, there were two out of 12 covers; in 2012, three. By 2013, there were five, nearly half of the year’s available covers.” While she’s marshaling this as an ostensible sign of the rise of heteroflexibility, the pressing question should actually be: Why are straight men dominating the covers of a gay magazine? Indeed, is “stromo” actually creating infrastructural changes in media or is it just straight actors capitalizing on a trend? This is more of a question for the gay media that so breathlessly covers Nick Jonas, Channing Tatum, and Ryan Reynolds than it is for the actors themselves.
There’s a larger point to made here, too, which is that male objectification is simply in demand, and it isn’t solely driven by gay men. The lean, chiseled body that has become the uniform de rigueur for male stars is part of the need to stay relevant to gay men, yes, but also to everyone else.