By Erin Sherbert
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Some people hear about Regular Guys through word-of-mouth or the group's long-standing listing in the Bay Times, but most -- in this age of digital discovery -- find the group through its Web site.
RegularGuys.org is an ode to traditional, American-style masculinity. From the choice of photos (flannel- and shorts-wearing guys downing beers on big boats) to the typeface (the word "masculine" appears in bold and is underlined, while the expression "gay culture" gets the girly color-treatment), the Web site urges gay men to BE ONE OF THE GUYS!
On the site, Schaefer makes clear the kinds of guys who make quality Regular Guys. "Regular Guys is a group for SF Bay Area gay and bisexual men who identify as masculine," he writes. "We're not sitting here with a checklist, and our definition of masculinity isn't rigid. But this is a group with a point of view, and guys who identify with what we're saying about masculinity and male bonding tend to have a much better time than guys who take issue with the concept."
The concept, in a nutshell, is that it is OK to want to socialize with gay guys who don't like "gay stuff." Furthermore, it is acceptable to call yourself a Regular Guy, even though you know full well that this could be perceived (and usually is) as insinuating that gay guys who like "gay stuff" (bars, drag, musicals, Barbra Streisand, bubble baths, leather, Judy Garland, figure skating) are somehow "not regular."
"Yeah, the name 'Regular Guys' is a huge hurdle we have to deal with," concedes Sweigard. "But for the reason alone that it pisses people off and gets people talking, you kind of have to go with it. People who are self-identified as gay early in their lives or who have known for a long time that they're gay and have to go through a lot of shit, their reaction can be very angry. It's like, 'Never again are you going to put me in a fucking box!' So even if you come near them with a box that you're putting over yourself, they freak out, because they think you're trying to put that box over them, or they think your box is saying that their box is second-class."
San Francisco State University sociology professor Christopher Carrington, who studies gay groups and subcultures, says that whether gay men find the group's name insulting depends entirely on their take on the word "regular."
"I don't find the group's name bothersome, mostly because I am not moved by the idea that we should hope to achieve regularity," says Carrington, the author of No Place Like Home -- Relationships and Family Lives Among Gays and Lesbians and an upcoming book about gay dance and circuit party culture. "But because so many gay men have grown up feeling terribly irregular and deviant, I can understand why a group of gay men claiming to be 'regular' would be threatening.
"But it's important to remember that this controversy and debate about appearing 'regular' is nothing new. Gay men and women have been arguing about it for decades. Should we act like straight people act? Should we reject everything that straight people stand for? Harvey Milk said he had to wear a tie because he had to look like a regular guy."
The Regular Guys insist that they aren't interested in "dressing up" to look masculine. Their goal, instead, is to offer naturally masculine gay and bisexual men an alternative to what Schaefer calls the "deceptively small tent of mainstream gay culture."
"Everything in San Francisco's gay culture is aimed at a stereotypical notion of what gay men are supposed to like, and what gay men are supposed to do, and how gay men are supposed to think," Schaefer says. "We come out of a straight society based on rules and regulations, and then when we come out into this gay culture, we learn that, oops, now we have to learn more rules and regulations about what it means to be an openly gay man. The assumption is that we all like the same stuff, or at least we can all be pigeonholed into one traditional gay subculture. ... So what do we do as a community? We show All About Eve. Again."
To Sweigard and many of the Regular Guys, gay culture still means the boring, superficial, mean-spirited world of the bar and club scene, where gay men play by a short list of acceptable, predictable roles: drag, bear, leather, circuit, fem.
"Regular Guys is not about, 'OK, what costume am I putting on today?'" says Caesar Walker, a 47-year-old Regular Guy from Concord who came out of the closet when he was 37. "The great thing about Regular Guys is that you just have to be yourself. I liken it to Seinfeld in a lot of ways. That's a show about nothing, and Regular Guys is kind of a group about nothing too serious, either. We're just gay guys who want to hang out with other gay guys and go to movies or ballgames. And we don't feel a part of mainstream gay culture."