Mike Schaefer is having problems getting some. He admits this early during a May night game at Pacific Bell Park between the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets, right about the time Barry Bonds takes a called third strike on the inside corner. Bonds, always the spoiled superstar, looks aghast. Schaefer, seated in the right field bleachers and holding a Coke and two hot dogs (sans ketchup and mustard, which he forgot at the concession stand), says he wouldn't mind having a date sometime this decade. Preferably, with a regular guy.
Schaefer likes regular guys. He likes them so much, in fact, that it dawned on him to start a group just for them. So in 1996 he named it and he built it, not entirely sure that anyone would come. He put an ad in a local paper. He rented out a room at the Noe Valley Ministry. And then, sure as drag queens on a Tuesday night at the Stud, they came! Regular dudes from the city and the suburbs, all hoping they weren't the only regular ones in the Bay Area. They couldn't be, could they?
Schaefer, his mind wandering from the baseball game before him, tells me what his dream regular guy would look like. This regular guy would be, first and foremost, big. By “big,” Schaefer means to say that this pillar of masculinity would be both tall and built, but not built in the muscle-queen kind of way, because that is constructed builtness — and that is, according to Schaefer, akin to constructed masculinity. What Schaefer wants is natural, God-given mass, the kind that gets produced with some regularity on farms in Nebraska. Schaefer wants big arms, big shoulders, big hands (with big, veiny fingers), big thighs, a big neck, and big feet. And on all of these things, he wants lots of hair.
When this ideal regular guy came upon a game of baseball or football, he would know exactly what to say and do. He would know the lingo. If the ball was thrown toward him, he would wait for it knowingly, and he would not run away like a little girl. He would, in that way those regular guys are blessed (cursed?), catch the ball with jockish, perfunctory ease. He would play with the ball for a moment, and then he would throw it back, high into the air, and it would land pretty much where it was supposed to. This is called “throwing the ball like a man,” as opposed to “throwing the ball like a fag.” “Not that there's anything wrong with that,” Schaefer jokes.
Schaefer can joke about that, you know, because he's a fag, too. And still, in this city that is not short on fags, Schaefer — 45 and counting — is having problems finding one who would like to settle down with him and raise some regular kids. This could have something to do with the fact that, in his own words, Schaefer is not a beautiful man. He is a short, pudgy man with an oddly shaped head. Geometrically speaking, Schaefer's head is an oval. While most human heads are squares or rectangles, Schaefer's is wider at the cheeks than it is at both the crown and the jaw. It is also unusually long, with most of the surface space concentrated between the eyes and the chin. On top of it all is a tightly trimmed crew cut.
On this night, Schaefer wears tight jeans, an orange T-shirt, and a black and orange Giants jacket. He doesn't talk much, except to make light of his dating woes and to confess that he prefers going to Oakland Athletics' games, because their roster is packed with lots of big, beefy guys with goatees.
Mostly, though, Schaefer sits quietly in his seat. He has been shy for as long as he can remember. Back in grade school, Schaefer was a nerd who hung out with other nerds in a social group on the very low end of the adolescent pecking order. This trend continued in high school and even into college at Fordham, but things changed for the better when Schaefer worked up the nerve to walk into the campus radio station his junior year. His radio gig got him talking, which brought him out of his shell, which allowed his long-dormant sense of humor to make an appearance.
Schaefer likes to be funny. He also likes to say things that he knows might get him in a whole heap of trouble. Like the time he said this, referring to what he calls gay culture's “masculinity paradox”: “It's funny, because gay culture likes to ridicule guys who are into traditionally 'masculine' things, but at the same time, masculine guys are everyone's jerk-off fantasy. It's like we have a whole gay culture that says, 'Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, we all know we really want to have sex with masculine guys, but we have to ridicule them, too, because, everyone knows they can't dress, and those are the guys who beat us up and made fun of us in high school.' But you know what? In the 22 years I've been reading personal ads, I've never once read one that says, 'GWM seeks bitchy queen for LTR.'”
On a warm, breezy, blue-sky day in late May, 30 Regular Guys — all clad in shorts and T-shirts — are warming up for a game of softball on the grassy portion of the Kezar Triangle.
As they take batting practice and shag fly balls, it quickly becomes clear that few of these men — most are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s — were members of their high school's jock elite. In fact, when Chris Sorensen, the group's director of sports activities (and master barbecuer), asks the men how many played baseball in high school, not a single hand goes up.
Later, while tending to the barbecue during a Regular Guys' picnic, Sorensen explains the kinds of athletes you'll find in this group for self-identified masculine gay men: “A lot of them were picked on in high school, and now that they are older and successful and go to the gym to get all buff, they think they're athletes. But if you throw them a real fastball, they pee themselves. So, we play softball. It's less scary.” [page]
Sorensen is 27 and, arguably, the most regular of all the Regular Guys. He is overweight. He smokes. He drinks beer. He eats big slabs of beef — and, while doing so, makes alarming numbers of beef/sausage jokes. When he is tired or bored or feeling silly, he rolls around in the grass like a dog and plays dead. When he barbecues, he holds the slab of beef in one hand and a bottle of tequila in the other. He calls people “pussies.” He reads sports magazines and says things like, “Yeah, I read ESPN magazine. Sports Illustrated's for fags.”
Sorensen joined Regular Guys a year ago and has quickly improved the group's athletic activities. He organizes monthly football games, softball games, and trips to the batting cages. Today, he is firmly in charge of the softball game, barking out instructions and threatening to castrate those who goof off.
“Come on, ladies,” he says. “Let's get with it!”
Eric Sweigard, a 34-year-old Catholic boy from Nebraska who is often mistaken for a New York City Jew (“It's my wonderful attitude,” he suspects), steps up to the plate. Sweigard may be short (5-foot-5), but what he doesn't have in size is made up for in ego. In high school, when Sweigard wasn't shoplifting for school supplies or setting things on fire, he played on the wrestling and golf teams. He always knew he was different (“I was smarter and funnier than the other guys, so I guess that should have been a clue,” he says), but it wasn't until much later that it dawned on him that he might be gay.
Sweigard waves the bat back and forth, waiting for Sorensen to lob a pitch. Just as Sorensen starts his motion, a Regular Guy in the outfield yells, “Hit it, munchkin!” to which Sweigard responds by waving the bat toward him and yelling “You fuck! You little bitch!”
Sorensen finds the exchange so funny that he stops midmotion. “Throw the ball, jerky,” Sweigard yells. Laughing, Sorensen lobs a pitch. Sweigard takes a mighty rip, nailing the ball over the head of the smack-talker in the outfield. “Yeah, chase it you fuck! Run!”
Sorensen lobs another pitch, which Sweigard smacks about a foot away from Sorensen's head. “Yeah, you laughing now baby?” Sweigard says.
“You did not just call me baby,” Sorensen says in mock exasperation.
“Yes I did, sweetie,” Sweigard says. “You got a problem with that?”
Sorensen, grinning, dramatically throws his glove on the ground and begins a full-frontal assault on the much smaller Sweigard. Sweigard, the high school wrestler, stands his ground. Sorensen bowls into him. They fall over. They roll around. They curse. The bigger Sorensen pins Sweigard by the legs, causing Sweigard's butt to see the light of day.
Mark Terrell, a 34-year-old Regular Guy from Oakland, points excitedly toward Sweigard's butt: “Hold him there, and we'll all take turns!”
1) Which would you rather spend a Saturday afternoon doing?
a) Catching the White Sale at Macy's.
b) Catching the playoffs of any sport.
2) You meet a cute guy at a party. You start the conversation talking about…
a) Your favorite quiche recipe.
b) Why the 49ers sucked this year.
— Two questions from the Regular Guys' Web site, www.RegularGuys.org
If you answered b) to both of the above questions, it is possible that you — yes, you! — could be Regular Guy material. This is exciting news.
For $35 a year, Regular Guys get to go on hikes, play football, go whitewater rafting, ski in Tahoe, cruise the delta on houseboats, attend rodeos, watch movies, sample local brewpubs, and even take in a play or museum. (“We aren't total barbarians,” Schaefer insists.)
Regular Guys also attend a monthly social meeting, where they introduce new members and listen to guest speakers (former ones have included Gay Games athletes, a gay Air Force officer, a representative from the StopAIDS project, Supervisor Mark Leno, and a leader of the Log Cabin Republicans).
Schaefer says there are about 150 dues-paying members of Regular Guys in the Bay Area, although only about 40 are what he calls “regulars.” Most are openly gay, although many didn't come out until their late 20s, or even later. Several are fathers. Some, like Sweigard and Sorensen, act straighter than most straight guys. Others are painfully shy and joined the group, jokes one Regular Guy, “because they had no friends.” A few couldn't care less about sports and can queen-out on occasion, a fact the Regular Guys ironically point to as their collective “feminine side.”
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.” [page]
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.”
And in so being, University of Windsor sociologist Barry Adam says the Regular Guys might not be as unique as they think.
“I don't know many gay men who would say they have a strong connection to 'gay culture,' whatever that is,” says Adam. “So few people seem to like it, so they are all running off to other identities and forming all these other specific groups that combine being gay with other social activities. There has been a real evolution over the last 25 years toward a multiplication and fragmentation of gay groups. If you look in the gay papers of any big city, the listings get longer and longer. Does anyone still believe in the dream of a single unitary gay identity? I don't think so.”
As Carrington (an admirer of baseball and circuit parties) says, “There is no booming gay voice of God in San Francisco telling gay people, 'Go to Macy's!'”
Seated at the Jumpin' Java Coffee House in San Francisco, Eric Sweigard — a funny, deceptively intellectual man prone to rambling tangents — is enjoying a mildly homoerotic recollection/tangent about his high school wrestling days.
“Wrestling is so fuckin' bizarre,” Sweigard says, munching on the last bite of a turkey sandwich. “There are three periods in wrestling, right? If you win the first, you get to get on top of the other guy. The other guy is down on all fours, doggie style, and you get on top of him, and you literally grind your groin into his ass, taking control of one wrist with one hand, and wrapping your other hand around his stomach. You get to break him down. So all of this grinding and touching, and not once did I have a sexual feeling! Not once! I got to grind my groin against some of the finest 16- and 17-year-old ass in the tri-state area, and never once got a boner. And I look back now, and I'm like, 'Doh!'” (He smacks himself in the head.) [page]
“Wow, that's incred …,” I begin to say.
“Speaking of doh,” he says, “what the fuck is Tom Ammiano's problem? I mean, are you going to sit here and tell me that Ammiano's not an idiot?”
“Well, I …”
“ATM fees? That's his big fucking issue? I mean, this idiot needs to wake up and smell the lube. There's only gonna be three banks in two years, anyway. I mean, what's the charge, $1.50? Damn, take out $100 once a week instead of $20 at a time. Or you know what's an even better idea? Go to your bank!”
Sweigard, the last of four children in what he calls an “obnoxiously” gregarious family, has been a loudmouth wise-ass for as long as he can remember. As a teenager, Sweigard attended an all-boys Catholic high school and lived a fairly naive existence when it came to sex. “I didn't even know two guys could do it until I was probably 15,” he says. “Seems crazy now, but it just wasn't talked about in Omaha. And everyone has all these crazy stories about sexual escapades at their all-boys Catholic schools, but I swear there wasn't any cornholing going on at mine. Trust me, 'cause I would have been in on it if there was.”
In college at Chicago's Loyola University, Sweigard says he had no strong sexual feelings toward men but did have several largely anticlimactic homosexual experiences. The first, in the bathroom at the Loyola University library, began when Sweigard noticed that the man standing in the neighboring urinal was playing with his large, erect penis, which Sweigard remembers as being “truly fucking unbelievably large.”
“Then the guy looked at me and said, 'You wanna touch it?'” recalls Sweigard. “So I touched it a few times, and he came like a cannon.”
Experience number two happened on a couch at the Carmelite dorm (Sweigard, although not all that religious, briefly entertained the thought of becoming a priest) after an evening of collegiate drunken debauchery. The instigator of this event was the only openly gay student among the Carmelites — a persistent young man who did not take Sweigard's “No thanks, man” for an answer. Highly inebriated, Sweigard says he finally gave in to an easy blow job.
“He did his thing, and it was creepy,” he recalls. “It was probably only the second or third time he had given head to someone, and he was all teeth.”
After college, Sweigard — then a proud Reagan Republican — landed a job at a theater company. He worked various jobs during the day (to pay the bills) and dated girls at night, only rarely feeling any same-sex attractions. That changed in a big way when Sweigard was 26. “My girlfriend at the time and I were sitting at a cafe, and I remember not being able to take my eyes off the waiter's ass,” he says. “He had these two melons for an ass. He was so cute, not too femmy. That night, I remember going home with my girlfriend and just fucking the hell out of her, thinking about him the whole time. The next morning she looked at me and said, 'Wow, you were amazing last night.'”
A year later, Sweigard met a guy on the side of Chicago's gay pride parade route. They went back to his place and argued about who was going to get fucked. Neither gave in (“I still had issues with being a 'man' and getting fucked at that point,” he says), so they settled on blow jobs.
Sweigard, who moved to San Francisco two years ago and is now a proud Democrat, considers himself comfortably “out” these days. Still, being openly gay doesn't mean he relates to San Francisco gay culture.
“If it wasn't for my gym affectation and my true love of staying fit, I'm not sure how I would meet homos,” he says. “And it's so funny, because people at the gym and other places will say, 'Oh, you're so butch,' and the condescending assumption is that because I like sports and don't like going to bars that I must not have accepted or come to terms with my true gay soul. And I'm like, 'How many cocks do I need to stuff down my throat before people will believe that I am totally cool and in-tune with my gayness?'”
Mike Schaefer e-mails me with a link to a Web site that he finds quite funny.
Straightacting.com, he says, is the place to test just how “masculine” you really are. He suggests I take the quiz and let him know how I fare.
I put down my beer and my copy of Maxim and sign on. I decline to check out the site's Butch Board, Straight Talk, and Macho Personals pages, going directly to the Straight Acting quiz and its 25 questions. I sense that I am off to a non-masculine start when I admit to enjoying “receiving flowers” on Question 1, but I hope to make up for it on Question 2, when I answer that I do not enjoy “being tickled.”
For Question 3, I shamefully admit to occasionally using the word “pee-pee,” but I am feeling masculine again on Question 7, when I answer that my apartment has “less than two candles.”
Question 9 goes right to the heart of my sex life, asking if I prefer top, bottom, versatile, or cuddling. Since multiple answers are encouraged, I check all four and move on. For Question 11, I categorically deny having ever purchased “any article of clothing or accessories for myself from a woman's department store.” Question 16 wants to know if I have ever attended a “gang bang or orgy,” and I wonder if a drunken fraternity party where four “straight” boys took turns doing each other in a locked upstairs bedroom while one gay boy (that would be me) looked on in astonishment constitutes an orgy. I check the box. [page]
When I am done, I click the results button and learn that on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being “The Ultimate in Straight Acting” and 10 being “Queen Status,” I am a 3, which is to say I am “Mostly Straight Acting.” For those of us at this level of masculinity, we lead, according to the results, “[a] normal everyday life, and it's 'no questions asked,' as people assume you are straight. Every once and a while a very aware person might notice something that causes them to think 'fem,' but it's a fleeting thought because you turn around and surprise them with more masculine traits.”
Relieved (and amused) to know that I can pass for straight, I check my e-mail again a few hours later. Schaefer — who, incidentally, does not like the expression “straight- acting” — writes to tell me that he is also a 3, a level he deems fairly accurate. “I had to admit to owning Donna Summer's Greatest Hits,” he says. Sweigard e-mails me to say he is a 2. “I do like musical theatre, in theory,” he writes. “And I'm neat.”
It is 6 p.m. on a Sunday night, and the Regular Guys are hungry. Standing in the lobby of the Metreon, five Regular Guys have two hours to kill before enjoying a screening of Gladiator, a surprisingly engaging action film in which Russell Crowe kills many men in the name of God, country, and “closure.”
Right now, though, the Regular Guys need to eat. “Should we go to the food court or the sports bar?” Schaefer asks.
“Oh, I'm flexible,” says 30-year-old Regular Guy Joe Delehanty from San Francisco.
“Yeah, we heard,” Schaefer says.
A balding, beer-bellied, fiftysomething man walks by the group with a younger, cuter companion. Delehanty, a self-described lover of “daddy types,” doesn't look twice at the twentysomething, instead eyeing the older man. “Oh, I'll take that one home right now!” he says.
“Anyway, back to the food question,” says Russ Meyer, a 38-year-old Regular Guy from Rockford. “Man, when did the Metreon become cruise central?”
“Duh,” says Delehanty. “The second they built it!”
The Regular Guys finally decide on the food court. Delehanty orders chicken strips and fries off a children's menu, then goes on to explain what makes a movie a Regular Guys movie.
“There's gotta be death, destruction, real guy stuff,” he says. “Someone's gotta die. Lotsa guns. Or it's gotta be a sports movie.” In the past months, the Regular Guys have seen Fight Club, Mission to Mars, Any Given Sunday, and End of Days.
Delehanty excuses himself to go to the bathroom, after which the conversation turns slightly more serious. Everyone at the table is intrigued by Meyer's job at a company that creates brand names and logos, and the Regular Guys wonder about alternate names for Regular Guys.
“The Assholes,” Delehanty says, having returned from the bathroom and forgotten to zip up his pants. “We could call each other The Assholes. That would be about right.”
Meyer points to Delehanty's zipper: “Um, that much action in the bathroom?”
After a brief discussion about past bathroom sexual experiences, talk turns to the best city gyms. Delehanty fondly tells the group about the YMCA in Atlanta, where he used to live.
“There are plenty of gyms with back-room action, but this one, I swear, it doubled as a bathhouse for 'straight' guys,” he says, fingering his fries. “Their fat wives would be working their little hearts out on the treadmill, and meantime, the husbands are in the locker room jerking each other off.” (He makes jerking motions.)
The gym story leads to a debate about bisexuality and sexual labeling, and Delehanty listens in amazement as one Regular Guy mentions that he still likes girls, and another offers a graphic re-enactment of a past experience eating out a girl.
“OK, I just lost my appetite!” Delehanty says. “Call me a big old queen, but I don't have any bisexual tendencies whatsoever. None at all.”
Meyer raises his arms in mock victory. “And women the world over are celebrating! They're dancing in the streets!”
Mike Schaefer gets calls and e-mails from married guys who would like to know how, exactly, they can get in on some Regular Guys “action.”
Schaefer politely e-mails them back (“They're not big about giving out their home numbers,” he says), informing them that their unsuspecting wives may pose some logistical problems, and that Regular Guys is not a sex club for closet cases or bi-curious married men. He rarely hears from them again.
Over lunch at a cafe in the Castro, Schaefer is sure to make clear that Regular Guys is not a dating service. “The group is a sort of fraternity for male bonding,” Schaefer says. “Bonding in the traditional sense.”
The task is simple, really. After the Giants game, Schaefer and I must cross from one side of the Embarcadero to the other. I choose the most direct route, which requires that we cross the Muni tracks, jump up on a 3-foot-high platform, then jump down again.
Two athletic-looking ladies in their 40s (lesbians, perhaps?) have just chosen the same path, executing the simple exercise without incident. I jump up on the platform, then jump down again, turning to wait for Schaefer, who is having some difficulty with the jumping down part. [page]
He eyes the 3-foot drop with trepidation. He gets on one knee, hoping he can avoid the jump altogether by simply lowering himself down. He can't. He eyes me eyeing him and smiles bashfully, finally deciding to take the big plunge and jump. He stumbles slightly on impact.
“I guess I didn't look like much of a Regular Guy there, did I?” Schaefer says, shaking his head. “And I bet you're going to put that in the story, aren't you? It would make for a great ending. The founder of Regular Guys is too chicken to cross the street! What a girl!”