“Gaybrows”, girl talk and the Sunday Times’ brand of smart-casual homophobia
Being gay is very political these days. What with the world and his wife sticking their noses in about whether we should be getting married and Twitter confusing homosexuality with paedophilia in the wake of the BBC sex scandals from the 1970s. Like the unavoidable pink square in a slice of Battenberg or the writing running through a stick of rock, there’s always a constant air of homophobia which lingers around the reporting of such stories, but it’s not just the heavyweight news events we have to watch out for, oh no. Now, casual homophobia has climbed down from the lofty mezzanine of broadsheet opinion columns, put on a pretty dress and has sashayed down onto the pages of a women’s fashion magazine, spiking its stiletto into the very ‘fags’ it used to ‘hag’ for.
Every week, the Sunday Times publishes a supplement named Style, ostensibly a guide to the essential threads no lady should be without. Helpfully picking out key pieces and pretty crockery for its keen readership, the magazine also slings out a weekly barometer, a journalistic tool so lazy it may as well come with a duvet and an animal-print onesie. What’s hot and what’s not, is deliberated over for what must be whole milliseconds by perhaps the office intern or the bored receptionist – different clothes, trends, hairdos, people and ‘things’ are offered up, accompanied by what passes for a witty remark, and divided into those all-important categories. These busy girls-on-the-go aren’t much use at thinking in any way other than the most binary possible, so we must make do with two camps of popularity only: ‘Going Up’ for what we should love, and ‘Going Down’ (there’s a real science to this, isn’t there?) for everything less favoured.
It’s all as lightweight as you can imagine. Last week, Anna Wintour, the Prada-adorned, skeletal editrix of American Vogue, was lauded, and thus ranked top of the shop, for insisting hyper-famous photographer Mario Testino take her passport photograph. In this edition, readers are encouraged to start using Kate Moss’s surname as a verb for getting wasted, presumably on ‘bubbles’ at a product launch of some description. It’s all a bit of harmless fun, of course. Scan the ‘Going Down’ list, however, and we encounter a small problem. At the very end, once Peter Andre, birthday parties for dogs and under-ripe avocados are dispatched to the social guillotine, we come to a trend or phenomenon described as ‘gaybrows’. “What’s a gaybrow?” you may ask. I know I did. Allow me to shine 100 watts on that for you.
A gaybrow, according to Style, is the following: “Overwaxed eyebrows for him, favoured by the Geordie Shore boys.” Geordie Shore, of course, is a reality TV show on MTV (the ‘M’ long having since switched out its original meaning of ‘music’ for ‘mediocre’) and its subjects are the overstyled, permatanned type of fame-hungry charmers you can see on any high street should you look hard enough. The brows, themselves, are quite common too. Shaped, plucked and pointed to within an inch of their lives, the wearers of these unfortunate hairy slivers usually end up looking like a shop mannequin, an alien or – sorry girls – a woman.
Like many grooming trends currently favoured by preening heterosexual men, it is likely to have some foundation among their gay brothers, but didn’t girls start having brows like this first, centuries ago? Why aren’t they ‘ladybrows’? Or ‘nastybrows’ – as they are truly, utterly horrible and make men who sport them look like they’ve had ten facelifts or are midway through turning into a cat. Well, there’s a really good reason: a shortcut for making something seem immediately undesirable to straight men and the women who get boned by them is to label it ‘gay’. Easy when you know how, and, boy, does the world know how.
David Beckham has been shaping his brows for at least a decade, but it wouldn’t do to call them ‘Becksbrows’ – it’s okay to look like Beckham and he’s the sexual ideal for many of Style’s female readers. No, they must make it clear that these brows are horrible, and thus must be associated with something repugnant, and what better way to hammer home to the ladies and their boyfriends that these brows are unattractive? Why, simply fling the word ‘gay’ in front of them! Instant cringe! It’s so sickeningly transparent and automatic that it’s entirely possible they didn’t realise they were doing it. Oh, hang ON, what is this at the end of the description? There’s more!
The brows are, Style says, “about as hetero as Elton”. Assuming they don’t mean bushy-browed comedian Ben Elton or the flighty vicar from Jane Austen’s Emma, we’re talking about Elton John here. That is how gay these things are. Elton John, with his long-term male lover and civil partnership, is ‘openly gay’, as newspapers are so fond of saying, so the intent is clear here. The brows are awful, not just because they look dreadful, but because they’re not “hetero”. ‘Hetero’ is the ideal, remember; you don’t want men to ‘look gay’ because, well, that would mean what, exactly? Might gay men be interested in them and steal them away? Unlikely if they have a girlfriend; this isn’t TV.
No, the real message here is that the eyebrows make your man look gay, and looking gay is a negative thing, because people will think he is gay, and people thinking your man is gay is massively bad. Why? A variety of reasons – perhaps mainly that you won’t make other women jealous of you if you’re not lugging round a big hunk of male, masculine, cave-dwelling meat for them to salivate after. Is that what all this is about? Another stake in the heart for ‘the sisterhood’?
So with its throwaway comment about something looking gay, which they no doubt think is harmlessly entertaining, the Style editorial team has inadvertently revealed the monstrous, ugly homophobic heart at its core, which no amount of high heels, ‘lovely things’, perfume and designer wardrobe can fully mask. Good call, ladies; now we know what we’re up against. And we thought girls were supposed to be a gay’s best friend. At least that’s one fewer stereotype for us to agonise over.