The Queer Man’s Guide To The Difference Between Diva And Dandy

The Queer Man’s Guide To The Difference Between Diva And Dandy

As an out-and-proud gay man, I’ve always felt that I am comfortable in my skin and my clothes. But like most gay men I know, I also like playing the jump rope with stereotypes. I don’t understand cricket, I like the occasional daiquiri, and I’ve scanned through multiple Abercrombie & Fitch catalogues even when I didn’t have any underwear to buy.

I might be wrong, but I’ve always thought that overdressing can also be seen as a sign you’re overcompensating. Go too outrageous on the clothes and your actual personality will be vying for attention with the one that you just dragged out of your closet.

‘Effeminate’ (for lack of a better word) styling in men might have been the predominant mainstream image of gay men, but throughout history, gay men have developed other styles to assert their identities, and avoid social backlash.

What does that mean for a fashion novice?

It means we’ve shifted the style spectrum to typically ‘masculine’ clothes, fitted to emphasise the male form but also appease the male sexual appetite. See, there’s so much irony laced in the statement, you can see right through it (no pun intended). Where do we go from here?

Say hello to the ‘straight-acting’ gay man, with the fashion aesthetic of a Tommy Hilfiger model. He’s not new, he’s always been there – especially in the leather subculture – but now he’s become mainstream, squeezing out of pleated pants into tight-fitting skinny jeans.

Why should I dress any different, I would scoff at friends who questioned my look (a classic button down shirt with worn out jeans)? Why should I wear my sexuality on my sleeve?

The 2018 gay male stereotype could very well be the bearded, topless selfie guy, his GQ hair gelled back, constantly clogging up the suggestion feeds of other gay Instagram users. He eats Sports Illustrated for breakfast. I thought I had it all figured out (fashionable and otherwise), and then I ran into an acquaintance at a cocktail soiree last month.

We awkwardly avoided each other’s eyes for all of 20 minutes, until we were forced to say hello at the open bar. Midway through the conversation, she turned to my sexuality as she turned to the cute bartender for repeats. He winked from across the counter.

‘But you don’t…you don’t…dress gay…’ she drawled, sipping on her fourth gin and tonic for the night. ‘How would you like me to dress?’ I humoured her, as she stumbled and clutched me around my waist. The bartender had disappeared into the night, and so had my hopes of getting his number.

‘I don’t know, more fabulously?’ she slurred into my shoulder, ‘you are a disgrace to gay men all over the world! Why are you not a diva?’ It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I had restricted our relationship to small talk and smaller joys.

I feel that it’s a popular misconception that all gay men are fashion divas. True, queer men might have carved out a niche for themselves in the fashion community, but it’s not necessary that all gay divas are men of fashion. So if you are looking at the Britney Spears-blaring, Diet Sabya-quoting fashion stylist across the bar for all your queer representation, you are clearly doing it wrong.

Like I’ve said before, divas are everywhere, and they are hidden in plain sight. The accountant at your office. The colleague you sit next to at work. Your next-door neighbor. The high school jock you had a crush on. You.

Stylish doesn’t necessarily come with a sexual orientation tag.

I, on the other hand, have the fashion sense of a panda – which means I usually stick to whites and blacks, and accessorise with giant chunky sunglasses. But more importantly, does that discredit my inner-diva?

Obviously not. So have we reached the melting point of masculinity?

I might not know my Balenciagas from my every-day brogues, but I know there’s a huge difference between diva and dandy. Clothes aren’t inherently gay or straight. Can a gay man really dress ‘gay’? Does a straight-acting gay men really dress 'straight'? How do straight men dress anyway? Do straight men really care about the way they dress? (Side note: because there’s a word for straight men that dress as fashionable and savvy as their more fabulous counterparts. It’s called metrosexual.)

I might not have the answers to all these questions at the moment, but when I do, you’ll be the first to know. How would you tell?

You’ll find me in my button down and boot cut jeans.

— Illustration courtesy Amrai Dua

Aniruddha Mahale