What made me gay? Was it nature? Nurture? Did my mother have a stressful pregnancy? (A theory I once read.) Or was it the fact that I had three older sisters, who influenced everything from my TV viewing habits — General Hospital — to my musical interests — The Go-Go’s — to my taste in men — Scott Baio. (The Charles in Charge years of course, not the present!)
Who really knows? And until scientific research unmasks the genetic code that predisposed me to an affinity for the same sex, we may never know, but I have a theory: it was the International Male catalog!
At the impressionable age of 12, this mail—or rather “male”—order catalog arrived on my family’s picture-perfect suburban street in Queens, New York and landed in our mailbox. We were quite accustomed to receiving catalogs. My mother, Lois, was addicted to catalog shopping—JC Penney, Lillian Vernon, Spiegel—you name it, we received it and she ordered from it. But never before had we received anything that resembled the International Male catalog. Page after glorious page, a plethora of gorgeous, muscular, male models appeared dressed in skintight clothes, flamboyant “pirate” shirts, and overtly revealing exotic and erotic underwear. This was definitely not the Sears catalog.
About a month later, a slightly different version arrived, titled UnderGear. HELLO! This was a gay boy’s dream come true. It was nothing more than forty pages of scantily clad, perfectly tan, toned, smooth men, provocatively posing in everything from boxers to briefs to jockstraps to thongs. Everything was on display, and I mean everything—biceps bulging, pecs popping, bare bubble butts in abundance and packages protruding. You could tell exactly who was circumcised and easily decipher the “growers” from the “showers.”
Although Lois never placed an order from either of these catalogs, a new edition seemed to arrive month after month, year after year, taunting me, teasing me, and titillating me with boys in briefs. I felt embarrassed as I casually perused these pages of soft-core porn in front of my parents, while plotting a way to sneak the catalog upstairs to my bedroom for closer inspection. I was like one of Pavlov’s dogs, foaming at the mouth with excitement. No wonder the sight of a man in a jockstrap still intrigues me.
All my gay male friends shared similar experiences; from Massachusetts to Florida, New York to California, we all received our copies of International Male or UnderGear. One friend discovered the catalog in a pile of magazines at his grandparents’ condo, which instantly became his new favorite place to visit. Another friend described the UnderGear catalog as his first Playgirl. He too would sneak away and stash it under his bed.
The masterminds behind these two publications must possess some intense honing device that can sniff out fey little boys across the country, captivating and corrupting us with their cotton couture collections and hypnotizing us with their hip-hugging briefs, ensuring our imminent gayness. Maybe this is why our culture has become so obsessed and intoxicated with perfectly smooth, buff boys in high fashion briefs.
Still to this day, both catalogs arrive in my mailbox several times a year. In fact, a new edition of UnderGear just arrived last week, the cover graced by a sweaty, perfectly chiseled chap wearing nothing but white boxer briefs, seducing me to turn the pages. And after all these years, I’ve never once ordered a single mesh bikini, sheer thong or padded butt brief, yet somehow they still find me. (Okay, well maybe once I ordered a pair of Onionskins—these super skimpy running shorts—as a gag gift for an ex boyfriend. Now you know why he’s my ex.)
Today, the collections are even more provocative and revealing with the emphasis on maximizing and enhancing. There are more bulges and bare asses on display than I could even count—I became way too distracted by the stud on page two in the Heaven Maximizer Bikini. But I’m sure, much like me and my friends, this tradition continues. Hundreds, thousands—who knows, maybe even millions of young, innocent boys across the country—are coming home from school and discovering these catalogs in their mailboxes and one by one, they turn the pages, mesmerized by the maximized and are instantly converted to queer.