(photo: Marc Charbonnet)
Last week I attended a “Skin Tight” party at Stonewall Inn in NYC, a bimonthly get-together for gay men who like to hang around each other in spandex superhero outfits. I’d had no idea these events were even going on until I saw a much talked-about piece in The New York Times. After a bit of research, I purchased a custom-made Superboy outfit from Spandexman, a company based in NYC that caters to men interested in spandex and superheros costumes (I’d recommend their high-quality designs and customer service to anyone!)
Gay visibility in comic books and science fiction has been celebrated (and uncelebrated) a lot in the last few decades, and is a specific subject that has never interested me, personally. Gay superhero characters in comic books and on TV? Fine, whatever. But, a room full of gay men dressed as superheros meeting each other in a social space in the West Village of NYC? Wow. I am… so… there. I’ve always believed gay male romance/crushes/cruising are inherently competitive at their root — uniquely so, and in dissimilar ways to heterosexual and lesbian relationships — which is one reason I found the idea of a room full of men dressed as superheros so riveting. What ominous forces lurk beneath the veil of darkness in great Metropolis? And what stalwart supernatural forces lie dormant in the hearts of oppressed mutants… awaiting surrender to relentless oppression to genesis? The Skin Tight gay superhero parties at Stonewall Inn in NYC are a collision of several male homosexual elements, a gay “gesamtkunstwerk” of sorts. Wouldn’t it have been great if the infamous Stonewall Riots of 1969 had occurred on a gay superhero theme night, instead of a drag night? Talk about “what if” gay history.
The night of the party was interesting. My good friend Marc Charbonnet came to the event with me. He’d wanted to attend in superhero garb but, after some reflection, decided to stand out even more in his best “interior designer drag;” a Brooks Brothers classic seersucker cotton suit and his custom replicas of Judy Garland’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (lady’s size 13-C). “Clark Kent above the ankle and Dorothy below,” as he put it. I wished there had been even more guys in superhero outfits at Skin Tight. There were lots of guys in wrestling gear, or wet suits, and some random people that had shown up and just rented outfits at the door. Still, the room was full, and full of people in costume. I’d say 90%. It really did feel like the secret after hours basement at The Justice League of America. Were there cute guys there? I don’t know. You couldn’t see what anyone really looked like. Many of the guys dressed as superheros struck up conversations with me about the specifics of D.C. Comics’ controversial 1993 version of Superboy that my costume was based on. The creator of the Skin Tight parties, Matthew Levine, said hello, and was very talkative and enthused (he’s been throwing these parties for five years!) He excitedly told me about the next one, adding “It’s right after Comic-Con!” He also introduced me to the brilliant films of Can-Am (light on sex, heavy on Russ Meyer-esque superhero scenarios). While the party at Skin Tight was mostly a social scene, I didn’t see any more or less cruising that I see at most gay bars. Personally, I’m not into the sexual fetish aspect of spandex as a fabric. But one thing I’m definitely into is the interaction of men in superhero outfits. I love the role-playing that occurs between grown adults in costume amongst the public crowds at science fiction/fantasy conventions. I wish there had been more of that at Skin Tight. At the next Skin Tight party I think I’m going to bring silly string to “zap” my foes with, and maybe a net to throw over some villains and capture them, or some battery-powered glowing plastic kryptonite rocks to thwart the powers of those who may reveal my secret identity.
I wish I’d taken more pictures inside the party. My iPhone camera doesn’t have a flash, and it was kinda dark in there. There were lots of pictures taken on the street and inside the party. I wish some of them would show up on Facebook or something. The evening was really all about walking around dressed like that (Marc shot this video of me at an uptown phone booth). I loved wearing the costume. It was very empowering. I couldn’t believe how much attention people paid to it on the streets of the city. Before the event, Marc and I had coffee in the outdoor seating area of Riviera Cafe. We could hardly eat because people kept stopping and asking me why I was dressed as “Superman.” When I walked alone to the bodega down the street to get some Advil, several groups of pier queens stopped me to take pictures with them. People were yelling out of cabs. Eventually, the only way I could get through everyone without having to constantly stop was to put my arms out like I was flying and weave through the crowd, running. That’s when people really paid attention. I guess there is something communally absurd and projective about a guy running around New York City at night dressed as “Superman.” I would love to wear the costume around the city 24/7, in a kind of sardonic, urban alienated way. Just going to work alone or doing mundane things like shopping or walking the dog, until the costume is filthy and has lots of rips in it and I resemble a character from Daniel Clowes’ Eightball comic book series. People around town would begin to see me more than once, and would point to me on the subway and whisper “Eww, look there’s that guy who wears a ragged Superman outfit around NYC everyday.”