Sunday Styles reporter George Gene Gustines is always on top of the big stories - or at least ones that interest the paper's culturally liberal readership - as demonstrated by his latest front-page Styles section report on a fetish party for gay fans of costume comic heroes, "Out of the Closet and Up, Up and Away." (Photo by Casey Kelbaugh for the Times.)
Dim lighting. Rendezvous-friendly nooks. Muscled bartenders. Pulsating dance music. At first glance, it could be any Saturday night in any gay bar in New York.
But then you notice, off to one corner, Superman flirting with Green Lantern. And there, across the room, someone in the form-fitting outfit of Black Adam, Captain Marvel's foe, determinedly working the floor. In fact, there seems to be an inordinate number of men here tonight who look as if they have all but jumped from the pages of a comic book. And in some way, they have.
This is Skin Tight U.S.A., the occasional costume-fetish party held at the Stonewall Inn in the West Village, which draws a regular group of men (and their admirers) who enjoy a special kind of dress-up. Some wear heroic outfits; some, wrestling gear. The crowd can range from 25 people on an average night to 250 on a spectacular one. The common thread is that the muscle-cuddling garb often leaves little to the imagination.
The Skin Tight party - in which the costumes range from the familiar (like Spider-Man) to ones that only a comics geek would recognize (like the 1993 version of Superboy) - is one way that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender comic book fans are expressing themselves today. They are coming out, loud and proud, in blogs, peer groups, Web comics and more, simultaneously pronouncing their sexual identity and their devotion to comic books. But it wasn't that long ago that the environment was less than welcoming for those who wanted to make the two seemingly disparate worlds one.
These days, gays and lesbians have their own heroes to admire. In 1992, Northstar, a Marvel hero, came out to vast news media attention, including an editorial in The New York Times. The Canadian hero now has a boyfriend, Kyle. Today, his comrades include Wiccan and Hulkling, a super-powered gay couple in the Young Avengers. The team was created by Allan Heinberg, a writer on "Grey's Anatomy," who said his editor supported his desire to include gay characters.
Gustines only briefly aired a discouraging word about comic heroes coming out:
A recent addition to this super-powered pride parade is Shatterstar, who in an issue of X-Factor last year sealed his reunion with another hero, Rictor, with a kiss. Not everyone was amused. "As the guy that created, designed and wrote his first dozen appearances, Shatterstar is not gay," Rob Liefeld posted on his message board. "Sorry. Can't wait to someday undo this. Seems totally contrived."
Gustines also addressed this important issue in a September 3, 2007 Times profile of gay novelist Perry Moore, who "has the fervor of an activist when discussing the dearth - and occasional shoddy treatment - of gay superheroes in mainstream comic books."
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