What’s a Gay Hipster?

Not everyone sporting skinny jeans is straight

Photo by Natalie Hope McDonald

Hipster, that pop cultural pastiche more recently defined by trucker hats, skinny jeans and PBR, has been making headlines recently. But rather than elaborating on a strictly fashionable approach to the subject (think: American Apparel) it seems as though pundits are waxing (melancholy) on the anthropological study of “cool.”

New York magazine offered up an especially fascinating take – in the past tense – that suggests hipsterism is practically dead. And The New York Times admitted that it used the term “hipster” no less than 250 times last year.

But when was the last time you heard of the “gipster,” or gay hipster? It may be more common than you think.

Throughout the mid-to-late 20th century in America, hip was generally associated with brooding James Dean types of the Silver Screen who, with one look, could sum up the soul of teen angst. There was also the Marlon Brandos, Jack Kerouacs, Chet Bakers and the other artists, scribes and musicians who have come to embody the essence of all that’s cool (and perhaps a little grumpy) in the world. Many of these hip guys have also faced swirling rumors about their sexuality.

And while the notion of the hipster dates back to Europe (specifically France where cafe life and political unrest seems to be just the right ingredients for forcing folks into turtlenecks), the Americanized version (or what the beatnik was partially based on) has taken on a life of it’s own. One might even say it’s gone a little gay, especially in urban enclaves like Williamsburg and Fishtown. South Philly and Northern Liberties also seem to have attracted their share of hipsters (and gays) interested in, among many other things, craft beer and irony.

But what about the gipster specifically? Is there such a thing? By nature, hipsters tend to be a fairly liberal-minded lot, and among them exists a pantheon of characters, like the vegans, the tweedies (they look like Sherlock Holmes), lumberjacks (real big beards), urban gardeners, stitchers, bitchers, microbrewers and, yes, even gays and lesbians (and a whole lot of bisexuals).

In some ways the hipster scene in Philly, however straight and however white and middle-class it tends to be at times, is also pretty accepting of LGBT people. With their 80s-inspired clothes plucked from vintage stores (and off the shelves of Urban Outfitters) it’s not always easy figuring out who is and who isn’t gay or at least bi.

But how does one describe the gay hipster exactly? Have gays, by being on the fringe of society, naturally integrated into the hipster scene? And are gay male hipsters different from lesbian ones?

Yes. No. And maybe so.

The Urban Dictionary defines a gipster as having “elegant taste in films (Bergman, Alle, Trier, Almodovar, Godard and Wong are very popular in this group), music (ranging from Joanna Newsom’s Ys to Broken Social Scene, Final Fantasy, Deerhunter, Björk, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, of Montreal, Patrick Wolf, The Fiery Furnaces, electronica, and usually what is actually good, not just indie), literature (almost all are writers), art (most are not artistically capable, but interest is undoubtedly present; some make art, regardless of ability and skill).”

The website also suggests these gay hipsters are “often vegan or vegetarian, some European exceptions. Also, statistically either a Taurus or a Gemini. Can speak more than one or two languages. (French and Swedish are very common; the former nearly mandatory). Sex and the City, Skins, and Absolutely Fabulous are essential for television, as well as an ironic TV series on which Lifetime: Television for Women airs reruns. (The Golden Girls and Roseanne are most common.). They usually smoke weed and/or drink alcohol regularly. Librarians in later life; known for sense of fashion.”

Sound familiar? G Philly might also add to this list (for the guys) ownership of two or more Belle & Sebastian albums, a subscription to Butt magazine, Chelsea boots and a copy of Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and (for the gals) tofu in the fridge, a Pit Bull named Gert, Le Tigre albums and hemp mittens.

While it’s rare to see these so-called gipsters at Pride events (they prefer the book and record stores, thank you) they do tend toward house parties and special events. In Philly, that may have meant the old Palare nights at Silk City, or even Making Time. They definitely won’t be seen sipping expensive cocktails at Continental, instead, opting for cheaper, more low-key dive and beer bars like 700 Club and Bob & Barbara’s. And occasionally when they do make their way to the Gayborhood, it’s always to the Westbury.

But if the pundits are correct and the hipster is dead, dying or on its way out and into the big book of “remember when?” then what happens to these gay and lesbian hipsters who, by nature of not being LGBT stereotypical, may actually end up seeming pretty darn mainstream? By bucking the trends against Nellie queens, muscle Marys or diesel dames and lipstick lesbians, is there something good to be said for what has essentially become the butt of jokes in The Hipster Handbook? And are gay hipsters – gipsters – in their vests and Jeff caps actually almost sort of kind of…cool?