Until I saw the clipreel on last night’s show, I hadn’t realised how close Stefan and Fabio had become over the course of the season. These stew room “bromances” are a feature of Top Chef and after filming the reunion I got to wondering why it is that men in their 20s and 30s have such warm, physical friendships — something that isn’t true of men in their 40s like Tom and me.
My conclusion is that it’s an indirect consequence of gay liberation. Thanks to the courageous political work undertaken by men like Harvey Milk, homosexuality has become de-stigmatized. Of course, there are still some parts of the world – even some parts of America – where gay men and women are victims of discrimination, but it is extraordinary how much progress has been made. For most normal, educated people in the West, being homophobic is as unacceptable as being racist or sexist.
I’m not suggesting that men like Stefan and Fabio are closeted homosexuals who, in effect, came out on Top Chef. On the contrary, they are quite patently red-blooded heterosexuals. But because it is no longer taboo to be perceived as gay – and because so many homosexuals are now out of the closet – Stefan and Fabio are free to engage in the kind of male horseplay that, ten or fifteen years ago, would have made other men suspicious.
In other words, straight men are the unintended beneficiaries of the gay rights movement. Because it is now publicly acceptable to be gay, it is equally acceptable for straight men to kiss each other in public. In fact, when it comes to male friendship, we live in a golden age. It’s why the best comedies of the past ten years have been “bromantic comedies” — films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad. Personally, I think it’s a marvelous thing. In fact, straight men ought to organize a parade in San Francisco’s Castro District to give thanks to men like Harvey Milk for liberating them, too.Needless to say, there are some aspects of gay culture that have yet to penetrate the skulls of straight men, no matter how enlightened they are. Lesbians, for instance. We have a hard time accepting that any woman could have rejected the male gender outright and flatter ourselves that if only she met the right man — ie, us — she might change her mind.
I suspect that this thought was behind Stefan’s attempts to flirt with Jamie throughout Season Five — he wanted to win her back to our team. After filming the reunion, Stefan and I went out on the town together and we ended up at Jamie’s girlfriend’s lesbian bar in New York. There was a very attractive young woman working the bar and Stefan immediately began to hit on her.
“Jesus, Stefan, take it easy,” I said. “She’s a lesbian – she doesn’t like guys. Deal with it. Move on.”
But he ignored me and, a few moments later, they were playing tonsil hockey. He actually did what every straight man dreams about – he converted a lesbian back to our religion, if only for a minute. It was testimony to just what an unstoppable, Alpha male he is.
Towards the end of our evening together, Stefan told me about all the plans he has to capitalize on his new-found fame. He even has an apparel company called Cockychefclothing.com
“If it doesn’t work out for me in America, I can always go back to Finland,” he said.
“Stefan, I don’t think you’re ever going back to Finland.”
“Neither do I.”
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