Watching Gus Kenworthy and his perm peel off his tank top in last week’s premiere of American Horror Story: 1984 made me feel a lot of things. Downstairs.
That’s where I keep my gay childhood memories. All that aerobicizing, short-short wearing, and hefty mustache-ing really flooded my basement. With nostalgia! And that’s when I got to thinking about the hunks of the 1980s who helped usher my nascent queer self out of the closet.
These musclebound dudes gave me an unrealistic body image and confirmed what all the kids were saying about me anyway: I was indeed a homo. While Brooke may have never seen a body like Chet’s, I’m a connoisseur on such matters. So come with me on a stripped-down, oiled-up trip down memory lane as I look back at eight retro hunks who totally made me—and maybe even you—gay.
A.C. Slater (a.k.a. Mario Lopez)
First, a disclosure: I admit that some of these dudes are problematic, having made “hurtful” remarks about trans kids and their parents or endorsing the worst president ever, but the ’80s were a simpler time. People still believed Donald Trump was a successful businessman, Mario Lopez was getting deported thanks to Bea Arthur, and Lou Ferrigno was a not-so-jolly green giant. After his memorable guest appearance on Golden Girls, Lopez went on to star in Saved by the Bell as good-natured misogynist A.C. Slater, a wrestler who also happened to be a dancer, affording us multiple scenes of him in a singlet or tights. God, I miss the ’80s.
Dolph Lundgren is 6-foot-5, speaks six languages, has a master’s degree in chemical engineering, is a third-degree black belt in karate, and despite the ending of Rocky IV, he hit Sylvester Stallone so hard during filming he put the Italian Stallion in the hospital. Oh, and he dated Grace Jones. Like, what else do you need?
Carl Weathers should really have been a bigger action star. With a body forged in bronze, a lantern jaw, and one of the sturdiest mustaches of the decade (before he sadly shaved it off), he shared the screen with the two biggest action heroes of his or any day: Sylvester Stallone in the Rocky movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator. The arm-wrestling handshake from the latter inspired a generation of gay wet dreams. Weathers, however, did have his own starring vehicle, 1988’s Action Jackson, featuring former Prince protégée Vanity and a pre-Basic Instinct Sharon Stone, which at least gave us a couple of requisite shirtless scenes.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
The Muscles from Brussels was a former ballet dancer and had the glutes to prove it. And, boy, did he love to prove it. After playing the unforgettable role of “Gay Karate Man” in the 1984 short film Monaco Forever, JCVD kicked and split his way to superstardom in 1988’s Bloodsport and the similarly themed Kickboxer the following year. But he would never top the intricacy and profundity of Gay Karate Man again.
After five seasons as the Incredible Hulk, Ferrigno took his impressive physique to a trio of Italian sword-and-sandal epics that were essentially muscle porn: 1983’s Hercules and The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, followed by the 1985 Hercules sequel, The Adventures of Hercules. They all featured a dubbed Ferrigno, who lost his hearing as a kid, in various states of undress, slathered in baby oil, flexing, and performing ludicrously amazing feats of strength. They are both the worst and best films you could possibly see.
Sly Stallone is still disturbingly ripped at 73 and still cashing in on his considerable ’80s cachet—back then, he was one of the biggest stars on the planet. Whether he was shirtless and sweaty in Rambo or Rambo III, or shirtless and sweaty in Rocky II or Rambo IV, or sequined and fringed with Dolly Parton in Rhinestone, the Italian Stallion was giving the gays everything they needed. Also, the training montage from Rocky III is the gayest thing to creep into a major motion picture in that decade. And for that, I say, thank you for your service.
When it came to the box office and movie-star physique, Sly’s biggest competition was former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, who rose to superstardom after 1984’s The Terminator. But it was his work in 1982’s Conan the Barbarian and my personal fave, 1984’s Conan the Destroyer (also starring Dolph’s girlfriend Grace Jones), that really fagged me up. To this day, a man in a loincloth and horned helmet always revs my engine. Though Arnie’s first appearance as the Terminator, naked in a storm of lightning, is still one of the hottest scenes in cinematic history.
The American Gladiators
Fun story: You may have already caught my tribute to how American Gladiators made me gay as a kid, tied to the show’s 30th anniversary. Nitro (né Dan Clark) shared it, which I thought was really cool since, you know, straight men can be real problematic around gay shit. I gave him a shout-out for not being homophobic, the bar being exceptionally low in 2019, and he responded with the following:
“My son is gay, my little sister is gay. Makes no differences in the amount of love I have for them. We are all humans. We are all in this journey together. And many of us wear spandex along the way.”
Now if those aren’t words to live by, I don’t know what is.