The men about town in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho want to be fabulous. You can tell from their bare chests, draped in button-downs unbuttoned past their pecs. You can tell from the wingspans of their long-sleeved crew-necks, illustrated with flowers and encrusted with rhinestones. You can tell by their goatees—-finely tuned, from mustache to soul patch. These men want to be fabulous, but what they really, really don’t want to be is gay—-you can tell by their incessant dropping of homophobic epithets. Amanda Marcotte has argued that homophobia comes down to an insane jealousy of the gay community’s unbridled fabulousness. So how does a homophobe achieve fabulousness? Compartmentalize your repression!

In a recent trip to the Inland Northwest, I found that Northern Idaho bar-hoppers have agreed upon a few heterosexually acceptable displays for expressing one’s fabulous urges—-without shattering their whole homophobic worldview:

1. Ed Hardy T-shirts. This T-shirt (above) features a fabulous purple snake sitting atop a heart adorned by roses. Not gay fabulous: Ed Hardy fabulous. In communities where gay men are visible, acknowledged, and accepted, Ed Hardy is just a t-shirt worn by both gay and straight dudes. In fabulous Northern Idaho, “Ed” and “Hardy” are the magic ungay words that allow you to express your inner vamp while still ridiculing feminine gays. Of course, wearing an Ed Hardy T-shirt still runs the risk of drawing some homophobic epithets your way. In the face of criticism, never own your shirt’s gayness! Simply hurl back this common retort: “This shirt isn’t gay—-you’re gay.”

2. Flame tattoos. Yes, these tattoos are literally flaming. One tattooed Northern Idahoan I saw accompanied his flame with a “Peterbilt” logo—-signifying that his arm was a big flaming tool. How are the homophobes going to get around this one, you ask? Well, by the time that flamin’ graphic it’s permanently etched into the skin, Northern Idahoans must defend the heterosexual fabulousness of their tattoo to the death. I wouldn’t test them.

3. Facial Hair. Northern Idaho is a veritable cornucoupia of exquisite goatee work. The most fabulous dude on the Coeur d’Alene bar scene last week was a big, bald biker with a silver braid hanging from his chinny chin chin (not pictured). On Saturday night, a friend of mine called out to himas he passed our table, commending him on his facial tableau. “You must have a boyfriend or a husband,” the biker lamented. “The only women who will talk to me are always attached. Single women are always intimidated by the way I look.” He then clued us in on how to break the ice with scared women in bars: Wrapping his hand around the goatee braid and pulling his mouth open and closed like a Pez dispenser. Sometimes, it worked.

Cuestudio-wide “awwww,” right? What a sweet, misunderstood biker dude with an evern sweeter goatee braid! That’s what I thought, too, until the conversation meandered into a tirade about how he didn’t have a “problem” with gay men, as long as they (a) announced themselves as gay immediately upon meeting him; (b) never fucking touched him; and (c) “acted like real men.” Biker dude then relayed a story to prove his tolerance: Once, he approached a gay man alone in an elevator, took him by the shirt, and shook him. He then loudly informed the man that the rumors he had heard about biker dudes being gay bashers were totally untrue, and that the man had nothing to worry about.

Let’s review: Straight dudes with finely groomed goatee braids, misunderstood; Gay dudes, understood to be secret predatory man-women who discriminate against goatee braids. Yeah: Maybe the ladies in the bars weren’t just reacting to the facial hair, after all.

Flame tattoo photo by Photography for the Blind.