A GoPride Interview

Gary Gangi

What Do You Do, Gary Gangi?

Fri. March 14, 2014  by Tom Elliott

The beard does one thing now that has not been done in the past in terms of determining sex appeal: it makes attractiveness focus on a person's face.
Gary Gangi
For the second interview in the new "What Do You Do?" series on ChicagoPride.com, I got the chance to talk with Gary Gangi, host of OTTER at The Sofo Tap, which is an otter-themed party for bearded, furry men to meet on the 3rd Saturday every month. In my interview with Gary, we get into what it means to be an otter, what the body-hair trend is all about for gay men, and what marriage equality means for our generation.

Gary is 30 years old and is a Talent Acquisition Specialist (aka Corporate Recruiter) for a digital marketing agency. He studied Journalism at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and has lived in the Buena Park neighborhood with his boyfriend, Michael, for 5 years.

Be sure to stop by The Sofo Tap in Andersonville this Saturday between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. for this month's otter party. The weather will be nice, so they will be opening the patio for all the otters to break in the spring season.

TE: (Tom Elliott) What do you do, Gary Gangi?

GG: (Gary Gangi) I try to just live my life in the gayest way I can! I am an open networker so I enjoy connecting people in the LGBT community so we can foster helpfulness and overall improved quality of life. Real-life person-to-person socialization is so important to our community and I am glad to see that even in our thriving digital age human interaction is still a priority. I like being a link in the LGBT chain here in Chicago and I hope my professional life and friendship helps people create positive experiences here.

TE: I've been to OTTER a few times and it's always been a great time with a lot of good looking guys. Why do you think otter night has been so successful? What do LGBT people get out of having an otter themed hangout?

GG: I think that Otter has been successful because it brings together a certain group of men that you typically don't see in all one place. SoFo's space is unpretentious and encourages interaction with everyone who is there, which is rare these days. You get to be in such close proximity to one another and it fosters making eye contact, saying hello and staying off your hookup apps. The vibe is very friendly and flirtatious and as I host I am there to help facilitate people meeting one another. I'm sure Sunday mornings following Otter there are plenty of people waking up in bedrooms not there own with a person they would not have met had they not made SoFo a destination for the night.

Since Otter is a monthly party and by its nature is geared toward a bearded, furry and less mainstream men I think the gay community who attends gets to feel a sense of belonging and enjoys the fact that they can expect a niche demographic when walking through the door. Moreover, the event itself feels more like a house party at times than just another bar. The set up is simple - no gimmicks - and DJ Marc 'Moose' Moder plays the most sublime music while being one of the most accessible DJs in our community.

The SoFo Tap is really moving in the right direction as a destination bar for a new era in gathering gay men who want a casual environment where like-minded guys can connect with themed nights that cater to growing interest. They host Gear and DILF parties each month as well as weekly Bear nights. They are striving create our foundation as "Your Neighborhhod Bar South of Foster."

TE: For those who don't know, can you talk about what it means to be an otter?

GG: ot·ter [ot-er] noun, plural ot·ters (especially collectively), A gay man who rocks facial hair and body hair, but is somewhat smaller in frame than a bear.

TE: I myself go back and forth between having facial hair being clean-shaved, but I love seeing facial hair on guys. I think you have a very healthy, good-looking beard (I kind of have beard-envy), and facial hair has been 'growing' in popularity with the gay community for some time now. So, what is it about beards and facial hair (or body hair in general) that men love? And are beards here to stay, or is it just a trend?

GG: I have had a beard since I was 22 so I've always felt it was something that identified me. The recent upswing in facial hair in the gay community is actually a wonderful thing.

I think it has opened a lot of doors for the way gay men see each other sexually and collectively. Firstly, its overtly masculine so it builds confidence for those who may have not of been able to identify with that adjective in the past. But it also lends itself to a sexiness that is widely accepted right now which helps create a community where almost everyone can be a part of a trend that makes them feel desired.

I will say that the beard does one thing now that has not been done in the past in terms of determining sex appeal: it makes attractiveness focus on a person's face. Regardless of body type a man can feel good about himself when looking in the mirror because this attribute is deemed as a top novelty- for the moment.

In the last decade, I've seen less and less of gay men talking about body issues and it's started to create this community. In the past, if you were overweight and a bit unkempt then you would get put in the bear category. But now we have more and more categories that people can feel comfortable identifying with.

The downside to [the facial hair trend] is also that if beard=attractiveness and desirability and everyone wants to feel those things then it becomes a herd mentality and we begin to loose individuality. I can see beauty in the beard, but I can also see when it is forced. I prefer a clean-shaven guy with light features over a beard as a matter of personal taste.

TE: Have you heard about men getting facial hair and chest hair transplants to have fuller, more visible hair? I support facial hair on all guys, but do you think this is too far? Does the beard make the man, or is it the other way around?

GG: The man makes the man. If someone's first requirement in a mate is facial hair they might need to be a little introspective and ask themselves why. If it is because it's what media, Tumblr, porn or peer pressure is telling them is what makes them or their mates worthy of praise or social ranking then it's for the wrong reasons. If it makes them feel more confident or the feel of whiskers make you tingle when meeting another's lips then go for it.

TE: How long have you and Michael been together? Where'd you meet?

GG: We have been together for 5 years. We met at 4 a.m. on the dance floor of Hydrate. It was love at first sight and we haven't spent a day apart since we met.

TE: Now that gay couples can get married in Illinois, how do you think that will play out for our generation? Are modern gay relationships much different than the ones of the generations before us? Are you making any future plans?

GG: I do support gay marriage and I see myself getting married to Michael in the future, but I'm already committed to the relationship I have with him, so I don't need to run to the alter to solidify the relationship that is already there. When we both realize the time is right, then we will both know it's the right decision.

Younger generations will be viewing dating and interacting in a much different way than we do now. We haven't been equipped with understanding all aspects of marriage, itself. People are getting married daily, as we see on our Facebook and Twitter feeds and some of them have only been together for a year.

Our generation is the one setting the precedent for the next generation who will be getting married. We currently don't have a lot of married role models in the gay community that we can look to for guidance. So, there are still a lot of questions about what it means to be married if you're gay.

If you know someone who is doing great things with the LGBT community and think they should be the next featured profile for "What Do You Do?" please contact us.

Interviewed by Tom Elliott