WATCH: 10 Guys Who Made Us Realize We’re Gay, ’80s Edition

When did you realize you were gay? And no, cutting out simplicity patterns with your mother doesn’t count. For many guys it happened quite unexpectedly as they sat in front of their TV screen or in a movie theater. Below is a list of 10 heartthrobs from the 1980s who created some first time, same-sex stirrings.


It’s okay, admit it. Castle Grayskull wasn’t the real reason your pre-teen feet peddled you home so quickly after school each day. It was the man. He- Man. For many of us, He-Man was our first introduction to the Tom of Finland aesthetic: the ’70s style blond shag haircut, chest harness and bulging biceps. He even had a pet tiger for Christ’s sake! “Fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword….” Amen!

C. Thomas Howell in The Hitcher

Take your pick: Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Machio. The boys from The Outsiders were all deliciously disheveled, but C. Thomas Howell was the one who simultaneously broke and won our heart. He was at his most breathtaking (and out of breath) while running from serial killer Rutger Hauer (also, inexplicably hot!) in The Hitcher.

Maxwell Caulfield in Grease 2

Marlon Brando may be the original Wild One but Maxwell Caulfield was the ultimate C.O.O.L. R.I.D.E.R that had Michelle Pfeiffer (and all us gay boys) swooning. The sequel to Grease tanked and damaged his career, but I will still take Maxwell over John Travolta any day.  At age 53, Maxwell is still shockingly beautiful and even appeared completely nude on stage in the play Salonika.

Jesse Borrego in Fame

OK, so was I the only one who would watch Fame on Thursday night and then recreate the Jesse Borrego and Nia Peeples musical numbers in my backyard the next day? I, of course, would play the Nia Peeples part while fantasying that Jesse was singing, dancing and loving only me. Really… no one else? Oh, snap! Honorable “Fame” mentions: Gene Anthony Ray and Billy Hufsey.

Michael Schoeffling in Sixteen Candles

Oh, Jake! Has there ever been a teen heartthrob hotter than Jake Ryan? Sensitive, masculine and stylish. It takes a mighty confident man to pull off a sleeveless sweater but Jake Ryan did it. No wonder Molly Ringwald had her teenage panties in such a bind. What’s the legal age for consent again?! Schoeffling retired from acting in the early ’90s (I guess making a movie with Cher can make anyone wanna get the hell out of Hollywood) and reportedly lives in Pennsylvania, where he owns a woodworking shop and makes handcrafted furniture. Did someone say wood?

Christopher Atkins in A Night in Heaven

Yes, the obvious choice here would be The Blue Lagoon. After all, Christopher spent most of the movie wearing only a loan cloth and cavorting around a deserted island with 14-year-old Brooke Shields. Those stats alone make it perversely enjoyable. But, despite his bronze body and translucent curly locks I blame Christopher for that damn puka-shell choker phase that every homo continues to go through. Instead, check out this perfectly implausible 1983 flick where Christopher plays a Chippendales-style erotic dancer who sweeps community college professor Leslie Ann Warren (Hello!!!???) off her sexually frustrated feet.

That hot guy from the Janet Jackson, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” video

In the mid ’80s, when MTV was still playing music videos, Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately” helped make former Solid Gold dancer Rudy Houston a music video leading man. In 1987 Pebbles made him her “Mercedes Boy” and seductively asked, “Do you wanna ride?” Gay men enthusiastically replied, “Hell yeah!” Houston fell off the radar but later resurfaced on the Sally Jesse Raphael show as “Lana.” Houston had undergone sexual reassignment surgery and was now living as a woman. While we miss our brown skin video boy-toy I think Janet would still say, “You’re Alright with me!”

Lorenzo Lamas in Falcon Crest

Yes, there was a time when swooning over Lorenzo Lamas was not a shameful admission. Before that dreadful Renegade period. Before he married one bottle-blond playmate after another. And years before his cringe worthy role as the laser pointing judge on the degenerate reality show, Are you Hot?, Lorenzo Lamas starred on Falcon Crest where his smoldering Argentinian good looks and perfectly lacquered ’80s hair made him a nighttime soap stud.

The 1984 Men’s US Olympic Gymnastics Team

Perhaps Greg Louganis would be the obvious choice for a dreamy 80’s Olympic athlete but who I am turn down a whole team of men in short shorts?! In the summer of 1984 Bart Conner, Timothy Daggett, James Hartung, Scott Johnson, Peter Vidmar and Mitch Gaylord (heh, heh) had gay men grabbing their stick (Er…I mean, remote control) and tuning into to see them win the Olympic gold medal. Gaylord was so good he even has a high bar skill named after him, The Gaylord Flip. God, there must be a joke in there somewhere!

Grace Jones

Hey, wait…that’s not a man. Oh, Grace Jones, she pretty much gender-fucked all of us. From straight women to gay men, she made us all question our sexual orientation… and we worship her for it. Pull up to my bumper, baby. Indeed.

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  • BritAus

    Maxwell Caulfield

  • Uisce

    Um, it was the cast of CHiPs and, to a lesser extent, Hill Street Blues did it for many of us in the leather community.

  • Caleb in SC

    Jon-Erik Hexum! Rest his soul.

  • Mr. E. Jones

    For me, it was Stephen Collins in “Tales of the Gold Monkey”. His Jake Cutter character gave me my first obsessive crush.

  • NicksFanNC

    I actually dated the dancer with the striped shirt in Janet’s video…those dancers sure had some stamina!

  • NicksFanNC

    For me Jon-Erik Hexum and the lead singer of A-Ha really solidified my gayness

  • Dixie Rect

    No mention of Jim Palmer and his famous Jockey Underwear ads? That was always good JO material !

  • Snapper59

    John James in “Dynasty”. And pro-wrestlers when they were normal good looking guys instead of steroidal freaks.

  • Scribe38

    The actors that played teen boys on Momma’s family and Mr. Belvedere.

  • boring

    You don’t need to see Maxwell Caulfield in Grease 2 to know you’re gay.

    You’re watching Grease 2.

  • Jake357

    Joining the chorus, Jon-Erik Hexum and I’ll agree with Maxwell Caulfield (yummmmmm)

  • Stache1

    I miss the cheesy 80’s. Christopher Atkins (A night in Heaven) and Mitch Gaylord OMG.

  • mz.sam

    Oh, Max…Max…why did you ever leave me??

  • Niall

    The more I read Queerty articles, the more I feel like I totally grew up in a different world from most gays or something

  • sprocket

    I take it Queerty is speaking for themselves only.

    Ralph Macchio was my first major crush. And he still looks amazing though he’s much older than me.

  • rand503

    The only reason I watched Falcon Crest was because of Lorenzo. He had the sexiest legs.

    I was more of a modelizer, though, and fell in love with Michael Ives, a preppie looking guy whose modeling career covered the whole of the 80s. Today he’s married and bald, and a real estate agent, but still pretty good looking.

  • Rockery


    You might be too young for these references. I looked and I thought… who are these people? But they are all before my time, I only know Grace Jones and Lorenzo Lamas

  • JDJase

    It was Patrick Swayze for me. In 1989 when I was 4 years old my sister got Dirty Dancing on VHS for Christmas, and that was the first time I saw it. I knew I liked looking at him, and I started thinking about him at night when I humped the mattress lol. So Patrick Swayze will always have a special place in my heart.

    (Though it wasn’t until 1997 when I admitted to myself “I’m Gay”…I have Leonardo DiCaprio to thank for that one)

  • stranded

    Maxwell Caulfield… my gosh. i think i caught Grease 2 on tv as a kid. As awful as it was, i was obsessed with it. He was so damn beautiful.

  • Atomicrob

    Sean Connery in Dr. No, Dr. Ben Casey, Adam on Ponderosa, geeze they were all all, but Michael Schoeffling still rocks.

  • jcsportsfan

    Oh man…Michael Schoeffling made me wish I was Molly Ringwald in that movie!!

  • Stache1

    @sprocket: Wow. Just looked at some of his current pics and your right. He was a hottie back then and still is. Some people just age really well.

  • Rad

    Jon-Eric Hexum did it for me. Sure, as a child I would prance around (complete with cape and candle opera) and pretend to be Liberace when he would come on Mike Douglas or Ed Sullivan, but the first time I ever realized I was sexually attracted to a man was when I saw Jon-Eric. He was my first fan-boy crush. After that Scott Valentine as “Nick” on “Family Ties”.

  • dsp

    W.T.F, Why is John Shcneider not on this list? That Duke of Hazard in those tight Jeans, Open button shirt and golden locks were the hottest on TV. The man looks just as hot today……I still want to marry him…..ahhhhh my dream man

  • Polaro

    Well, you all have good taste in men.

  • Darling Nikki

    Maxwell Caulfield DEFINITELY, but more for his work on The Colbys than Grease 2.
    Then there is the boys from the Dukes of Hazard (Tom Wopat/John Schneider). Tight Jeans, sliding into cars, yummy.
    And I must admit I had a major crush on the boys of Duran Duran. Wild Boys and Hungry Like the Wolf, indeed.
    I could go on and on, but those come to mind, and of course Grace Jones, I still love A View to A Kill (Ms. Jones as MAYDAY and theme song by Duran Duran, perfect, and Mr. Walken was still hot in the film).

  • Suburban

    I understand some of these choices and some I don’t. I was a teenager in the 80’s and watched Growing Pains and I had a crush on Kirk Cameron. It’s such a shame what a jerk he’s become. Michael Schoeffling I totally get and he was in Longtime Companion which I own on DVD and really liked even though it gets sadder towards the end. Pretty much all of the guys from The Outsiders even thought Ralph Macchio and Tom Cruise were so baby faced then. The names will keep coming I’m sure.

  • Ruddigore

    In addition to dreamy Max my ten would include:
    Hart Bochner (Breaking Away, Rich and Famous, Supergirl), Bruce Boxleitner (Scarecrow and Mrs. King), Jameson Parker (Simon & Simon), Perry King (Riptide), John James (Dynasty / The Colbys), Cary Elwes (Another Country, Princess Bride), Christopher Cazenove (Dynasty), Antony Hamilton (J-EH’s Cover Up replacement), James Read (Remington Steele, North and South), Lenny Von Dohlen (Electric Dreams), Barry Tubb (Consenting Adult), Simon MacCorkindale (Manimal)

  • Adam

    Sam Jones as Flash Gordon (1980).

  • CandyFloss666

    …If it was indeed a “Loan Cloth” that Christopher was wearing, I’d like to get it back! Otherwise I think you meant *Loincloth =P

  • SteveDenver

    I recall being mesmerized by Steve Guttenberg in COCOON when he comes to the deck of the boat in white swim trunks with a lame pattern of squares dotted on them. He was showing major basket!

    I was thinking Jan Michael Vincent, but that was BUSTER AND BILLIE from 1974, but I didn’t see it until 1984. Does it still count?

  • Respect4all

    Jesse Borrego? How about Gene Anthony Ray?!!

  • scottj

    for me it was scott bakula(late 80’s quantum leap),mark harmon and of course the 80’s god,tom selleck. back in the day when men could have body hair without it being considered revolting or being lumped into a specific group.

  • Doughosier

    Christopher Atkins and Mitch Gaylord for me! Nothing makes me feel older more than the fact that Christopher Atkins is now a grandfather.

  • kevin83

    Kevin Bacon? How could he not be on the list?

  • oprachrstenor

    Wow, a trip down “pleasant memory lane.” But there are quite a few (many) for me that aren’t on this list: John Stamos (Full House), Parker Stevenson (Hardy Boys, Baywatch), Peter Reckell (Days of Our Lives, Knots Landing), Steven Nichols (Days of Our Lives), Brian Bloom (As the World Turns), Adrian Paul (The Colbys, Highlander), Ricardo Montalban (Fantasy Island, The Colbys), Patrick Duffy (Dallas), Mark Harmon (Flamingo Road), Michael Nader (Dynasty), Greg Evigan (BJ and the Bear, My Two Dads), Jason Patric (Lost Boys), Allan Kayser (Mama’s Family)…and if we want to go way back, Race Bannon (Johnny Quest). Damn, I had a lot of celebrity crushes.

  • 19jibbs41

    For me it was Brandon DeWilde and the Beaver’s brother Wally Cleaver in the ’50s.

  • LiamFo

    Of course Maxwell Caulfield (I will forever remember him in a speedo on Colby’s!),
    Nicholas Clay (Excalibur and Lady Chatterley’s Lover where he shows it all),
    Lee Horsley (Matt Houston),
    Jack Scalia (tv movies),
    Both Duke Brothers from Hazzard (My first ever 3some fantasy!),
    Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers),
    for starters

  • LiamFo

    @19jibbs41: Not the Nelson brothers back then?? Ricky Nelson was drop dead gorgeous!

  • Skior

    I was a teen in the 70’s. Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy were my “heart” ? throbs.

  • Brawny71

    I remember Shannon (“Let The Music Play”) released a follow up single called “Give Me Tonight”. The video featured a couple of dancers dressed as Adam & Eve. The mail dancer was extremely hot. I completed puberty by the end of the video.

  • ryantbo

    and Christopher Atkins in Blue Lagoon and Christopher Atkins in Pirate Movie and Christopher Atkins in Dallas…

  • Queer4Life

    @JDJase: something tells me this was written by a generation before us. I grew up watching old shows (Batman, the bionic man, lost in space, etc.), but I also remember shows from “my time”. My first was defiantly Johnathan Taylor Thomas (Middle brother home improvement) and I am shocked an appalled that he was left off this list. And lets add to this list David Gallagher (Simon from 7th heaven), and Frankie Muniz (Malcom in the middle) though personally I thought his brother Justin Berfield (Reese) was hotter and he aged better. One more for old times sake was Phoenix River in Stand By Me. I must have seen that movie in the mid 90’s and rewound that scene of him in briefs a hundred times. It makes me laugh to think of these crushes now.

    @ryantbo: Christopher Atkins was one of my hotties.

  • stanhope

    Any list that does not include Al Corley and Jan Michael Vincent is simply not credible.

  • stanhope

    @Respect4all: If you are going Black gene ray couldn’t touch Mario Van Peebles or Renauld White the model or that super hot Alan Cephas.

  • David333

    John Erik Hexum for sure! And David Chokache from Baywatch were my 2 big crushes. Maxwell Caulfield too even though I didn’t see the movie. Just the quick shot I got of him in the tv commercial advertisement was enough to stop me dead in my tracks.

    • Suburban

      @David333, JEH did a TV movie with Joan Collins years ago called The Making of a Male Model and I taped it on VHS and then transferred it to DVD. I doubt anyone has that movie. David Chokache, I really get him but I never watched Baywatch, those eyes, and everything else. I’m guessing a lot of younger guys on this site have never heard of these guys were talking about.

    • ryantbo

      @suburban ACTUALLY I have a bootleg of Male Model on DVD and pull it out to watch occasionally JEH was so HOTT David C was just here for Chiller Con so wanted to go I have a couple of pics of him from European Vogue in just a white towel that I so want to add to my autograph collection

  • ransom

    Christopher Atkins wins the all time award for me. But surprised you didn’t mention WIlliam Zabka, Danny’s nemesis in The Karate Kid and perennial bad boy of the 80s. I wanted him to beat me up too.

  • dubstepskater

    I know it’s not 80s, but Julian McMahon (Cole from Charmed), Brian Krause (Leon from Charmed) (think I watch waaaay too much Charmed… Lol), and Jesse Metcalf (Desperate Housewives) made me realize that I was gay… Used to think “Oh my Gawd, Phoebe what is up girl? Cole is not only Hot… He is evil!!! Sisters is one thing, but gurl…. C’mon, they’d understand… They all got hot men too.” Then you got Mr. Whitelighter himself Leon… Now you know it hurt when he fell from Heaven (get it… Whitelighter/Angel)… Speaking of Angels…. Two words: David Boreanaz!!!! (Buffy, girl…. What are you Phoebe’s cuzz or something? Good girls automatically supposed to be getting their swerve on with the evil guys… Why fight it? Lol) And Jesse Metcalf…. do you really need a reason… (I mean, look @ him)… Bottom line: If you want to know if you’re gay, just watch a sitcom… they are full of hot men!!!! And don’t mind showing off their bods!

  • stanhope

    @Caleb in SC: OMG only Jan Michael Vincent could shine in that constellation.

  • caseymck

    My biggest sexual awakenings in the 80s were caused by Ed Harris in Places in the Heart (a cheating daddy with piercing blue eyes) and Rob Lowe in Masquerade (a scheming gigolo with piercing blue eyes)

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