Nov. 7 would have marked the birthday of Dirk Shafer–a man who, sadly, did not live to see it. The director, model, writer and fitness expert passed away in 2015.
I never knew Dirk–but when Young Feminist Sexpert was in college and a devoted reader of Playgirl magazine, he counted among my top crushes. Dirk was Man of the Year!
A George Michael lookalike who also wrote for the magazine, Dirk seemed in many ways to be a like-minded soul–one who, like myself, had an interest in writing, movies, acting, and, well, sex. Duh! Among my favorite Dirk-stinctions was the striptease that was photographed step by step for the pages of Playgirl, and his declaration that he liked to work the PG phone sex line because he loved to relieve the stress of a woman’s day through verbal and visual stimulation–to get somebody off on a hot, steamy night. Aye, carumba! He also wrote witty articles for Playgirl, talking about his ongoing campaign to promote ERH (Equal Rights for Hunks), and relating a touching story of meeting a fan who–while not conventionally beautiful–dazzled him with her kindness and humor.
And, yeah see, that was really why I liked him. His wit and sensitivity. The flawless abs, penetrating eyes and captivating–um–smile were just a big collective extra. Really. I mean it.
As Man of the Year, Dirk had announced his intention to make a movie about his Playgirl experience. Thrilled at the prospect, I told myself I’d be the first in line to witness this sure to be amazing cinematic opus. And a year or so later, as a newly graduated journalist at a small-town newspaper, I was enjoying a lazy Saturday morning in the bathtub when I heard a news bulletin incoming from a TV in the other room–announced as such on the most credible and relevant news channel that a fledging journalist could watch. E! Entertainment News, of course.
“A former Playgirl Man of the Year has made a movie about his experiences,” he said. “And in the film, he made a startling announcement.”
Um…wut? Surely I got some water and Pantene pooled up in my ears. I did not hear that correctly.
Ah, but it was true. Dirk’s big movie, Man of the Year, concerned the fact that he was indeed homosexual.
No worries. I didn’t try to drown myself in the tub. But I did feel a mixture of emotions that was difficult to describe. A little proud of Dirk for making his dream film, and being open about who he really was. A little sad that he didn’t like girls. A little deceived.
Deceived, not because I have anything against gay people–but because this man had presented himself as a woman’s fantasy lover, and even gave advice on talk shows about what women want. He apparently asked his best female friend to pose as his girlfriend, and his boyfriend to pose as his roommate. He went so far as to agree to a fantasy ‘dream date’ with a magazine contest winner, all the while trying to dump her so he could retreat to his hotel room and be with his boyfriend. Apparently she caught his bf hiding in the shower. Look up the word ‘awkward’ in the dictionary, you’ll probably spot a screen cap of this very scene.
I reflected on my college years, and how–as a sensitive and starstruck 19-year-old–I believed literally everything I read in Playgirl. I read one centerfold interview in which a gorgeous blond said he was single and looking for Ms. Right–when I looked back at his layout a few years later, I noticed for the first time the wedding ring that shone brightly from his hand. Eventually, I saw him and his wife being interviewed on a talk show. He’d already found Ms. Right, and she was the one who’d submitted his photos for consideration to Playgirl. So I guess that, upon initial inspection of his layout, I had been too busy perusing other parts of his anatomy to pay overmuch heed to his darned ring finger.
I also recalled the fact that, while taking a magazine journalism class, I had created a dummy magazine called Real Woman; an anti-fashion magazine devoted to the average, hardworking women of this country. I included a fake article about a male model who preferred ‘real’ women over female models, and illustrated the article with Dirk’s photos.
Well, guess I was half right. He didn’t date female models.
In the months that followed, I shared my feelings with several friends–all of whom had varying reactions. One was out and out ticked, saying that Dirk should have been open about his sexuality from the beginning, thus performing a real service for gay people through his openess, and for women by presenting himself as someone who could be their best friend–someone who wouldn’t objectify them. Others shrugged and said, “He did his job. He provided a fantasy, and–during the time that he was Man of the Year–he gave you something to dream on.”
When Man of the Year was released, I was en route to a Florida vacation with my parents. We stopped at an IHOP before making the next leg of the trip, which would take us through the beautiful city of Atlanta, Ga.
In looking over an issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as I ate, I saw an ad to promote the film. Suddenly my being was flooded by that same odd mishmash of feelings. I still didn’t quite know what to think of all this.
Just then I heard my mother, aka my best friend and the center of my universe, making some odd cooing and gurgling sounds. Concerned that a morsel of pancake had gone sideways down her windpipe, I raised my head to investigate; only to find that she had met an adorable sister diner who was all of about a year old. I joined her in gushing over and admiring this magnificent little human being, sharing a sweet moment with her and both of our mothers.
Then I finished my meal and joined my parents as we drove through downtown Atlanta in the predawn hours–and you know, if you haven’t seen Atlanta all lit up at night like a Christmas tree, the Feminist Sexpert recommends it.
It was then that I had an epiphany of sorts; a revelation that had to do with cherishing the little moments in life, letting go of the past and embracing the joy that you feel here and now, in this moment.
Years later, after relocating to Florida, I was working as a librarian’s assistant (take just a moment to picture The Feminist Sexpert as a librarian. Scary, I know) at a Tampa library when I spotted a schoolbook that featured a cover photo of a very handsome model dressed as a policeman.
Yep, it was Dirk; a man who could boast cover shoots with both Playgirl Magazine and The Kids’ Career Guide. Let’s hear it for career diversity.
I myself ended up working for Playgirl a few years later, as a fan club president, marketing writer and columnist. At that time, both of the stunning Men of the Year that I helped promote, Charles Dera and Niko, went on to be major stars of straight porn.
Yet if I had encountered a gay centerfold, I like to think that I would have treated him with respect and caring.
Dirk Shafer was 52 when he passed–he himself should have had many more special moments in his life. An inscription on his Hollywood grave reads, “Our Man of the Year.”
Upon hearing the news of his passing, I recalled yet another moment from college; the moment that I ventured in to my campus bookstore to buy his Man of the Year issue.
“I’m so reading this for the articles,” I informed the young lady at the checkout, who replied with a grin, “Now don’t hand me that.”
Suddenly every female in the place, be they shopper or employee, surrounded the counter; with one of them pointing to the magazine cover and asking, “Who is that?”
“That,” I replied, “is the Man of the Year.”