by Anne Tourney
This isn't just a crush -- it's a manifesto. Not to diss the Alpha Males that make many of you so hot and bothered, but I'm here today to speak up for every horny foot soldier who never showed up for the battle because he was back in the tent practicing his cunnilingual skills on some mighty warrior's concubine.
So you've never heard of that elusive species, the Lambda Male? Probably because he's hiding behind a frieze of networking cables or a stack of amplifiers, or just wandering around a parking lot trying to figure out where he left the van he's living in until he sells his first collection of poetry (even then, let's face it, he'll still be in the van). In a discussion of hero archetypes at All About Romance, a group of romance reviewers and authors discussed the fine distinctions among Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Males. Alphas are the traditional heroes: strong, dominant, with a natural inclination to protect and rescue, when they aren't conquering and beheading. Deltas (the dangerous heroes) and Thetas (the wounded heroes) also come up in the discussion, but no one mentions my favorite: the Lambda Male.
Lambda is my all-purpose category for nerds, geeks, and misfits -- in short, guys who are too strange, too smart, too nice, or all of the above. If you peer back into the annals of classic American cinema, you can't miss the 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds. Lambda Lambda Lambda was the brotherhood of outcasts caught in a dualistic struggle against a fraternity of hunky jocks, Alpha Beta. I'll never forget the immortal line uttered by Robert Carradine's character, Lewis Skolnick, when he was asked by his blonde cheerleader lover why he was so good in bed: "All jocks think about is football. All nerds think about is sex."
And for me, that's a big part of the Lambda Male's appeal, aside from his vulnerability, his quirkiness, and his mismatched socks: a constant preoccupation with all things erotic. Not that Alpha Males don't think about sex, but there are too many other things that clutter their leonine heads, like winning the Super Bowl, or saving the world. All that heroic activity prevents them from focusing on the most important thing on earth, which is, of course, right between your . . . eyes. Yes, Lambda Males are interested in your brains, too. They like to know what you're thinking. They might even (gasp) ask you what you're thinking, or reading, or listening to on your iPod.
If you doubt my enthusiasm for Lambda Males, here's a roll call of the "heroes" in my recent novels: Jeremy, the bipolar art geek who falls madly in love with his therapist (Taming Jeremy); Daniel, the has-been rock guitarist who drives across the West in search of the Epiphone that inspired him when he was fifteen years old (Head-On Heart); and Joel, the womanizing photographer who 's always stumbling over his own, uhm, tripod (Lying in Mid-Air). Then there's Nolan, the hero of my most recently hatched novel, Kiss Between My Lines. Nolan works as a clerk at the public library, while secretly inflicting his vision of "information anarchy" on the world by shelving all of the books out of order. On his nights off, he works the lights over a mosh pit. Nolan never ends up saving the world, but he does save the heroine from a life without orgasms.
These guys aren't just outsiders; they're so far off the radar screen that they don't even have checking accounts. Not only do they not drive racecars, a lot of them take public transportation. And God forbid they should work for the DEA; Lambda Males are more likely to be found firing up a bong than shooting up a crackhouse. Not that Lambdas aren't heroic, or brave, or bursting with testosterone . . . well, maybe they aren't. Maybe they're just slightly below average oddballs, with an intensity that makes them sexy, and a self-deprecating attitude that makes them irresistible. These are the sweet, skinny guys who wore Iron Maiden t-shirts in high school and smoked Camels behind the gym, then went home to practice the oboe in secret. They're the guys in the next cubicle at work who write you epic love poems that you'll probably never read. They're passionate about something -- an eccentric idea, a top-secret software program, the lyrics to the song that's going to make the world forget "Stairway to Heaven" (oh please, someone write that one soon). But most of all, they're passionate about you.
So now we come down to the nitty gritty, the question that underlies all this discussion: Come on, Anne, aren't these guys just garden variety losers? I mean, they don't actually win anything. They don't really rescue anyone. Most of the time, they can't even walk a city block without their shoes coming untied.
My answer is yes, on the spectrum of masculine sexuality, Lambda Males are definitely on the "loser" end, opposite the muscle-bound Alphas. But in my opinion, that only suggests that the spectrum of masculine sexuality needs to broaden its array of colors.
Here are just a few of my favorite Lambda Males. Who are yours?
Lambda Male movie of all time: The Good Girl
Jake Gyllenhaal: As the tormented novelist/poet/playwright/cashier
Holden Worther in The Good Girl, he's the ultimate Lambda Male
Jason Mraz: See, he washed the t-shirt in the same load of laundry as the hat
Joaquin Phoenix: Lambda-esque actor playing Johnny Cash,
who was somewhat of a Lambda with a heavy dose of Delta
last laugh as "Verbal" in The Usual Suspects