July 17, 2012

Gay Men And Straight Men: A Complicated Love Story

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What is the issue?

Behind every great gay man, there’s a real desire to have an awesome straight dude (and I don’t mean sexually). For many gay men, having a close straight male friend is akin to capturing the holy grail. It’s something that is fetishized and yearned for on both sides. In the past, I’ve sought out the company of straight men because, in a way, I feel like it validated my masculinity. It made me feel more versatile, like I could pass for “straight” and inhabit a heterosexual world more seamlessly than my other “gayer” friends. I’m not proud of this logic. On the contrary, I think it’s totally screwed up and an obvious indicator of self-loathing. Why does it give me so much pride when I gain the approval from heterosexual males? Am I that eager to not be perceived or defined as gay? I think it’s just another example of gay men’s aversion to be labeled as “femme.” If you go on any gay male dating/sex site, you’ll see a large percentage of men who are looking for “straight acting guys only.” They identify themselves as jock types and make a point to say they’re not into “femmes.” In the gay world, “femmes” have the least amount of power whereas so-called masculine men possess the most. So if you’re the kind of guy who’s never going to be described as “jockish” and you want to feel accepted, being friends with straight guys can often feel like the next best thing.

This obsession with masculinity and, by extension, straight culture, definitely bleeds into the straight guy/gay guy dynamic. Throughout my life, I’ve been friends with straight dudes who have treated me like a novelty. It’s clear that I’m there to be the gay friend who makes them feel better about themselves for being so open-minded. “See? I hang out with gay dudes because I think they’re cool. I’m very progressive!” Oftentimes, in the friendship, I’ve felt the need to wear my sexuality on my t-shirt, inserting gay jokes whenever possible or testing the comfortability level by being a little bit raunchy. I’ve hated myself for it and I’ve hated them! But it wasn’t entirely their fault, no one was really the bad guy here, because I was using them too. By letting me get close to them, they were making me feel cool and butch, like I was more than my sexuality, like I was one of The Cool Gay Guys.

And, of course, there’s this issue of straight men thinking every gay guy wants to sleep with them, which can make the friendship feel… difficult, like there’s always an undertone of desire on my end, even if that is most definitely not the case. As a reaction to this fear, straight guys will often feel the need to assert their heterosexuality whenever possible. They’ll be like, “Yes, tell me about this boy you have a crush on. I don’t care! But also: NO HOMO.” You’re always put into your gay place. You can have the friendship but never forget that you’re different.

As it happens, I’m in the Hamptons this week with two straight guys, which by my estimate, is the longest time I’ve spent away from any girls or gays. I have to say it feels nice. Not because they’re straight and I feel as if I’m “one of the boys” but because the straight boys I’m with are good people and the foundation of our friendship is not predicated upon the fact that I like boys and they like girls. We have nothing to gain from each other other than human connection. Sometimes I have to catch myself whenever I’m feeling the need to unnecessarily bring attention to my homosexuality because that’s not what this is about. This is about people enjoying people, sexuality not always included. I’d like to think that I’ve gotten older and no longer seek out friendships to fulfill a quota or for validation and that’s true. I have grown out of that. Besides the two straight guys I’m currently with, I don’t really have hetero male friends these days and that’s okay. That doesn’t make me have less value somehow. That doesn’t make me feel like an undesirable freak. It’s just the way it works out.

Of course, you can’t ignore sexuality. It informs my identity and the straight guys I call my friends. Our differences are important and they play a role in shaping the unique dynamic we have, but it’s not everything. I don’t have to act any way other than who I am and vice versa.

When I first came out of the closet, I slept with all of the “straight” friends I had, so my perception of what it meant to have a genuine straight male friend was skewed. “YOU MEAN YOU DON’T WANT TO SLEEP WITH ME?” Since then, I’ve dealt with a lot of ambivalence regarding my own sexuality. I run the gamut from “I’M HERE, I’M QUEER, YAY!” to thinking things like, “Ugh, I’m only attracted to straight-acting guys. This dude is too queeny.” To be honest, I think it’s always going to be complicated for me but at least it’s nice to see the progress I’ve made with straight guys. I’ve gone from sleeping with them to acting as their gay puppet to simply valuing their friendship. It’s hard to say whether or not I will ever have that awesome straight dude standing behind me but at this point, I don’t care. I just want to be friends with people who make sense. TC Mark

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